reclaim design home decor
Posted Apr 23, 2020 by Anastasia Prokofieva

How We Founded Our Eco-Friendly Home Decor Business in South Africa with Zero Experience

Under the Success Stories section of our blog, we publish real-life stories of small business owners who run their online stores with Ecwid E-commerce. Here you can get to know fellow merchants and learn from first-hand experience. Have an Ecwid store and want to share your story on our blog? Here’s how to do it.

Today we introduce you to Michael Martin and his partner Nikki, founders of Reclaim Design: an Ecwid store featuring handmade eco-friendly home decor created from recycled materials and locally-sourced reclaimed wood. Read their story to find out how a photographer and a music producer launched a handmade woodworking business without any industry experience, and soak up some of their best tips for e-commerce success.

Reclaim Design founders

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Why We Decided to Sell Home Decor

My partner Nikki and I started our business because we were at a career crossroads. I was a music producer and Nikki was a photographer, and neither of us was feeling fulfilled. So during a 6 month journey through India, we sat down at a coffee shop (we were in Mumbai at the time, so coffee shops were available and a rare treat!) to discuss our options.

I had felt unhappy/uncertain with the music scenario for a while, but it took me a while to get my head around the idea of letting it go. I had spent many years putting a great deal of effort into it, and there was a part of me that felt I wasn’t capable of doing anything else. Which was yet one more reason to change direction and prove myself wrong. Nikki felt the same way with her photography.

We both agreed that we’d like to learn new skills, and also live in accordance with our values — in particular, living (and working) as sustainably as possible. From my perspective, I felt an urge to work with my hands since I felt my practical aptitude was lacking. I was looking forward to the challenge of teaching myself woodworking and doing something totally different.

Vertical garden by Reclaim Design


Vertical garden by Reclaim Design

I remember breaking my first pallet and making my first planter box. I only had a drill and a fairly blunt handsaw, but I had total “beginner’s mind,” so everything was new and exciting. The end result was questionable (and it took me nearly all day to make!), but the important thing was that I had taken my first steps and gone from thinking about it to actually doing it. It was both a fail and a win at the same time.

As for Nikki, she is very crafty and quickly came up with some great ideas for recycled products that she could make.

Laser etched wood boxes by Reclaim Design


Laser etched wood boxes by Reclaim Design

Also: Where to Find Ideas For Your Online Store

Roles and Responsibilities

Our team is a small one — me and my life partner Nikki! The roles vary — sometimes I’m the CEO, sometimes I’m not, and vice versa. It has been really good to work together, as we have been very supportive of each other through the process, and I have seen great growth in both of us.

We both design and create eco-friendly home decor. I tend to deal with the woodworking side of things, and Nikki deals with recycled materials like plastic, glass, and the like. I don’t think we find inspiration as much as it finds us, and who understands the mechanics of that… I surely don’t.

I have a wood workshop I built at the back of our house with a collection of tools that I’ve built up since we returned from India in 2014. Nikki works in the house (which is a win when there is cold weather!).


Nikki takes product pictures for the website

Nikki also takes care of packaging — she is a master at that. She makes judicious use of cardboard and bubble wrap to make sure the product reaches its destination safely. After the orders are packed, we ship them with a courier service. It is a much faster and more reliable option than the post office here in South Africa.

Making Eco-Friendly Products

Our perfect customers are those who understand the need for eco-friendly/conscious consumerism. To support this lifestyle, we create our products from materials we source from all over town.

We’ve developed relationships with some retail outlets who give us pallets they’re throwing away. Sometimes we find materials that have been thrown out on the street as we’re driving past, and we stop to ask if we can take them. The local dump has also been helpful for materials. We also find some people give us materials that they had earmarked for landfill once they learn what we do.

We only make use of heat treated wood. If the wood has been chemically treated with methyl bromide or similar, then we don’t take it. If there are any oil spills on the wood then we also won’t use it. “Eco-friendly” effectively means not harmful to the environment — as we are actively reducing waste that goes to landfill, we are in alignment with that ethos.


Сreating new products from reclaimed wood

There are no special licenses that would certify us as an eco-friendly business. We live and work in South Africa, and it’s an amazing country in many ways, and luckily they aren’t as rigid in their rules and regulations. From our perspective, this is very helpful since the rigid rules and regulations stipulated in other parts of the world would stifle our small business.

We work from an ethical basis, so even though we don’t have any special licenses, customers need not worry — each product is handmade by Nikki and myself, with all materials sourced by us with the environment foremost in our minds.

Also: 10 Hot Eco-Friendly Product Ideas to Sell Online

How We Promote Our Home Decor

We started testing demand for our products by selling on markets around Cape Town — real-time market research! — and I used social media to promote market events where we were selling (mostly Facebook).


Reclaim Design’s stand on a market

When working on the markets, we’re able to talk face-to-face with people and explain what we’re all about. Nikki is very good with customer-facing — she was a total star on the markets. She is brilliant at selling in-person and gets us many more sales than I would with her amiable sales patter!

Now we’re in the process of building our online presence and want to move in the direction of selling online. I deal with the website since I have a bit of understanding and experience in that regard. I have revamped our website in WordPress, and after a lot of research, Ecwid seemed the perfect solution to sell our products on a WordPress website.


Ecwid store on the Reclaim Design website

I am also working hard on the SEO side of things to boost our business locally with a view to getting more online sales that way. It’s a learning curve and an ongoing process, but I’m rising to the challenge. Also, I think the quarantine is a good opportunity to spend time improving our website, so I’m paying close attention to SEO and site architecture right now. I think if we can have a good web presence, it may ameliorate the effects of the pandemic when the quarantine is lifted.

Our email list has been really helpful for online promotion. We collect email addresses from customers and people who are interested in our products on markets to build our mailing list, and then we send out a newsletter once a month or so.

Paying for ads on Facebook or Instagram has garnered us some more followers and likes, but has not translated directly into sales yet. Followers and likes are great as they go, but to be honest, we would much rather they convert into sales, since our business isn’t an exercise in ego-massage, it’s more about generating income!


Reclaim Design’s Instagram profile

More: 15 Practical Ideas for Promoting a Small Business Locally

Our Best Tip: Break Big Goals into Smaller Tasks

I would advise other Ecwid merchants to take the first step. Focus on what is in front of your right now, and take baby steps to reach your goals.

When I worked as a software developer many years ago, my manager gave me some great advice — he told me to break every problem down into small chunks and work on one chunk at a time. Before long, the chunks mount up and the problem that seemed insurmountable in the first instance looks a lot more manageable and achievable.

If you look at the big picture, it can seem like a quantum leap to get there from where you are. If you feel this is happening to you, stop, breathe, and focus on the task in hand for the day. I’m not saying: “Don’t have long-term goals.” I’m saying: “Don’t let them overwhelm you.”

Also: 30 Ways to Make Your First Sale Online

Learn More About Selling Online

With eco-conscious living on the rise, stories like this could be just the inspiration you need to start your own sustainable ecommerce journey. And don’t forget to check out Michael and Nikki’s Reclaim Design website for even more of this duo’s awesome creations.

If you want to read more inspiring stories like this one, subscribe to the Ecwid blog to get free e-commerce tips delivered direct to your inbox.

About the author
Anastasia Prokofieva is a content writer at Ecwid. She writes about online marketing and promotion to make entrepreneurs’ daily routine easier and more rewarding. She also has a soft spot for cats, chocolate, and making kombucha at home.
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