FOLDE. Officially the Best Indie Bookshop in the South West

Date:

From neighbours to award-winning booksellers, FOLDE’s founders transform their dream into a literary haven at the top of Gold Hill

Amber Harrison (right) and Karen Brazier, co-founders of FOLDE

‘I just want to say that your shop is magic. Each time I come in I get tingles all down my spine.’ FOLDE customer, 2024

FOLDE, in Shaftesbury, has won the British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year competition for the South West, organised by The Bookseller magazine and judged by a prestigious panel of industry specialists, authors and journalists. It’s a remarkable achievement for a business started during the pandemic by two women, Amber Harrison and Karen Brazier, who had never sold books.
Or owned a shop.
‘We’re neighbours. Our gardens back on to each other. Amber was Head of Sustainability for a global tech and aviation company. I was a director of marketing for a local independent school,’ says Karen. ‘We had both reached a point in our careers where we wanted to do something different. One night in the pub I realised that Amber felt the same way.
‘We started talking about what our lifestyles could be like if we did something different. We sketched out this dream of walking to work, opening the door to a nice shop. Then we discovered we both liked the same kind of nature writing, the same kind of artwork. We both found solace in the natural world and thought if we could meet like-minded people, there might well be potential.’
Amber adds: ‘We knew we wouldn’t open until
10 o’clock in the morning. That was our first business decision! It’s all about lifestyle. The name FOLDE means a community coming together. It’s also Old English for “the land”. So we had our brand.
‘We launched as an online journal in the summer of 2020 to test the concept. It was lockdown, but we went for walks together. We talked a lot about values, what it would be and wouldn’t be. It was a manifesto.
‘Then we started to sell things and launched the website. We were delivering bundles of books by hand, and decided if a suitable shop became available we would look at it. And then this place on Gold Hill came up. It was a dour white space with brown carpet and we thought “that’s fine for us!”. Before we knew it we had keys and started renovating.
‘We opened on 12th April 2021. It feels like a lifetime, but it’s only been three years.’

Early learning
‘Because people hadn’t been able to go shopping, there was a real sense of anticipation when we opened,’ says Karen. ‘That first week, we were really busy, and we thought “this is easy!”. But then we had the terrible thought that maybe everyone had now spent all their lockdown money, and they wouldn’t buy any more. However, people were genuinely interested in the books and we soon became more confident in what to stock. When we started it was a minimalist shop.
‘Now, if you breathe in, we’ll put a book in the space!’
There have been tough moments. The pair had very little prior experience of either bookselling or retail and they were also dealing with a niche subject. Amber says: ‘I’m a numbers person – I like to look at reports. You might have a really great week and then a really quiet week. It was hard during our first year to get a sense of continuity – we’ve finally come to realise there isn’t much of one! You have to look at three month blocks. There were days we wondered what we were doing – a wet Tuesday with only three people coming through the door. That first year in business you have to teach yourself to look at the big picture. For us in Shaftesbury, the weather can dictate a lot. You mustn’t panic, just take the wider view.
‘And then there was one galling moment when we did an event in Stourhead for a big name author, and a big tub of magenta ink spilled over the books. That was a low point. We got it fixed, but that was tough.
‘We’ve brought skills from our previous jobs and a good budget to the business. We set out knowing what we would do and particularly what we wouldn’t do. Knowing what we stood for, what we wanted to be. And when to take a risk and when to say no.’
Karen says; ‘Having a clear vision from the start is important and having a niche helps – really understanding our USP and being clear about communicating that. And not compromising, though it’s tempting sometimes. All the non-book items we sell are locally made – around 80 per cent are made within ten miles, by makers who celebrate the natural world, and they have to be sustainably produced. When it comes to planning things like Christmas stock, for example, we want our regular customers to find something new. But when you are trying to find different things that meet these very strict criteria, you start to think “we’ve made things very difficult for ourselves!”.’

More than a transaction
‘We’ve become a bit of a community hub for like-minded people and also a destination,’ says Karen. ‘You think a shop is all about transactions but it isn’t. Bookshops especially lend themselves to this – there’s a legitimate reason to come in, browse and just hang out. I love that people feel they can come in for a chat. We get asked about sleepovers too! Last year a group of Australian artists came here because they had seen our Instagram and were staying nearby. And a lady from Illinois came in and hugged us because she followed us on Instagram.
‘The Shaftesbury community has really embraced us. Since the award, we’ve had congratulatory messages, home made biscuits, people stopping us in the street … That’s very typical of Shaftesbury. We’re careful to not stock what others do, and to be aware of what the other shops have, so we can recommend them to others. We’ve also been involved with the Shaftesbury Book Festival, Reading the Land, which we are thrilled has sell-out audiences.’
Karen got to interview acclaimed author Raynor Winn to a packed out room: ‘When we started we thought we were too small to have the big authors here,’ she says. ‘I’m a big fan of Raynor Winn. I spent ten months negotiating with the publisher and then I had the great privilege of interviewing her. Publishers now approach us.’
For their current book recommendations, Amber is reading Hunt for the Shadow Wolf by Derek Gow, about the reintroduction of wolves to Britain. Karen recommends Weathering by Ruth Allen, who will be speaking in Shaftesbury this year.
Amber is excited for the next chapter for FOLDE: ‘We’re sensing Shaftesbury is beginning to be the place for conversations about nature and conservation. There’s momentum and it’s a delight to see. It’s easy to get gloomy about the world. I can see that, in our own way, with this shop we can start to nudge people’s feelings. There are some really important things here that can change people’s mindsets. Someone might come in thinking they have seen a pretty lampshade in the window and leave with a pile of books on soil or biodiversity. We’re gentle in approach but we have big conversations here.
‘At this stage in our lives, we have never felt more purposeful. It feels as though we’re on a bit of a mission – I hope we’re part of Shaftesbury’s success story.’
FOLDE is now a finalist for the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, which will be announced at The British Book Awards ceremony at Grosvenor House London on 13th May. The overall Independent Bookshop of the Year winner will also be in the running to be crowned the UK’s Book Retailer of the Year.

foldedorset.com

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

More like this
Related

The BV Magazine wins prestigious NMA’s Regional Publication of the Year 2024

We are thrilled to announce that The BV has...

Feltham’s Farm Wins Best Organic Cheese at the Artisan Cheese Awards 2024

Feltham’s Farm Organic Cheeses triumphed at the Artisan Cheese...

Royal Bath & West pre-show magazine 2024

Introducing the Royal Bath & West Show Pre Show...

A message from our Astrophotographer Rob Nolan of RPN Photography

Northen Lights alert! Tonight and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday...