A peaceful reading nook. An inspiring creative space. A friendly coffee stop. However you choose to spend your time with No Guts No Glory, you’re sure to leave feeling nourished. Independently-run from Exeter’s Fore Street in the city centre, it’s a haven of beautiful plants, organic cotton t-shirts and stunning books, magazines and greetings cards from other independent creatives. Run entirely on renewable energy, with a coffee bar that’s soon to go completely dairy-free, NGNG is a living example of strong ethos meets successful business. We chatted to owners Nathan and Hayley Maker to find out more about the history of the shop and their passion for sustainability.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT RUNNING A BUSINESS IN EXETER?
Hayley: Exeter’s a place where you can really grow roots (excuse the pun!) and there’s a great community of likeminded people. It’s a wonderful location – so close to the sea, the beaches, it’s a great place for children and if you love nature.
Nathan: Places like Bristol, London and Brighton are already really established in terms of independent shops. It’s been really nice to watch new businesses open, seeing little areas like Fore Street develop, become more and more vibrant and full of shops and ventures. It’s nice to be a part of something that’s happening now rather than going to where something’s already happened.
HOW DOES THE LOCAL AREA INFLUENCE THE SHOP?
H: We’re both from Devon so it’s part of our soul. I’ve lived in loads of different cities around the world, but if I’m ever not near nature then I don’t feel like myself, I feel really abandoned. We have brought a lot of that into the shop as much as possible, because we’ve got the opportunity to hand select and curate exactly what we have here, it’s going to naturally influence our choices.
N: We also like to provide a balance too and pull things to Exeter, by finding things that aren’t necessarily already on people’s doorstep. In terms of artwork, prints and products that we carry, we want to bring in things that people will like to find and will be new to them.
DID YOU HAVE A PLAN FOR THE SHOP WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
N: The whole shop came together in about 3 months at the beginning and once the premise was open, to me that was it – it was done. I didn’t really know anything about business, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just wanted to have a space that sold artwork. It wasn’t until Hayley came on board about half a year later that we actually started to look ahead a little bit. We started to source new products and shape the shop. It was almost as if the foundation was there, it just needed to grow. The shop just changes and it’s so fluid. We’ve been able to add new products like house plants, venture into things like picture framing and selling coffee. It confuses a lot people because there isn’t a set theme or border around the shop, except to us there is – to us it’s specific and quite well honed. It’s been nice to keep it fluid and open, but the one thing that’s been consistent all the way through has been our ethics and values, they’ve been the backbone of every decision we make all the way across.
We don’t really expect it to be anything, it just changes and evolves
H: In terms of having a projected idea of what the shop may possibly grow into, we always just knew that because the shop is our life, that the shop would grow as we did. We’ve grown up over the last seven years – hopefully a little bit! – and so has the shop. Our choices reflect that change within ourselves.
N: Even as people you don’t become something that’s expected of you, you just live from day to day and I feel like that’s how the shop is. We don’t really expect it to be anything, it just changes and evolves.
H: Right now we’ve reached something that we were probably thinking about, or even talking about, when we first met. The idea of a shop being more of a community space, where people could spend time, grab a coffee, be inspired by books, read about mindfulness or Devon or recipes. We were talking about that when the shop was just this tiny little DIY project, and now we’re here, so we’re just enjoying that, which is great. We’ve finally got the space to grow.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR THE NEAR FUTURE?
N: Our main plan at the moment is to make the coffee bar completely dairy free.
We have so many regular customers and we’ve converted most of them to Oatly. They were avid milk drinkers, but they drink Oatly now instead, because they prefer it
H: We’re vegan, and there’s no reason for us to have milk here. The reason we’re doing it slowly is because we have so many regular customers and we’ve converted most of them to Oatly, which is amazing. And they were avid milk drinkers, but they drink Oatly now instead, because they prefer it. Most people in this general area are quite conscious of the environment, so they’re quite open to hearing about and adopting ideas that are different and new. It’s been a really interesting journey – I think we’re just about ready to do it now and we think the community is ready too.
N: It can take a while for taste buds to realise that something new is actually nice. If you’re so used to the same drink, for example, for maybe 20 years, and it suddenly doesn’t taste like your usual drink, it doesn’t mean it tastes bad, it’s just different. So give yourself time to become accustomed to it. It’s been a nice experiment.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF NGNG SINCE YOU STARTED?
N: There has been loads of great press coverage and magazine features. One of the highlights was being on the cover spread and part of a huge feature in Computer Arts Magazine.
