Noonoo, the story so far
If you'd like to jump to our online shop to buy the Noonoo products we currently have available, click HERE.
A note from Jo Ashburner, creator, founder and owner of the Noonoo brand.
How did Noonoo start?
NOONOO is the affordable eco brand for small children (birth and up) - soft toys, apparel, welcome blankets and booties all made from eco ethical sustainable and/or organic textiles, including cashmere-like bamboo fleece, softest organic cotton, cotton-like felted lambswool, habotai and satin silk – all toxin free, safety tested and gift packaged for the perfect gift.
In 1999, I had been married for seven years and lived in London and abroad, but 8x weeks before my son was born I unexpectedly found myself alone with no access to funds and nowhere to live. I was effectively homeless and that, as they say, was my epiphany. I had not enjoyed my school years so going back into education at the age of 34 was a major leap of faith, but in the end, totally the right choice for me and our future. I had to overcome the situation I found myself in and long story short, I went to Uni.
I worked hard and (although Ill never have the bank balance of JK Rowling who was in the same predicament at the same time!), I refused to let being a single mum, living in a council house and surviving on 12p a day (after rent, utilities and bills) define me. Four years later, I graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Surface Pattern Design from Swansea Institute (now University of Wales Trinity St Davids) in 2004.
Going to Uni saved me. It changed my life, it picked me up, it opened doors I hadn't realised were even there and it helped me be the real me, not the me I thought I was supposed to be. It helped me be a better mother and it gave my son and I something to focus on other than our grotty home surroundings and predicament. Hands down it was responsible for my son's amazing conversation and social skills - he had so many willing young teachers!
Being in a daily environment of colour and noise and creativity and challenges was exhilarating and I loved every minute of it. Foundation was one of the best years of my life and it was all down to Steve White, the then Principal of the Foundation course who interviewed me on the street peering into my wreck of a beat up Polo car at all the cushions Id made, the sketches Id drawn and the upcycling Id put together in a week to present at the interview. He said at the time that he hoped he wasnt making a monomumental mistake and gave me one of the last places on the Foundation course that year. I promised him, with baby on hip, there and then that I would make him proud and in the years following my graduation and after Noonoo became a success I often returned to him by phone or in person and reminded him of how he'd made everything possible.
The concept of the NOONOO brand (www.noonoodesign.com) and product was developed during the three years of the degree and borne out of the need to keep my then very small son interested in what I was studying to make my life easier in the study years. The idea went on to win me a European Social Fund scholarship to do a Masters degree in Enterprise at the University of Manchester, and ultimately to win the awards of Wales Regional and UK National Businesswoman of the Year in 2006.
Soon after graduating from Swansea Institute (now UWTSD), I moved up North to take up the scholarship and the idea for my eco brand really started to take off and overtake the Masters learning process. I set up a workshop in a studio over a garage in a warehouse unit in Ramsbottom, and started to painstakingly make my products. Demand soon outstripped supply, due in no small part to the the website I had designed and promoted as part of the Masters learning curve, and I soon realized that to sell to the public, I would have to increase production at the same time as making the strategic change to sell to trade, to ensure that the amount of product I needed to purchase did not sit around affecting my cash flow whilst losing money in storage….. and so I decided to look for help in manufacturing my product on a larger scale.
The hallelluiah moment of realizing that a change needed to be made and the time to think BIG had arrived, coincided with the realization that it was going to be difficult to find someone to process the textile I had developed and patented and which made the NOONOO range of products unique. After taking a staggering number of orders for product I hadn’t yet made at a major trade exhibition at the NEC at the end of 2005 – the first time NOONOO was shown to the buying trade and public – I realised there was no way back.
At that first show, I was bemused to find how little awareness people had of the benefits of eco products and how unwilling they seemed to be, whether trade or consumer, to accept that there was a way of giving real quality to customers at the same time as giving them the opportunity to invest in a product with longevity. No one it seems really ‘got’ the concept of organic and toxin-free textiles being used in products for children ….. how things have changed since then.
So that was it - armed with a few names and contact numbers supplied by my father, several personal credit cards, and elephants in my stomach, I flew to the Far East on a personal mission to resolve the NOONOO supply problem.
By the end of 2005, I had made the decision to put completion of the Master on ‘interruption’ (hold) and set up a workshop in Ho Chi Minh (old Saigon) in partnership with a Vietnamese businesswoman - four years on the same workshop continues to employ +/-28 people making the NOONOO range of products.
