Northampton-born zoology graduate Lizzie Barker set up Creature Candy to sell UK designed and made homewares and gifts that help raise awareness about endangered British wildlife, reports Ruth Supple...
Bats, bumblebees, moths, songbirds, red squirrels and hedgehogs are a handful of animals on the endangered list of wildlife in Britain and Northampton-born Lizzie Barker has set up a company to help save and raise awareness about their critical plight.
Creature Candy sells beautiful British-made products like soaps, mugs, T-towels, aprons, notebooks and postcards featuring fine pen and ink drawings of each species Lizzie is on a mission to help protect. And 10 per cent of the company’s proceeds is donated to British wildlife charities, including the Bat Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation and Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
“After working for three years as a consultant ecologist, I felt flat and uninspired,” admits Lizzie, 36, who grew up in Kingsthorpe, Northampton. “I had left the University of Aberystwyth in 2010 with a first class degree in zoology with the aim of entering a career in wildlife conservation so I could really help make a difference.
“My career was not fulfilling this need, so while I sat on my sun lounger in Portugal in summer 2013, I came up with a unique idea which would solve my problem. I decided to create Creature Candy to raise awareness of Britain’s declining and protected wildlife species, to inspire people to take active roles in conservation and to help raise funds for the charities that endeavour to conserve our wildlife.”
Creature Candy was born, but with no business background at all, Lizzie admits she was floundering in the dark at the start.
“It took me a year to get things off the ground and I used to work on Creature Candy in the evenings and at weekends after I had finished my day job. My friend, Jo Medlicott, who is a maths teacher by profession, is a great artist so I asked her to draw some sketches for me and things grew from there.
“I had no business experience whatsoever, so I joined Enterprise Nation, which gives you lots of advice about starting up in business, how to set up a website, do accounting and so on. It was a year before I could go completely self-employed and things have really taken off.”
Creature Candy is operated from a spare bedroom at Lizzie’s home in Kew, where she lives with her husband, Sam, and has already been featured in The Sunday Times and was shortlisted for My Country Business Award 2015, in association with Country Homes and Interiors Magazine.
“All our products are designed and made in the UK and we firmly believe in supporting UK businesses,” adds Lizzie.
Lizzie’s role as an ecologist saw her specialising in bats so it is unsurprising that the first creature featured on her products is the brown long-eared bat.
“It is one of the more common species of bats in the UK, but still at risk,” she explains. “Lots of people think bats are weird animals but I adore them, more so when I started working with them and I want to change people’s opinions about them. Some people think they have red eyes, fangs and are flying rats, but they are Britain’s only flying mammal and so important.”
Five other wildlife species on the edge feature on Creature Candy products. They are the bufftail bumblebee, privet hawk moth, red squirrel, hedgehog and lesser spotted woodpecker. Lizzie is currently working on new designs of the mountain hare for Christmas 2016, along with more bird and botanical designs.
It’s all a long way from Lizzie’s first job as a ballet teacher after leaving Kingsthorpe Upper School.
“I’d done ballet since I was four and taught it for years, but I wasn’t very happy in Northampton, so made a decision to go to university, which was the best three years of my life,” she says. “I met my husband there and re-focused my whole life.
“Science was something I’d always enjoyed and I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature. It was while walking around Pitsford Reservoir one day with my mum that I decided to follow a zoology course. Spending time in the Northamptonshire countryside as a child, wading through rivers looking for bugs, really gave me that love and, even though working from home can be quite isolating sometimes, I have a great graphic designer who I can bounce ideas off and handing that cheque over to the wildlife charities is so worthwhile.
“Part of the agreement that I have giving 10 per cent of our proceeds to wildlife conservation charities is knowing where that money is spent so I can tell our customers that 10 bat boxes have been bought, for example. It is very rewarding.”