My West London Life

Jennifer McNabb, Founder of M&J Ethical Luxury

September
18

West London Living interviews Jennifer McNabb, west London aficionado and founder of M&J Ethical Luxury

Do you live in West London?

My home has been in Little Venice, Maida Vale for nearly twenty years, until last year, when needing a bit more space, I relocated my young family and studio to the shores of Strangford Lough in the Northern Irish countryside, where my family roots are. While I was initially splitting my time between London and Northern Ireland, that plan has been a lot trickier since Lockdown! I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of the “new normal” In London as soon as possible as London is where my heart is.

What’s your favourite thing about the area?

Little Venice is such a beautiful place to live in London. The architecture is stunning, so many great local restaurants, cafes, and boutiques, and living on one of the beautiful secret communal gardens fosters a small neighbourhood feel and sense of community. It’s a relatively quiet leafy neighbourhood yet so close to central London and an easy walk to Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and down the canal to Camden. It feels like a little bubble of loveliness. Over the years, I have made many local friends so it just feels like home and is such comfort to be there. It has so many of the treasures of London but not as many of the hassles, as it is not a hot nightspot nor is it a huge tourist destination.

Describe your perfect day and evening in west London…any favourite haunts?

I would start with a coffee at Cafe Laville, perched directly overlooking the canal. After that, an easy stroll along the canal to Formosa Village for a bit of pampering with a deep tissue massage and manicure at Cobalt in Maida Vale (they do the best Thai deep tissue massage and find all the knots). After that, I may meet friends for lunch at The Westbourne in Notting Hill. Or if it’s a family day, we’ll take the kids to the Natural History Museum in Kensington for the afternoon and maybe a treat at Odonno’s which has the best gelato in London, hands down.

For dinner, I would love to have a date night with my husband at Red Pepper in Formosa Street followed by then head into the West Wnd for a drink at The Rooftop at Trafalgar St James, such a stunning view at night. We love walking around London together – it is a very romantic city.

You’re the founder of M&J Ethical Luxury which sells incredible scented candles, Can you tell us a bit about the brand and the vision behind it?

After having built a career as a fashion designer, and experiencing the rise and priorities of fast fashion, I wanted to create a product of high quality that considers how it is made at each stage of the production process. Compared with products that are deliberately designed to be cheap and disposable, I soon realized it is a real luxury to be ethical, as it often costs a lot more to source and manufacture goods in eco-friendly and socially responsible ways. Hence our name: M&J Ethical Luxury.

I have always enjoyed scented candles to create a relaxing ambience, and it is the ideal product to both indulge and have a low environmental impact. Every aspect of our products – from the centre of the candle wick to the wax to the container to outer packaging is intentionally sourced with ethics and sustainability at the centre. The impacts of producing ethically are manifold – touching on environmental, labour, and societal issues and even our own health and what we breathe in.

Our scents are inspired by some of my favourite travels both in and around London and around the world. Scent and candlelight is such a powerful sensory balm – and the right scent can transport you to times of peace and relaxation.

M&J Ethical Luxury started from your Maida Vale kitchen, how has it grown and developed since then and what have been some major milestones along the way?

I am very hands-on and make many of the candles myself, but now I have much more space to do it in than the kitchen in my fifth-floor flat! One of my biggest milestones was when Whole Foods UK placed a very large order for all its UK shops – it was our first big order after starting out at local markets such as the Duck Pond in Richmond – but it came literally weeks after I had just given birth to my first child. So I had a six-week-old baby girl and a huge order of candles to make and pack! I did not sleep at all for many weeks but was so thrilled to see the candles on the shop shelves!

Soon after, I had the thrill of being stocked in the prestigious Rooftop Spa at the Four Seasons Park Lane, which led to other Four Seasons Spas around the world stocking the candles. Another big step was to move into my first studio at the Granville in West Kilburn. I loved having other creative businesses around me and enjoyed the strong community that was fostered there.

Maybe most rewarding is being stocked in other like-minded businesses that also have ethical missions, such as one of our current stockists, The Goldfinger Factory in Trellick Tower, Portobello London. It is always a joy to work with other companies that have a similar ethos.

Before starting M&J Luxury you were a designer in the fashion industry; what did you learn about sustainability (or the lack of) during your time there?

I spent over 14 years in the UK fashion industry, mostly specialising in denim. I have spent a lot of time abroad in countries such as Turkey, India and China as the majority of the clothes we buy are not made in the UK. Seeing the declining labour and environmental standards both at home and abroad was one of my primary motivations for starting my own ethically focused business. I was inspired to prove that it was possible to produce accessible, high-quality products in a very different way and I was lucky enough to have the option to do so. I am very thankful for that.

Your candles range includes some intriguing and unusual scent varieties (Cucumber, Mint, Strawberry & Champagne anyone?) How important is scent to you in your everyday life? Do you find it to be a particularly evocative sense?

Scent, for all of us, is amazingly important as it is the strongest link to our memory. The M&J Ethical Luxury collection of fragrances is very personal to me; there is a story behind each scent that is truly unique. London is such a cosmopolitan city, and, having lived here for over 20 years, I have made many friends from all over the world and had the opportunity to travel extensively. I’ve been inspired by happy memories to create each scent: Our English Summer scent honours relaxing with my flatmates spending sunny Saturday drinking jugs of Pimm’s – it has notes of cucumber, mint, strawberry and champagne! The Autumn in New England scent reminds me of my childhood growing up outside of Boston in the USA – this features notes of cranberry, pumpkin, and maple syrup. My husband is from Tbilisi, Georgia so I created a candle for his home with notes of pomegranate, walnut and tarragon – it is all about family warmth, hospitality, and feasting together.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best advice I’ve received probably hasn’t been a saying or specific conversation, but rather the examples set for me by many mentors I’ve been lucky to have over the years. I’ve learned a lot from observing people I’ve worked with and for over the years. It is really important to truly love and value what you do, and to take pride in doing it properly. Authenticity matters. Above all, it is important to be flexible and prepared for change at any moment – nothing is set in stone! That wisdom has served me well as a creative entrepreneur!

What’s next for Jennifer McNabb and M&J Ethical Luxury?

I believe that we all are in a state of transition right now as we begin to hopefully look toward coming out on the other side of the COIVD pandemic. The Lockdown and health crisis has provided people with the time and perspective to value things differently. Though a tragic and fearful period in our history, we also faced how interconnected we all truly are – all in this together. Previously all but invisible support systems, that many of us took for granted – and the people that give their time and care every day to serve and support us get the recognition they deserve. We are shopping more locally and value those in society who give back.

Lockdown has put a new view on life for many and I hope we don’t forget it too quickly. I hope this time will be an opportunity for M&J Ethical Luxury and other brands with similar ethos to help be part of a change in consumerism, helping people to understand and consider that how they spend their money has a real impact on our environment and fellow citizens. Our brand will be growing and listening to its customer’s needs

Where to find the candles

M&J Ethical Luxury candles are stocked in West London in Portobello at Goldfinger Factory www.goldfingerfactory.com and online in our shop www.mj-london.com

Image of Jennifer by Agenda from Visual Marvellery

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