Words by Christina Dean

We’re sure that there have been many a good idea thought up over a pastry but for Liz Warner, hers was a real winner. In her role as CEO of Comic Relief, she’d seen a multitude of interesting projects but there was one, Luminary Bakery in Stoke Newington, that provided the spark for Different Kind, a place where you can shop from the best ethical and socially-minded producers.

After searching for more and more social businesses like Luminary Bakery and finding them all across the country, she, along with three other women – Vik Anderson, Charlotte Hillenbrand, and Gail Sulkes, who also spent time working at Comic Relief – co-founded Different Kind to become “a showcase or department store of the best of social brands.”

The online store launched in October 2021, with 30 producers available to shop from, which has since grown to 80. The whole business is underpinned by a commitment to do retail differently, platforming kindness and showcasing products and brands that are making a difference. “We ethically screen things before they even get to the store but our big plus is that everything has to have a social benefit, so it has to do some good in some way,” explains Liz. “Vik describes it as a department store of ‘different kind models’. Every supplier is a different model of kindness in some way.”

“We’re like the antithesis of Amazon. Imagine Amazon and we’re the opposite.”

Of course, as well as having an amazing story and benefit, each product has to also be fit for purpose, whether that’s tasting good or looking beautiful, so everything for sale at Different Kind has been carefully curated to make sure it meets all those criteria.

The categories, like house & home, food & drink and body & beauty, are fairly broad but there’s a very tight selection of what’s available to purchase. Around 80% of all the products are from UK producers, which keeps the shipping more sustainable; there’s a tight curation on clothing, focusing on essentials rather than trend-led pieces, as it’s not a fashion-focused business; and there’s also a concise range of beauty products because there’s so much greenwashing in the industry, so they only stock naturally-made, small-batch items that they know are legit. 

There are lots of London-based brands and products stocked on Different Kind, including granola from Fat Macy’s, which is the first thing that people make when they start on the training programme; sparkling wine from Forty Hall Vineyard, which runs ecotherapy harvest sessions; ceramics from Studio 306, which supports recovery through creativity; and tea from Hackney Herbal, which uses horticulture to boost mental health. 

From further afield, there’s biscotti from Step and Stone, a Bristol-based bakery that works with young adults with learning difficulties; Blantyre glass jars made from recycled wine bottles by People of the Sun in Malawi; and sweet treats from Grace Chocolates in Scotland, who work with women touched by the justice system and who Different Kind have partnered with on honeycomb chocolate, the first own-brand Different Made product. The development of the Different Made line of products is something Liz focusing on for the next year and beyond as it means they can guarantee a certain level of work for the brands they collaborate with. 

Providing such assurance is a key part of the Different Kind model, as Liz says, “we want to be very definitively operating retail in a different way, so we’re not a plugin marketplace. We’re a committed store and we’re a committed partner to our producers, we buy their stock so they know they’ve got the order.” They work with MailOut, a fulfilment and distribution service that also operates as a social enterprise (it provides training for adults with autism and learning difficulties) to physically hold stock in a warehouse, which is packed by hand and sent via Royal Mail. “We’re like the antithesis of Amazon,” says Liz, “imagine Amazon and we’re the opposite.” There aren’t thousands of products to overwhelm and exhaust you when shopping, and deliveries arrive in a reasonable time frame rather than in a rush.

Liz is also keen for Different Kind to lead on a new kind of gifting. Corporate gifting has become a significant part of the business and she really sees an opportunity in this area. “It’s not about more is more, it’s about less is more meaningful,” she says. “I think it’s ironic for a retailer that we’re saying don’t buy more, we’re trying to say buy less that lasts longer or that has more meaning behind it.”

“It’s not about more is more, it’s about less is more meaningful”

Who wouldn’t rather a goodie bag with two great, thoughtfully chosen things inside, rather than twenty random, often branded, often plastic, items? Or, even better, a gift that continues to give, like the Different Kind of feminist library they created for one company for International Women’s Day and have encouraged other companies to buy it for a school in their postcode “so they donate a library that empowers girls in the area where they are”.

Establishing something physical and permanent could well be on the cards for Different Kind itself. Following a pop-up shop in Oxford, Liz would love to have something longer-term to keep facilitating those interactive, face-to-face moments. “I think the high street is changing to become more of a community hub and therefore it might be the place that would suit us. I think it might be a living, breathing thing so you get more than just buying stuff, like interaction with the people who’ve made it maybe,” she muses. “We’re Different Kind so it needs to be different and kind and I’m not quite sure what that looks like yet.” We reckon it won’t take long for them to figure it out.