Hayley Maker – The Woman Behind the Business
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye, Photography by Pip Andersen
Occasionally in life, you come across someone who is completely unique. In a world where life can sometimes feel like one big popularity contest, it is a truly refreshing experience to meet someone unhindered by the baggage of comparison and imitation. And that is exactly what happened when I recently met with Hayley Maker who, along with her partner Nathan, owns No Guts No Glory (NGNG) – a beautiful artisanal shop, urban jungle and speciality coffee bar on Fore Street, Exeter.
With creativity, sustainability and community at the heart of her value system, my time with Hayley quickly turned from an interview with a relative stranger to a conversation with a new friend. So, with a freshly prepared green tea infusing away – and inspired by the beautiful plants, uplifting books and thought-provoking artwork which surrounded us – I sat down with Hayley and started to chat.
Thank you for having me, Hayley. After seeing you fleetingly at a few events recently, it’s a real pleasure to have the time to sit down properly for a chat. Also, huge congratulations on your recent selection as one of Grow Exeter’s 100 Most Influential Women!
Thank you so much and what a surprise and honour it was to be selected. It’s been really nice to have you and the team from Grow around on the scene since you launched and it’s particularly interesting to see your journey unfolding and to hear about all that you have going on. Grow by name, grow by nature it seems!
That’s kind, thank you. Equally, it’s been an absolute pleasure to discover and start to explore your wonderful shop. I remember when I first walked in several months ago because I felt instantly and totally at home. You’ve done an amazing job of creating a very welcoming and calm environment that engages multiple senses. Well done.
Thank you! We are very proud of what we have created and it really feels like an extension of our vision and personality. I’m glad you have enjoyed spending time here.
I really have and I’d love to find out a little more about you and your journey. Perhaps you could tell me a bit about your background?
Of course. My background is full of projects, study, travel and job roles centred around arts and creativity. Ever since I was a child I’ve had a creative outlook and I’ve regularly found myself in environments that encourage creativity and being an individual. Having grown up in Exeter, I studied Art in Plymouth but found myself wanting to live in more vibrant, colourful surroundings so I moved to Sydney in Australia for a few years where I ran a boutique art hotel. I sort of stumbled into it, but it was such a cool experience! I then returned to Exeter where I worked as the Event Organiser at Hotel Barcelona (now called Hotel du Vin). From there I set up a business with a few friends, running a mobile cocktail bar called Monkey Bars which serviced many events in and around the Exeter area. My wanderlust wasn’t completely satisfied though so I then moved out to Vancouver in Canada where I worked in a beautiful harbourside restaurant called Cardero’s .
I love Vancouver! I was there just last Summer actually with my wife Jodie and our three kids. I really hope we go back again…it’s probably my favourite place I’ve ever travelled to.
I know! Isn’t it an amazing place? It’s such an awesome place to live! I then came back to the UK and moved to Bath; another place that I really love. I began to set up a skill-sharing network and it was there that my NGNG journey began. A few of my friends from back in Exeter suggested that I talk with a guy called Nathan about some branding for my skill-sharing network and mentioned that he might potentially be interested in getting involved in the project too. So, I wrote an old-fashioned letter to him with pen and paper and, for 6 months or so, we became pen pals – sharing details about the projects we were working on but also our dreams for a more sustainable future.
It was at this time that he was starting NGNG as a sole project and, a little while later when I moved back to Exeter, I started to get involved with the business. There was one summer, about 8 years ago, when I increasingly became involved with the project to the point that it made sense for me to become a partner and start focusing my full attention on it. I saw an opportunity to infuse an existing business with creative ideas and to merge mine and Nathan’s very different strengths to push the project forward. And that has been at the heart of our business since day one – to keep adding fresh things into the mix; to keep exploring and developing new ideas and to make sure we never stay the same for too long. We want to keep growing, so being open to change is really important whilst keeping our ethics and brand familiar.
You’ve lived in some amazing places, many of which are well known for attracting creatives. You must have met and worked with a variety of interesting people?
Yes, lots of former colleagues have now gone on to start their own businesses, many of which have similar values of creativity and sustainability at the heart of them. Wherever I have lived and worked, I have found myself surrounded by people who value and believe in protecting the environment whilst also being creative. And once I’d experienced this in several places around the world, I wanted to bring it back to Exeter; the city that I came from which will always have a special place in my heart.
That’s really inspirational Hayley and Exeter is all the better for it! I’d be particularly interested to hear a little more about your vision and value system in terms of sustainability and environmental awareness. It’s pretty clear as soon as you walk into NGNG that you are passionate about plants!
Well, NGNG has always been about doing something that we truly believe in so, over the years, we have woven our ethics into the business. Whether it is choosing to only use electricity from a green source or looking to eliminate our usage of plastic products wherever possible, we want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We also try to source products which carry similar values of wellbeing and sustainability too. As a family and a business, we are trying to forge a lifestyle for ourselves and those around us that is free of the things which can be detrimental to our health and the earth we live on. To put it simply, we firmly believe that it is entirely possible to work and live sustainably and we want to make daily choices to that end. We have also tried to build a community of people around us that share similar values, and this is starting to grow and take on its own momentum now.
