In the heart of the village of Cottingham, a small, family run business specialises in eco-friendly and vegan products and refillable household products. Blondes has been a part of the local community for many years, promoting an eco-friendly lifestyle and a passion for animals for over twenty years. Willow Boyle, who runs Blondes, talks about an eco-friendly lifestyle and how she has applied that to Blondes.


How long have you been running Blondes for?


W: It’s over twenty years now. It was twenty years in June since we actually opened the doors.


Do you enjoy it?


W: I love it, I do really love it. It’s definitely a lifestyle choice, it’s something where there’s a lot of ups and downs, and over twenty years we’ve hit a lot of obstacles and there’s been a lot of things to deal with, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. 


Are you passionate about promoting this eco-friendly, animal-friendly lifestyle that is at the heart of your business? What drove you to open Blondes?


W: Definitely. When we first opened Blondes, it was in 2003 when we opened, and the reason we opened then was because there was no such thing as coffee shops. You could go to a tearoom and get a pot of tea and a frothy coffee but nobody around here did cappuccinos, or lattes. At the time, I was working at a university myself, my contract was coming to an end and I wasn’t sure if they were going to extend it or not. I've always loved working in customer service, and I just thought, you know what, I was 25 at the time, it’s a good time to do it, I thought let's give it a go. I live in Cottingham, so it seemed the right thing to do to open it in Cottingham. So that’s why I started it, and it’s just sort of evolved over the years as I have become more passionate. When I first opened this place, I was very into getting in touch with the council, seeing if I could recycle our plastics. I’ve become more passionate about it over the years, it's something I like to lead by example. I’ve been veggie myself since I was about four years old, and I’ve always just loved animals, so that’s always been there, but I think the sustainability side of it has kind of come in over the last ten years. 


Do you find that the cost of living crisis has had an impact on your business?


W: It’s definitely had an impact. I think Covid initially had an impact on businesses, but being here for twenty years, we went through the recession of 2008. A lot of the businesses in Cottingham closed at that time, there were a lot of empty shops. We managed to get through that - we are used to adapting. What we do, rather than carrying on as you are, we think ‘How can I adapt to suit this situation’. I think that’s why we've got the longevity that we have in a business, because we’ve always adapted to our surroundings. During Covid, we adapted and became a take-out only, which meant we could keep going during that time, and we actually found we were much more profitable as a take-away. As for the money people are spending, we have noticed a big difference. It’s maybe that people who used to come in every day are now coming in three times a week. Even before the cost of living crisis became a huge thing, I think people were feeling wary that it was coming, and we saw this gradually. It wasn’t something that was thrown on us, but again we’ve adapted. Things like the refillable products, it often works out cheaper to refill your own bottle than it does to buy a new one from the supermarket, so it is a way of saving money, and doing your bit for the planet as well.


Are you quite an adaptable business model?


W: I think you have to be. I think to keep going, you have to be. I think as the business has grown, I have also grown as a person.


Can you tell me about your other business, Mummy Meegz?


W: We’ve had a few difficult years, mainly because of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we’d just got into Holland and Barrett with one of our products, a vegan cream egg. We were selling one every thirty seconds around the country. But because of the pandemic, the factory couldn’t produce at the price anymore, we lost the contract, it was a very bad time. We were very lucky to find a great investor, he’s a vegan and he gives all of his profits to animal sanctuaries which suits us perfectly, it is very aligned with our beliefs. Fingers crossed, we are getting into Asda with all our products from January, so that’s really exciting.


Do you think this success is because of your niche, vegan products?


W: I think so. When we first went fully vegan here in 2016, a lot of people didn’t even know what vegan was. It wasn’t a mainstream word, whereas now it is used in almost every advert you see. To me, being vegan is a lifestyle, it's what I eat, what I wear. I do think the word ‘vegan’ can put people off, but I do think people have grown to be more understanding about what it is about. 


What separates Mummy Meegz from other chocolate brands?


W: Well, all our chocolate is from an ethical source, we use one single source family that it comes from that we are in contact with so we know it is all fairly traded and honest. We want to bring something onto the market that still tastes great, and is as competitive with price as we possibly can be while still being ethical. I would say eighty percent  of our customers aren’t vegan, but are just trying to make the more ethical choice. I think that's what we are about really. We want to be as competitive as we can, but more ethical.


For big events, even Christmas, would you encourage people to swap the turkey and try an alternative?


W: Absolutely, there are some amazing alternatives around. I don’t think it’s ever too late to change.


What about the health benefits of veganism? 


W: Yes, I don’t have a particularly healthy diet, but there's less saturated fats in vegan food, and cholesterol is also reduced. There are lots of health benefits.


What about the costs of a more plant based diet?


W: When people say it's expensive to be vegan, I’m just like ‘how much do you think a bag of lentils cost?’ It is the cheapest food you can eat. Pasta is cheap. It is expensive to eat certain vegan foods, but it is expensive to eat certain meats. I think, if you can still make those choices and it is affordable, then people should be trying to make those choices.  


Would you encourage people to buy second hand?


W: Absolutely. I must admit, I’ve always been a charity shopper. For my sixth form prom, my dress was three pounds from a charity shop and I won best dressed in the prom! I do think people sometimes need to get their head over the fact that it’s second hand, because they think it's dirty or something, but it's really not. There are so many good things to be had.


Being the first vegan eatery to open in East Yorkshire, in 2016, Blondes has been a staple of the community, and advocates for vegan and eco-friendly lifestyles for many years, and will hopefully continue to do so for many more.