With no outside investment into the business, the industrial machines needed to manufacture the product were purchased in the UK, shipped by sea out to the new workshop and I travelled back and forth over several months to set up the management and training of staff in the new facility, and production finally started.
The NOONOO factory was located in a terraced house in a residential area of that rapidly growing city and the workers enjoyed a shaded courtyard with hammocks for rest periods, a cook and cleaner, and overall European standard working conditions ensuring staff loyalty.
I set this up in the way I felt in my gut was the right and fair way to employ people to make the Noonoo product - this was my own adventure and foray into independent manufacturing and the start for me of putting into practice everything I felt should be implemented into the world of ethical business practices and social enterprise.
Through my contacts and efforts, the workshop produced own-label product for a diverse range of household brands, including Nature et Decouvertes (France), Eden Project (UK) and Habitat (UK) amongst others.
My ethos is that if something could be made with a sewing machine, to the highest of standards at an affordable cost and in comparatively low quantities, then its good for the workshop to diversify and grow their own opportunities, and takes the pressure off NOONOO as sole client.
NOONOO, which won the UK Gift of the Year award for eco products in the gift and lifestyle markets in 2009 has since inception been nominated for several National Business Awards in the UK as well as Sustainable Product Awards in the US and Best Product in Show at Maison & Objets in Paris.
NOONOO sold throughout the UK into high end retailers including Fenwicks and The John Lewis Partnership, and worldwide through eight distributors in countries as far afield as South Korea, Japan, Australia, the US and Europe.
Where we are now
As Noonoo, and (on the retirement of my father) subsequently the flag manufacturing side of the business took up more and more of my time, the Mysterious Flotsam format was taken on by other companies and I set up the social enterprise Red Dragon Manufacturing Ltd (trading as Red Dragon Flagmakers) which brings us up to date.
I donated the bulk of remaining Noonoo stock In Kind Direct in 2016, a UK based charity which takes product donations and re-distributed them to other charities and causes.
Noonoo and the In Kind charity
Now that the bulk of Noonoo stock has been shipped and donated to #InKindDirect, a wonderful Princes Trust organisation which redistributes products from companies to charities, social enterprises and not for profit organisations, the Noonoo website has been closed.
If you'd like to buy direct from a charity local to you, please scroll down to view the list of organisations who have benefited from Noonoo products to date. To read the Donor Impact Report, March 2017, click the image below.
|Family welfare||North East||Co Durham|
|Greenfields Centre||Family welfare||East Midlands||Nottinghamshire|
|Stanley Mews Community Trust||Disability||East Midlands||Northamptonshire|
|Complete Kidz Cic||Sport||West Midlands||West Midlands|
|Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council||Jobs skills, training and education||North West||Merseyside|
|Minner-Scheidemann Charitable Trust||Family welfare||London|
|African Heritage and Educational Centre||Arts, culture and heritage||London|
|Daisy Inclusive UK||Disability||North West||Merseyside|
|Wamumbi Orphan Care Foundation||Overseas development and relief||North West||GWYNEDD|
|Blairdardie Out of School Service||Child/youth care||Scotland||Scotland|
|Dorset Reclaim||Community group or project||South West||Dorset|
|Nanstallon Pre-school||Child/youth care||South West||Cornwall|
|Salvation Army - Northampton East||Family welfare||East Midlands||Northamptonshire|
|Winlaton Centre Community Association||Community group or project||North East||Tyne & Wear|
|Centrepoint Christian Church||Community group or project||West Midlands||West Midlands|
|Cornerstone Care in Confidence||Counselling/advice||East||Cambridgeshire|
|Carryduff Pre-school Playgroup||Child/youth care||Northern Ireland||Northern Ireland|
|Cranhill Church of Scotland - Family Matters||Community group or project||Scotland||Strathclyde|
|Toddington Scout Group||Child/youth care||East||Bedfordshire|
|Charms The Essex Therapy Centre||Disability||East||Essex|
|Mustard Seed Project Kenya||Child/youth care||East||Lincolnshire|
|Riverside Early Years||Child/youth care||East||Lincolnshire|
|POW Nottingham||Alcohol/substance abuse||East Midlands||Nottinghamshire|
|Lenton Centre||Health/medical||East Midlands||Nottinghamshire|
|Woodlands Pre-school and Nursery||Child/youth care||London||Essex|
