25th November 2016
There’s more to shop at the Mailbox this Black Friday, as we welcome Best of Britannia to the Urban Room for an exclusive pop-up event. From fashion brands including Genevieve Sweeney and Ross Barr, to urban homeware Stolen Form, there’s even The Sweet Potato Spirit Company – a Worcestershire-based company that exclusively creates spirits using sweet potato as its base ingredient!
Talking us through what it means to be British, Christmas gift inspiration and being inspired by the 90s, we caught up with Joe Pidgeon, co-founder and events director at Best of Britannia…
Hi Joe! Let’s start with a little about you…
I’m originally from North West London, and actually started out in publishing. I’ve always had an interest in music, and for 10 years my job was working on a magazine called Touch, the official magazine for KISS FM. As part of that I got to meet some of the biggest artists (he tells us he’s met Beyonce, back in her the Destiny’s Child days!), and work on some incredible events, including parties for MTV and the Donnie Darko film premiere, so that’s where my passion for events stems from.
In 2001, when the internet really took off, it was much harder to create content for a magazine, because you could find it all instantly online. That was when I really decided to change career path and focus on the event side of things, and that’s still the main part of my job today here at Best of Britannia.
You’re one of the co-founders of Best of Britannia, a company designed to discover and promote the finest British brands. How did the idea of Best of Britannia come about?
I’ve always been a bit pernickety about what I buy, and like to know how things are made – some people call it fussy but I think it’s really important to know! It’s something that Antony, Esme (Joe’s co-founders) and I all have in common, so that was a great starting point from going in to business together.
The real turning point came in 2012 around the Olympics, when we found out that so many products for the Olympics were being made overseas. One example was the ‘Boris Bikes’ in London; we make some fantastic bikes here in Britain, yet it was all being outsourced at a time when the spotlight was firmly on the UK. It seemed crazy that there just wasn’t the confidence in British made products.
We actually did a Best of Britannia event just after the Olympics, when the feel-good factor was at its highest, and the response was incredible. We should be championing our own products when we get the chance to on that kind of scale.
Best of Britannia is all about supporting British independent brands. Do you think that demand for both has increased in recent years?
Absolutely. There’s always been a demand for British made products, but surprisingly this is more from overseas, countries like China and Japan. It’s not about British pride, it’s about championing well-made products, that you know have been made by someone earning at least minimum wage, and working in a really positive environment – people are more conscious now, and the brands that we support come with that guarantee.
You’ll be showcasing a number of brands as part of Best of Britannia here at the Mailbox, but if you had to recommend just one for picking up a unique Christmas gift, which would you choose?
That’s an impossible question, because everything is so varied! There’s something to suit every budget, and it completely depends who you’re buying for; I’m going to sit on the fence so you’ll have to come and take a look for yourself!
You certainly champion being British, but what do you think is our best national tradition?
Without a doubt, fish and chips. I live in Brighton now, and there are some incredible places for really good fish and chips.
A little bird tells us that you’re inspired by the 90s – what is it about the decade that you love?
I was definitely inspired musically by that decade, because I spent so much time working at the heart of the industry. It’s also the time that I learnt to do what I do now; the passion everyone seemed to have back then has made me the person I am today.
You’ve recently launched your online store, allowing even more people to get access to some of the brands you showcase. What item is top of your Best of Britannia wishlist at the moment?
A Moulton bike, without a doubt. They’re beautifully built, really well-designed and are honestly a work of art – it’s like the Aston Martin of bikes.
The Sweet Potato Spirit Co. is proudly based in Worcestershire, are there any other Midlands brands on Best of Britannia that we should know about?
Definitely – Ross Barr menswear is manufactured in Leicester, and Teddy Edward is from Wysall in Nottinghamshire.
And finally, what are your first impressions of Birmingham?
I actually like it, without meaning to sound so surprised! The Mailbox is a beautiful building, and I love the canals. It’s changed a lot in the last few years, it doesn’t feel as moody as it used to! Having said I like fish and chips earlier, I think I will have to go for a curry later; the best curry I have ever had was in Birmingham after all!
Best of Britannia is hosting an exclusive Black Friday pop-up in the Mailbox Urban Room until Sunday 27th November. Click here for more information.