By Felicity Burton-Latimer
Opening a new business in the current economic climate would seem to be a bold move for anyone, let alone a teenager fresh out of school. But that’s exactly what Laurence Cole did last year when he was just 19 years old, full of confidence that his shop, The Greenway Emporium, was exactly what the town of Boyle in County Roscommon needed.
The shop is entirely built on the premise of Fair Trade and eco-friendly produce – the ‘green’ way. Laurence insisted, right from the start, that everything would be ethically traded and nothing would compromise his belief that wherever the item came from, it should be from a reputable source and the person who made it should be paid a fair price for it. The Fair Trade symbol is everywhere.
“We have some wonderful gifts from around the world that are well priced,” explains Laurence, “but we take the trouble to discover the story behind them, who made them and what kind of working environment they have. Eventually, I’d like to go around the world myself to commission hand made crafts, but right now I have to rely on ethical trading through trusted wholesalers.”
Local crafts get a look in at the Greenway Emporium, too, with wood, fabric crafts, crochet, felt, ironwork, candles and many other handicrafts produced by local artisans, and there is also a selection of traditional Irish music CDs, alongside health foods, gifts, relaxing music and herbal toiletries.
“It has been very satisfying to discover that I’m not the only one who thinks The Greenway Emporium is a great idea,” says Laurence. His family have been right behind him, too, with his parents, David and Louise, and 17 year old sister Rhiannon, taking turns to help as volunteers in the shop, along with his girlfriend, medical student Verity Hill.
“Its very much a family affair,” says Laurence. “We all share the same vision, made a tad easier by us already following the green lifestyle.” The family has an organic smallholding growing vegetables and fruit, and Laurence and his sister are life-long vegetarians. He is proud to point out that everything in The Greenway Emporium is suitable for vegetarians (there’s a discount available to members of the Vegetarian Society of Ireland), with vegans also well catered for. “We don’t do feathers, leather or bone giftware, and all the food items and toiletries we sell are suitable for vegetarians,” says Laurence.
The economy hasn’t hindered Laurence’s shop too much, although he recognises that many people are wary of extravagance. “But people still need to buy gifts for birthdays and anniversaries, so why shouldn’t they choose something ethical? And they still need to wash their hair in natural shampoo and their dishes in ecologically safe detergent. Many people realise how important it is to use eco-friendly products around the home. Even if people don’t want to save the earth, they know all those nasty chemicals in conventional cleaning products are not good for your general health and well being.”
Laurence knows his target market – and he’s evangelical in his aim to change the world! “A lot of my customers are already clued up about the environment, but it is very satisfying when I convert someone who usually does all their shopping in the supermarket and only walked into my shop out of curiosity. When they come back to me for Fair Trade coffee and organic tea bags, it’s a very rewarding feeling!” he says.
Healing crystals have become a key element of the business, too. “I hadn’t realised so many people shared our love of rocks and stones,” smiles Laurence. “We keep more than 140 different types of crystal and run workshops for beginners to introduce them to the astonishing healing properties of these stones.”
Laurence Cole is approaching his 21st birthday, while his business completed its first year in October. He still has an unwavering certainty that his shop is the future of responsible retail: small but perfectly formed, bright green and trading with a clear conscience!
You can follow the shop online at www.thegreenwayemporium.ie and on Facebook.