|Barnsbury Housing Association||Housing and homelessness||London||London|
|Hornchurch District Scouts||Child/youth care||London||Essex|
|Options 4 Change||Child/youth care||London||London|
|Iraqi Welfare Association||Family welfare||London||Middlesex|
|You and Me Counselling||Counselling/advice||London||Essex|
|Europe For Christ Mission||Child/youth care||London||London|
|Age UK - Waltham Forest||Older people's support||London||London|
|Burnley Play Association||Disability||North West||Lancashire|
|CAB - Wavertree||Counselling/advice||North West||Merseyside|
|Royal Oak & Baguley Residents Association||Community group or project||North West|
|Johnson Fold Residents' Association||Community group or project||North West||Lancashire|
|Nugent Care - Epsom Street Community Centre||Community group or project||North West||Merseyside|
|Salvation Army - Glasgow||Family welfare||Scotland||South Lanarkshire|
|YMCA - Kirkcaldy||Child/youth care||Scotland||Fife|
|Lanarkshire Kidney Patients Association||Health/medical||Scotland||Lanarkshire|
|NIPPERS||Child/youth care||South East||East Sussex|
|South East Berks Scout Council - Gang Show||Community group or project||South East||Berkshire|
|Early Birth Association||Health/medical||South East||East Sussex|
|Chernobyl Childrens Lifeline - Eastleigh Link||Community group or project||South East||Hampshire|
|Hele Hub CIC||Jobs skills, training and education||South West||Devon|
|Local Food Links||Health/medical||South West||Dorset|
|Goms Mill Residents Association||Community group or project||West Midlands||Staffordshire|
|NAVIGO CIC - Tukes Project||Health/medical||Yorkshire & the Humber||Humberside - South|
|Rock foundation UK ltd||Disability||Yorkshire & the Humber||Lincolnshire|
|West Hill Community Services||Community group or project||Yorkshire & the Humber||Humberside - North|
|GOAL For The Gambia||Overseas development and relief||London||Kent|
|Raft Foundation, The||Family welfare||North West||Lancashire|
|Starter Packs Glasgow||Housing and homelessness||Scotland||Strathclyde|
|Caxton House Community Centre||Community group or project||London||London|
|Beith Community Development Trust||Community group or project||Scotland||Ayrshire|
|Carers Support Ashford||Family welfare||South East||Kent|
|Y Services for Young People||Child/youth care||South East||Hampshire|
|Barnsley Blind & Partially Sighted Association||Disability||Yorkshire & the Humber||South Yorkshire|
|Langdon Hills PCC||Child/youth care||East||Essex|
|Home Start - Ashfield||Family welfare||East Midlands||Nottinghamshire|
|Toy Project||Child/youth care||London||London|
|Charles Thompson's Mission||Housing and homelessness||North West||Merseyside|
|Pulling Together Asian Women's Group||Arts, culture and heritage||North West||Greater Manchester|
|Seaforth Information Network Group||Community group or project||North West||Merseyside|
|Elim Church - Watford||Community group or project||East||Hertfordshire|
|Waltham Forest Asian Mothers Group||Disability||London|
|Disability Support Group (North East)||Disability||North East||Tyne & Wear|
|Teesside Ability Support Centre||Disability||North East||Cleveland|
|Big Light On CIC||Jobs skills, training and education||North West||Lancashire|
|Port William Inshore Rescue Service||Community group or project||Scotland||Dumfriesshire|
|Summerston Childcare||Child/youth care||Scotland||Lanarkshire|
|Boomerang Community Centre||Community group or project||Scotland||Scotland|
|Horley Row Community Pre-school||Child/youth care||South East||Surrey|
|Jamies Wish Trust||Health/medical||South East|
|Sunfield||Child/youth care||West Midlands||Worcestershire|
|Warley Gateway Club||Disability||West Midlands|
|Mary Tozer House Social Club||Community group or project||Yorkshire & the Humber||South Yorkshire|
|50+ Tuesday Lunch and Social Club||Community group or project||Yorkshire & the Humber||Humberside - North|
|Stand Up for Africa (SUFA)||Family welfare||London||London|
|East London Out Project (ELOP)||Counselling/advice||London|
|Ryecroft Hall Community Association||Community group or project||North West||Greater Manchester|
|Voluntary Action - Halton & St Helens||Campaigning/umbrella organisation||North West||Cheshire|
|Geeza Break||Alcohol/substance abuse||Scotland|
|Clyst Caring Friends||Disability||South West|
|Burford Parish Hall||Community group or project||West Midlands||Worcs|
|Broomfield South SILC||Disability||Yorkshire & the Humber||West Yorkshire|
Our plans for Noonoo and the the future
The products we continue to sell constitute the few ranges we held back from the charity and form the basis for the new range of Noonoo products we are planning for launch in 2018/9 - space permitting.
Watch this space and social media for updates.