Having spent a couple of months on Zanzibar in 2005, the word ‘bazaar’ conjures up vibrant images of The Spice Island, buzzing with market traders intent on making a sale, luring you in with hypnotic charm and sweet aromas on the trade wind.
So when Kati Ramsden got in touch with Rural Kent in 2018 with an idea to turn her ‘Bare Bazaar – Food but Nude’ concept into a social enterprise, my interest was piqued. Here she was, addressing one of the most challenging problems of our time – plastic pollution, by returning to age-old principles of the bazaar.
As with most social enterprises, it started with a mission, born of frustration. Kati saw extensive media coverage of plastic pollution, yet widespread outrage at whale stomachs full of plastic and sea turtles swimming hamstrung by beer rings, hadn’t translated significantly, or rather financially, enough for supermarkets to do away with unnecessary plastic.
Kati decided to step out and do what every self-respecting social entrepreneur does. She quite literally disrupted the market with a simple but effective plan: “after lots of market research and number crunching, I was able to devise a stock list of goods and price them competitively against the supermarkets, and off we went to market ourselves! Bare Bazaar debuted at Ashford Farmer’s Market on July 1 2018, and I was massively encouraged by the response. We were back at the August market and it gathered momentum from there.”
Bare Bazaar was formed into a Community Interest Company in November 2018 and after two successful moves up in scale, Kati opened her first store in Ashford’s Park Mall in March 2021; where you can shop plastic free and a number of other eco and health-conscious ways, (organic soaps, washing powder and deodorants, for example). You can also order online for local delivery.
My first visit was on a Thursday morning when I found Kati accompanied by her friend and colleague, Kate Greig packing boxes of goods made from a great variety of local traders, ready for collection from 2pm. For Bare Bazaar also acts as a centre for Kent Food Hubs – a social enterprise in its own right that came into its own when covid-19 struck.
Kent Food Hubs Community Interest Company was established with impeccable timing in January 2020, to provide a trading and community co-operative platform for sustainable, environmentally friendly producers based in Kent. The mission was simple: disrupt the supermarkets, with ethical practices, at affordable rates. There are currently two established Hubs in Kent – Ashford and Folkestone. With other locations being scouted.
Beckie Alves, co-founder of Kent Food Hubs explains their ethos: “we are very proud of the way our Hubs are supporting small, independent enterprises. By building a community of like-minded traders and customers, we are challenging widely accepted food systems which rely heavily on imported goods, plastic packaging, community exploitation and production methods that are quite literally costing the earth.”
That’s a laudable mission, no doubt. But bam! We all know what happened just two months after the formation of Kent Food Hubs. The world’s industrial food system faced the biggest disruption in its history, as frenzied consumers emptied supermarket shelves in blind submission to the darkest side of human impulse and the will to power. All of a sudden, Kent Food Hubs became not only a laudable alternative, but the only alternative, for some.
Kate, who found herself furloughed from her job as manager at a popular Japanese restaurant, stepped up from a Kent Food Hub customer to become a volunteer because, “I’m used to being busy! And they needed people, the volume of orders went through the roof! No one could get a supermarket delivery. People were running out of food and turning to Kent Food Hubs. I helped out as much as possible and that’s slowly but surely turned into a paid job, and now I’m the Ashford Kent Food Hubs coordinator!”
Clearly, Kati, Beckie and Kate have found their calling, working to the beat of their own drum on a mission they hold dear in the form of ethically produced, (and sold) food. But how do you open it up to all? How do you get away from the perception that only the wealthy can afford to shop ethically? That’s simple, according to Kati, “We keep prices low here so it’s affordable for all and if people are really short on income, we’re looking at ways people can volunteer in exchange for produce.” And Kate is “looking into the possibility of Kent Food Hubs being able to accept Healthy Start vouchers – a food scheme for women who have young children or who are pregnant and receiving benefits.”
That’s what social entrepreneurs do, of course. You can’t pin them into a corner with tired stereotypes or notions of how it’s always been. They’re here to dispel myths, break paradigms and disrupt markets. It’s happening here, led by a group of women intent on bringing the fight against plastic and the industrial food system that’s killing both our health and planet, to our high streets.
Standing with them, just for a morning, I not only get a feeling that they’ve got a fighting chance, but that their slingshot might just take this Goliath down, if we all get behind them and similar ideas up and down the country.
Shop Bare Bazaar: http://barebazaar.co.uk
Shop Kent Food Hubs: http://kentfoodhubs.co.uk