A Life Well Lived

As part of our journey to redefine Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?” Here we talk to Jeremy and Cath Brown, founders of Feldspar, about their business and what living well means to them.

Overlooking the rolling hills of Dartmoor in southern Devon, Feldspar, is a design brand and workshop that make objects for life. “We make things seriously, but we want them to be light-hearted” says Jeremy. “We spend a lot of time designing things to be exactly how we think they should be, but we want people to enjoy using them. To be conversation pieces, to bring a little smile to your face when you use them.”

Before setting up Feldspar, Cath had just finished training as an architect and Jeremy was working for the UN with a number of large fashion houses, researching and implementing ethical supply chains.

“Some of the fashion houses were amazing” recalls Jeremy “and they were really interested in making a difference, making a change. Others were very interested in the positive communications aspect.. But less so in actually making a difference.”

“That was a huge inspiration for us when it came to starting Feldspar” explains Cath. “We wanted to do everything the way that we felt things should be done. Ensuring everyone’s paid fairly along the way, and that everything’s made out of the finest materials we can find. We didn’t want to have to compromise on anything. Even the paper for our packaging is milled in the Lake District.”

"I found myself reading all of these books about craftspeople and the fantastic lives they were living, making things.”

When it came to launching Feldspar they explain that whilst they both had design backgrounds, Cath having trained as an architect and Jeremy having studied design, the decision to move from London, and pick up tools in this case, was somewhat impulsive.

“The summer before we moved we were telling people how we would never leave London.” Says Jeremy. “Cath was heavily pregnant and at the time was travelling an hour into work, and an hour back. I was travelling abroad the whole time and could be away 25 days out of the month, in a different continent every other day sometimes.”

“In the end I just burnt out. It got the stage where I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks, and the only thing I could do was read. I found myself reading all of these books about craftspeople and the fantastic lives they were living, making things.”

On Launching Feldspar

“We were looking for a house in East London at the time,’” says Cath “and then we just ended up having a look at what we could afford in Devon instead. And that was it. We thought, lets do that.”

“We didn’t have a plan as such, we just said we’d try it, take a sabbatical or treat it like my maternity leave.”

“For the first six months I didn’t even have a phone” says Jeremy, “which was lovely. And then Cath made me get one what with us having a new-born child.”

When it comes to explaining whether running their own business was something they both dreamt of, Cath laughs. “For me, definitely not. When starting a business you’ve got to be incredibly self-motivated. Or have at least one person who is. Jeremy is very self-motivated. And I, am not.”

“I think I would be what you call a typical entrepreneur” says Jeremy. “A lot of what I did at the UN was about helping other people to build businesses. Showing others how to do it and do it responsibly, but inevitably I would get frustrated because they wouldn’t do it how I wanted it to be.”

“Even when I was a kid I was starting businesses in my bedroom – all of them terrible failures – but I’m constantly thinking about work, even to the point where it’s not necessarily that productive. Whereas Cath is much better at focussing in – if you point her in the right direction, she’s like a Duracell bunny and then she’ll just zoom to the end. And do it really well.”

On Advice

"Absorb as much advice as you can take. But be really selective about who you ask for advice."

“We found that everybody has an opinion,” says Cath “And they are not necessarily grounded in any first hand experience. So, be a real sponge. Absorb as much advice as you can take. But be really selective about who you ask for advice. You’ve got to really stick to your guns, to really know why you’re doing it.”

“Exactly.” agrees Jeremy. “Seek out advice, but try to find mentors and peers that you look up to and you think can help guide you. We were lucky to know some really successful people in this field,  and so the first thing we would do is ask ourselves “Who do we think will have valuable advice for this particular project?” And I think that really is the most important thing, being selective about who you ask.”

On Milestones

“As the business has grown, every now and again we’ll get to a scary cliff-edge. Because as it grows, the costs going out continue to grow, and the cash flow gets stretched.” explains Jeremy. “If someone places a massive order, the first thought is of course excitement, and then the second is, “Oh no.. How are we going to get it all made?” Invariably we’ll have the odd sleepless night, but then we both just sit down and take a step back. If we fail, at the end of the day we’re all healthy and happy. This isn’t life or death.”

