Niko Dafkos + Paul Firmin, Founders of Earl of East
Reading Time: 4 min
Social Impact: Founders of the multi-sensorial brand Earl of East, one that places value on objects and encourages a buy-less attitude to home-ware.
Community is something that lies at the heart of East London for Niko and Paul, founders of Earl of East. A brand that’s already made a name for itself in its native Hackney, it’s the perfect example of how a local brand can become so well-loved, that it’s supported when it takes the next huge steps of its journey.
Partners in life and business, Niko and Paul first set up shop in Netil Market, firstly as a stall and then as a container, before making the leap to opening in Hackney. Now, with a second brand in Kings Cross and plans to expand the business even further, it was a perfect time for #ParadiseRowCurates to make a visit and discuss their journey as a true East London brand.
Their Hackney store is always a visual treat to enjoy, and, we’re told by Niko, has just enjoyed a facelift:
“We’ve brought the candle-making section closer to the front,” he motions to a beautifully designed wooden fold out wall, emblazoned with the Earl of East logo, “So this is everything! On a Saturday we close that door so it’s just a shop, we’re still in the process of figuring it out. We have a new back area too where we’re going to do all the skincare products.”
When can we expect to see these grace your shelves?
“The hand balm is technically approved, we’re just working on a label design, it’ll be coming out September or October!”
The grand tour of the new store over, we get to sit down in the heart of this incredible design space with its founders to discuss their journey and what it took for them to make Earl of East a local name.
“We started the business about five years ago, but it started off as a weekend thing. We lived in this neighbourhood for quite a long time to start with: Paul had been around Clapton and Hackney for much longer than I have, but when you’re not from round here you’re always looking for a community to be a part of. In East London, you have that at face value but it’s so hard to embed yourself as outsiders. You don’t yet feel like you belong.”
When E5 opened we used to go there; we went to all the local coffee shops, bars, market stalls; we were interested in the objects and drinks and food but what always fascinated us was the story behind it.”
How did you take that feeling of being an outsider and put it into something of your own?
“We started with trading at Netil Market, we had experienced a loss so we thought: right, let’s turn this sad energy into something productive. Netil market was somewhere we loved, one Saturday we bumped into one of our neighbours who was selling vintage ceramics who told us how easy it was to get started there.
It was those different moments in time that made us realise it’s what we wanted to do, everything happens for a reason, and six weeks later we were trading there!”
What did you start to sell in your stall, was it candles straight away?
“Well, because we went to Germany a lot we bought all these amazing trinkets and objects so we intially used the stall as a way to sell all these wonderful things on, but we started thinking: how to we differentiate against others?
When people sell vintage items they have expertise, but for us it was the aesthetic quality: we wanted something that wasn’t so surface level. So, we decided to incorporate plants and then decided to work with independent businesses and brands, all around scent. We didn’t realise that would become our thing, but you don’t realise those things until you look back and realise there’s a pattern.
We looked around and saw that everybody was doing things, creating things, but we were making things look pretty.”
Is that how your journey with making your own products began?
“Yes! For us, it was the right time to explore what our thing would be. Scent was what we were really passionate about. So, we decided to do the candle making.”
And so, an iconic brand was born; with over 250 stockists worldwide and an unmistakable core collection, it seems that Niko and Paul have never looked back, and they did it whilst having full-time jobs. Once Niko tells us he left his career in advertising eight weeks ago to be a full time Earl of East, we wonder what made them decide to take the leap.
“It’s been five years in, the business has been growing and growing, but since we opened in Kings Cross the business has changed. We went from a team of five to a team of fifteen, everyone we have is amazing but it becomes too much to manage when you’re not physically there.
Kings Cross came in October of 2018. On paper? Way too early, but we just had to do it!”
How would you describe the Earl of East aesthetic?
“I think traditionally we were very like a lot of grey tones, very earthy, what always comes back is that we’re very democratic in everything we do and put out there, so the Earl of East aesthetic and how you see it, is the product of everyone who works here, in the product we put out the brands we stock.
It’s also true in the sense that everyone is welcome and everyone will find something they might like and can afford.”
We ask if it’s something currently missing from shops and Niko nods:
“You’ve been there when you walk into a store: do I have enough money, do I belong here? At Earl of East, we’re welcome to everyone: it’s a shop, but it’s also a home. If you’ve been to our stores, you’re never greeted by silence or left alone when you shop.
But it’s not just about giving a welcome that we reject that hands-off approach to an in-store experience: every product has a story that needs to be told; it’s the reason we work with Paradise Row because there’s always that story behind it.”
It invokes that community feeling that makes people welcome, we make a point of people knowing that. We do four to six workshops every week, bringing creatives together who might not know eachother, creating this community for ourselves; its wonderful and it brings us back to the reason that we started: feeling like you belong.”
Words by Hannah Crosbie
Photography by Nora Nord