When you get to bring everyone together as a community, I think that’s the main thing, really
H: It’s always really exciting whenever we change location – redecorate the whole space, make it feel like home, redesign furniture. Redesigning the interior is the most exciting thing for me, and then we get to have a little launch party to celebrate. When you get to bring everyone together as a community, I think that’s the main thing, really. For our fifth birthday, we had a really amazing exhibition at the Phoenix. We’d been open 5 years, and had done quite a lot of things in the previous two years to bring a community together in Exeter of indie arts, including things like local record labels and artists from Devon and all over the UK. We commissioned five artists to represent one of the five chinese elements and we had those laser engraved onto oak panels. We also had a timeline of photographs from the last five years of the shop. That was an amazing evening and an amazing thing to organise.
We climbed up this mountain in Lisbon recently, and when we got to the top, there was a girl sat on a rock wearing one of our t-shirts
N: We’d done 60 or 70 different t-shirts designs in that year, so we chose some of the best ones and laid them all out in this photographic timeline in the old shop.
H: We also had framed prints of every single design that we’d ever done. It was really amazing to look back – we hadn’t seen some of them in print for about 4 years.
N: In the exhibition, people were telling us their stories of where they had been in different times in their lives when they had come into the shop and bought certain t-shirts. They said things like “Wow, I remember when you were first open, I bought this t-shirt and I took it travelling.” They had memories attached to different elements of No Guts No Glory. You don’t often hear those stories so it was really nice to see how the imprint of the shop had extended.
H: Whenever we go anywhere, we always see people wearing NGNG t-shirts. We climbed up this huge mountain in Sintra in Lisbon recently, and we were walking up to this castle and we probably saw around a dozen people, but when we got to the top, there was a girl sat on a rock wearing one of our t-shirts. It was really cool to see that our t-shirts travel. We are always sending things around the world, but it’s amazing when you see them in action.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE PURSUING THEIR OWN DREAM?
You’ve got to be prepared to let go of some things and nourish the things that will grow
H: Identify your strengths and weaknesses, then really work on your weaknesses or any fears that you might have about yourself. Being an independent and running your own business, it exposes you to your weaknesses anyway, so if you know where they are then you can work to improve them. Have the guts to get out there and make a go of it. Be aware of your boundaries, because you can’t do it all. That’s a lesson we all learn one way or another if you’re of that kind of spirit – you can go out there with all guns blazing, but sometimes you realise that you have to take bits off to make it work. You’ve got to be prepared to let go of some things and nourish the things that will grow.
HOW AND WHY IS YOUR ECO-FRIENDLY AND SUSTAINABILITY ETHOS A PART OF THE SHOP?
N: We called the shop No Guts No Glory in the first place because we wanted it to be true to our ethics, not just be about profit margins. To us, having a business that worked meant that it was socially and environmentally responsible as well, not just something that worked financially. Firstly, we printed onto organic t-shirts and tried to use really environmentally friendly ways of printing. I think as the business grew and we faced new dilemmas, we kept thinking about how we can make those situations a little bit better. For example, we’d be called by a lot of different energy companies, and the thought of where most energy comes from didn’t sit very well with us, so we did a bit of research and found a nice 100% renewable energy company. They produce all of their power in Cornwall from the wind, waves, and the sun. As the business has gone on, we just kept finding ways to make more conscientious steps. It’s how we live outside of work, so it makes sense to make our shop that way inside of work as well.
Having a business that worked meant that it was socially and environmentally responsible as well, not just something that worked financially
H: It’s our lifestyle and our shop is our life. It goes hand in hand with what we choose for ourselves at home, so that’s why choose these things for other people to buy for their homes.
The more you give out to people, the more you get back
N: Sustainability to us is also more about how to build a community in terms of sustainable people, shops, business and vibrancy and all of that stuff. It’s all about the care that you give to all of the stuff at the front end as well as at the back end of your business. It’s the amount of networks, friendships and community that we’ve been a part of and helped to nurture in the seven years that we’ve been here, that’s been amazing.
H: It’s quite karmic as well. The more you give out to people, the more you get back. We’re always willing to give as much as possible to see projects come to life. We’ll always support all the artists we work with really fairly – we’d rather go directly to the artists we work with than go to some random catalogue.
N: It’s about nurturing all the things that essentially nurture you. Everyone we work with is an independent maker. We have a few magazines that come from publishers, but the illustrators and artists are all people that we want to support. It’s not just a product or business based interaction, it’s having a sense of the person behind that and understanding them. And on a more local level, when we opened the shop, other traders came in and helped put the sign up and paint the shop for us, and when they’ve got things to do we help them. It doesn’t just save on money, but you get to utilise each other and to me that’s what sustainability is. Before modern society, that’s what people did. It’s really nice to have the feel of that.
It’s about nurturing all the things that essentially nurture you
H: We once had a theft from the shop that was quite big, and some friends set up a Crowdfunder page – within three days they’d raised the money back. We also did a sale in the shop and it was amazing to see the support we got from the local community. People came in just to say “are you OK?” and that meant more than getting the money back. It was just the fact that people care enough to come in and see us face-to-face and ask us how we’re doing. And that means the world. It makes it all worthwhile.