“I mean what’s the worst that can happen?” says Cath, “We would just have to go back to doing ‘normal’ jobs.”

On Lessons Learnt

“We have definitely made a lot of mistakes” says Cath, “none of them catastrophic, but without them we wouldn’t be at the stage we are today. We allow ourselves to constantly re-evaluate where we are. Our business plan for example, is very flexible.”

“One of the things I learnt from working with the UN” says Jeremy” and something that we have adopted as our kind of methodology, is just to keep iterating the whole time and to not be afraid to make mistakes. To welcome them. Then you just keep evolving.”

When it comes to running your own business and doing something that you are particularly passionate about, it is always interesting to find out whether or not it ever feels like ‘the daily grind’.

“It’s a lot more stressful,” says Cath “but then liberating at the same time. What we do is super enjoyable, but it is a constant. It’s all-encompassing. ”

“I think it’s different now, to what we imagine it will be like in five or ten years time,” says Jeremy “because it’s not just that we are working for ourselves, it’s more that we are working on a start-up. That’s the stretch now.”

On Success

“Success is probably a summary of everything we’ve been talking about. Being able to continue what we’re doing, but knowing that it’s sustainable. The business side is really fun, and hopefully, it will continue to be fun, but rather than worrying about covering baselines, it would nice to have the time to be able to really just concentrate on creating. So, that’s our success, basically. Seeing it all coming together.”

Running a business together and raising their two young children, Milo and Beatrix at the same time, might sound like a handful for some, but Cath says that it’s really not something that they ever even considered. “We didn’t really think about it. Lots of our friends are like; “God, so you work together, in the middle of nowhere, all day, every day. We could never do that.” But it seems to be so natural to us. We’ve never actually had an argument because we both share the same vision for the business, and we’re both quite laid-back to be honest.”

“The flexibility as well is just amazing.” Adds Jeremy “The other day we had to pick up the latest production batch of candles from the north coast in Devon. So we decided to all drive up together and then stop off at the beach for a quick swim on the way.”

On Living Well

"How can we have the biggest impact, and the least impact at the same time.”

“To be healthy, happy and mostly outdoors,” says Cath “and for us, because we’re both quite creative people, to have the opportunity to create.”

“Having independence, as well.” Says Jeremy. “To be free from the nine-to-five. Simple things like the choice of when we wake up; when we work on this-or-that. And ultimately, to contribute to the world in a beneficial way. Being a force for good, basically. How can we have the biggest impact, and the least impact at the same time.”

“We are trying to create objects that are an antidote to the throwaway culture” says Cath “and we hope that our things are the kind of things that could still be on a shelf in 100 years time.”

On Fulfilment

When it comes to fulfillment, they explain that since living a quieter life, it is most often the simplest things. “I was in the workshop a couple mornings ago and Milo, our son, walked around the corner. And he was like, “Daddy? What are you doing?” He came and sat on a little stool that he has in the workshop – he’d brought a picnic with him which was a tub of Philadelphia and a spoon – and he just sat on the stool with me, asking questions about what I was doing, whilst eating a tub of Philadelphia.”

“That sums it up in a way. We’re fulfilling our dreams by pursuing a career that we want to be pursuing, and we’re surrounded by family the whole time.”

On Wealth

"What we really value is time spent with family and friends over anything else.”

“Being able to live here,” says Cath “in the middle of nowhere, with our family. With so much space around us and the fresh air.”

“We both had very secure and pretty well-paid jobs before, and we packed them in for this – which is definitely less secure – so I think that shows that what we really value is time spent with family and friends over anything else.”

On Retirement

“We were laughing about this” says Cath “because I don’t think that Jeremy ever wants to retire and would just carry on as we’re doing now. Whereas I picture a lot of hammocks, and a lot of relaxing.”

“I picture myself always making.” Says Jeremy “So maybe I will end up making lots of hammocks for Cath to retire in to?”

“That would be lovely,” says Cath. “You should definitely work on that.”

Cath & Jeremy Brown are the founders of Feldspar. You can find out more about them by visiting their website, or by following their journey on Instagram.