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Owning a business before the age of 30 was not on the bucket list of Alessia Cesana when she was a child and yet, thanks to a series of fortuitous circumstances, she joined the ranks of the Millennial Entrepreneurs at the age of 27 when launching Laurel and Yew, an interior design consultancy with corporate social responsibility at its core. Its aim is to tackle the issue of youth unemployment in South West London while helping ethical interior design to become the market norm over time.
Ethical fashion has been on the agenda since over a thousand people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013, thanks especially to celebrities advocating the cause. “Ethical interior design is still relatively niche” says Alessia Cesana “but people love their homes and it's important that we have our own revolution, too”. This newly established interior design company has secured partnerships with some of the best brands on the market, supplying from anywhere from developing communities in India to rural England, all hand-made using traditional techniques and keeping the impact on the environment as low as possible. All design decisions are taken with with two questions in mind: “Is it beautiful?” and “Is it ethical?”. As much as possible is sourced from existing homeware and furniture, especially antiques but also up-cycled items if suitable to each bespoke design. Every single item in the overall design has to be justified as having a positive impact.
The supply chain is obviously an important concern, but recent scandals such as Sports Direct show that it's not just workshops overseas. “Over the years, the many stories of bad business have made me feel uneasy. I knew there had to be a different way to do things, and I've searched until I've found it. The movement supporting ethical business is growing, supported by the evidence that cutting corners isn't the most profitable option anymore. Markets are changing, consumers are more aware.” says Alessia Cesana. After 5 years in and out of the private and third sectors, she decided to found Laurel and Yew with a specific impact in mind. South West London is one of the worst places for youth unemployment. It is estimated by the ONS that 25,000 people between the age of 16 and 24 in the area are NEET, or Not in Employment, Education or Training. Research by PwC has found youth unemployment costs the economy over £45bn per year. It is in everyone's interest to tackle this issue.
Providing employment opportunities, however, is not all there is to Laurel and Yew. “There's more to a job than income. Unemployment can be disheartening. You lose your ambitions along the way because you lose your confidence. You start to think you're not good enough because few call you back and nobody offers you a job. I want young people to feel they add value”, she says. Laurel and Yew aims to have a positive impact in the community by being an environment where friendship and mentoring foster personal growth: “Volunteering has been an important aspect of my life, and that's something I want to encourage in the team from day 1”, she says. It's a holistic view of the young people who are so easily turned into mere statistics, especially in a heated political climate such as we have now, and their local community. By putting these stakeholders at the centre of all that Laurel and Yew does, the company aims to create lasting change in the lives of many.
Laurel and Yew specialises in eco-chic interiors, with a mix of antiques, upcycled furniture and fair-trade products from the developing world as well as supporting traditional British craftsmanship. We have a curated list of suppliers that are aspirational, considered and unique so that we can make the world a better place one beautiful room at a time. Thanks to these careful partnerships we support businesses in empowering young people through work and as we grow, we aim to offer training opportunities to young people in disadvantaged areas of South West London, where we're based. Our scope is broad as we select projects by ethos rather than by type.
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