In terms of plants in particular, I have probably the most green-fingered Mum ever, so I grew up surrounded by plants in the house. I remember that, as kids, we used to have to wade through Spider Plant babies to get to the shower and things like that. She’s always been a huge influence on me as she’s very creative and was the first person to introduce plants and art into my life. I’ll always be grateful for that.
You mention a growing community based on similar values and goals. That’s interesting because, as I was preparing for our time together, I wrote down a few words that came to mind when trying to sum you up and, the first one on the list was ‘community’. It’s obvious to me that you place huge value on being part of a bigger picture and sharing your journey with others.
Yes, it’s so important to me. I am very fond of Fore Street and remember even in my childhood knowing that this part of the city was unique and had a very definite sense of identity and community. I’ve never forgotten it so, when I moved back to Exeter 8 years ago, I was drawn to this part of the city again. We made the conscious decision to try and rally people together and embrace the variety and closeness of our community. To celebrate our differences, but also our shared goals and desires. And it has happened! We are part of a beautiful community of people; creatives, artisans, independent retailers and ethical traders. Nathan and I always said that ‘community is what you make it’ and we knew that, wherever we were geographically based, we would carry the same values with us.
We could have set up a project in Bristol, London or Brighton, where there is an existing culture and community based around our values, but we decided to base ourselves in Exeter and carve our own path here. It is a much longer process but is, ultimately, more rewarding. Whether it has been attending art fairs around the country to talk about the work we are doing in Exeter, or supporting and empowering art students in further education, we have tried to champion the creative and independent communities in Exeter and inspire them to believe that the city is somewhere they can stay and explore their creativity.
You’d be surprised how few people are wired that way though. To want to pass on their passions and values to those around them and also to the younger generations. Where does that come from in you do you think?
I don’t really know. I suppose I’ve always loved to see things grow. Whether it is people, ideas or plants, I just love to see things develop and turn into something different and more beautiful. Some of the students we worked with years ago have gone on to sign big book deals and have really successful careers. To me that is complete magic. That’s what it’s all about in my opinion. It’s in my blood and I’d describe it as a core value of mine. I’ve also had the complete pleasure of working with incredible people who create beautiful things. To engage with their work and be swept into their world in the process has been the biggest joy of collaborating with others.
And I think you’ve done exactly that here Hayley. You and Nathan have created a mini-world that people have the pleasure of entering and enjoying. A minute or two away from the High Street, but a very different and unique space.
Well, it has certainly been a labour of love. The business has grown consistently but slowly and has required a lot of personal sacrifice. But as I said before, that makes it all the more rewarding when you see things gathering momentum and impacting the people around you. And we absolutely love the space that we’ve created. Coming to work every day is a real pleasure and we wouldn’t change our journey of how we have got to this point for the world. It feels like everything has been building to this point and that what we are doing is part of a bigger and more significant picture.
How exciting to operate out of such a strong sense of purpose and conviction. And outside of the work environment, tell me a little about your home life?
Well, Nathan and I have a gorgeous little girl called Edie who will be four years old on April Fools Day. She is already passionate about art and community and whenever we walk up and down Fore Street she says “Look! My Fore Street! I love my Fore Street!”. It’s so special to see her growing up surrounded by an amazing community of people who are inspiring and teaching her that there are limitless possibilities in life.
She’s a lovely mix of me and Nathan too. In fact, we both changed our surnames when Edie was born to mark and symbolise who we wanted to be as a family. My surname was Marchant and Nathan’s was Blaker, so we merged them to create Maker! And it sort of feels like it was meant to be because that is who we are; makers!
At home, we are a vegan family so Edie can already identify loads of different types of seeds! It’s great to know that we are teaching her from day one to eat natural and healthy foods and enable her to be aware of her own wellbeing and nature.
And, on a personal note, I find nature a real place of respite. I liken a lot of life experiences to the forces of nature and find myself most energised and centred when I am in and around natural environments.
And finally, you strike me as the sort of person who is well able to envision and imagine what the future holds. Tell me a little about your hopes for the future?
We would love to expand our business and open a second shop elsewhere in the UK – to stay rooted here in Exeter but also to explore what it would look like to grow our community in a second location. I’ve always got new things on the horizon and new projects on the go all the time. For example, I’m studying Interior Plantscaping at the moment (bringing the outside, inside) which I’d love to add to our business. I’m really passionate about improving our indoor experiences with outdoor materials and I’d love to pass that passion on to others in the form of education and assistance. Wherever the wind takes me I just want to keep growing and evolving. I’m an intuitive being and I follow my gut feeling on things, so who knows what tomorrow will bring!
Hayley, you are a free spirit and a joy to talk with. I wish you, Nathan and Edie the very best and I look forward to seeing your exciting NGNG journey continuing to grow and develop.
To find out more about Hayley, follow @naturewins and @ngngdesign on Instagram.