Greening up your gaff has become a real ‘thing’ of late. You’ll struggle to open an interiors magazine these days without noticing an abundance of cacti and other interesting plant life adorning it’s pages. And it makes total sense, when you think about it. Plants and greenery in the home bring the outside in and help connect us with nature when the limitations of our lifestyles (and climate!) see us spending so much time indoors. And a happy result of this recent decorating addition is the appearance of some dedicated botanical stores round about. Newry-based plant shop and floral stylist Inscape, responsible for the breathtaking, tropical greenery additions to Babel, Bullitt hotel’s beautiful rooftop bar, provides a perfect example. As well as supplying all manner of greenery and plant-life, her stunning floral creations are virtual works of art. Another self-confessed forager and botanical addict, Karen McCullough, decided to go back to her roots last year and has since created an inspiring space in Donaghadee from where she works her green magic. Wild Thing, a botanical and homewares store, opened it’s doors in November 2017 and is going from strength to strength. I recently visited the lovely lady to talk all things business and pleasure in her still relatively new chapter...
You made a fairly dramatic career change to get here, Karen. What made you decide to take the leap and set up Wild Thing?
It was a ‘now or never’ time for me. Having worked in a profession which focused on therapeutic interventions for female prisoners for fifteen years, I was gradually becoming more aware of my need to slow down and embrace a more wholesome way of life. I love travelling and in recent years have been wowed by the lifestyle store scene across Europe, and the deadly way they manage to collate their customers who value wholesome living, offering the customer an opportunity to purchase locally and ethically sourced wares. Customers love to know the story behind their purchase.
The botanical aspect of my business goes back to my roots (literally) as I trained in floristry and horticulture twenty years ago. Since then, I’ve always been involved in this scene, styling weddings for family and friends.
I feel like it’s a ridiculously exciting time here in Ireland, as we are beginning to catch up with our European chums and bring the outside in. It’s amazing too, to watch our customers’ confidence grow with each botanical purchase and to provide them with knowledge around their own personal urban jungle.
What is your current favourite item in the store?
So difficult to pick just one, but I completely adore our cushions designed exclusively for Wild Thing by Amy Scott. The colours are rich and jewel-inspired and massively compliment our lush plants. The silk and velvet fabrics are to die for and the embroidered trimming and silk tassels are the ticket!
From your Instagram we can see that you’re a huge music fan; what’s the soundtrack to your Saturday?
I love this question! Music has always been such a massive influence in my life. I know I’m winning at life during the music round at our local pub quiz! The soundtrack to my Saturday is any down-tempo, cool, laid-back groove. I’m a sucker for Moodymann and St Germain.
Your branding is fabulous. Talk to me about it.
I know, right?! I felt like the luckiest girl in the world when I met Studio Stereo. Jonny and Connie just got me and they are an absolute dreamboat to work alongside. They guided me every step of the way and there were chunky, ugly, delighted tears when they unveiled our brand. It’s got such a strong, yet understated flow and massive potential to evolve as the business develops. These guys are part of our Wild Thing tribe and we can’t recommend them enough. Hit them up!
What have been the highs for you so far?
It’s all been a high. Finding the perfect building was the first high. I am also so thankful for the community we have developed around Wild Thing. I love facilitating workshops, and love the craic we have getting to know our customers and participants on another level. You know you’re doing something right when you’ve a waiting list for future workshops to be released!
For us, building a business with integrity has been our core message and it’s this that we want people to feel - and I’m talking literally feel. From our store to our products, our staff to our workshops, we have an undercurrent of caring in our bones. It’s hanging outta us!
We have customers from Donegal, Dublin and Cork, all of whom have travelled across our wee Island to experience Wild Thing and purchase botanicals for their homes. Donaghadee too, is such a hip and happening little town with cool coffee shops, restaurants, pubs and b&bs. It’s perfect for us.
Gazillions! Sourcing the Irish wares brands that fit with our botanics is an ongoing challenge. We always want to know the story behind our products. As for our botanics, they’re sourced from Ireland, Portugal and the Netherlands. We are always conversing with suppliers to ensure we find the best grading botanicals for your home.
Botanical installs for interior architects are also on the rise here in Ireland. It can be a challenge fitting these larger projects in, alongside the day-to-day running of the store, but they’re a real delight to complete. It’s so satisfying to have an opportunity to breathe life into these spaces.
Building customers’ confidence in their ability to care for and nurture their plants is something that’s also truly important to us, and so is an ongoing priority. We know our shit, we’re not just here to plant push.
Northern Ireland’s business and creative scene is buzzing at the moment. Any advice for budding business owners?
It’s about bloomin’ time, ain’t it!? I’m loving it. Advice, no - I’m no business genius. What I have experienced in business though, is find your tribe and support each other. I’ve yet to meet two businesses that are the same. Each business is diverse with its own values, morals, knowledge and goals. Retail and design can be ridiculously rewarding, but tough too.
It’s sad times when people who are also creative and like-minded, see themselves as a creative island. I’m all about collaboration - collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Invariably, it equals immense growth. And for me, coming from a counselling background I’m all about the feels too. Spread the love - that’s my motto.
You are still at the early stages of a wonderful adventure with your business. What does the future hold?
I’m very much a ‘here and now’ kinda gal. I don’t like to plan too far ahead but rather feel present and live in the moment. I say as I do, slow-loving and embracing a wholesome way of life. We have more workshops planned, some more collaborations with other Irish makers are on the cards over the next few months too. And building the wares side of our business with a traceable ethical background is also a priority, building links across our wee island.
We’re meeting with a Cork design team next week to discuss plans for a new hotel - hugely exciting! And increasing our staff too, so watch this space. It’s sometimes easy to forget we are only seven months in business, as it’s been such a whirlwind. But we are loving life.