Interview with Hazel Russell, founder of The Wood Life Project

Find out how Hazel Russell and her husband became increasingly concerned about the amount of plastic pollution in the world after having children.

And how it inspired them to launch The Wood Life Project, a beautiful collection of eco-friendly wooden products which are crafted in the UK, using wood harvested from sustainable UK woodlands.

What’s your career background?

I started off my working life within the Financial Services industry at Aviva where I stayed for seven years. I then spent seven years as a Production Scheduler at Williams Lea.

I made the decision to leave work in 2013 when I fell pregnant as I wanted to take time out to raise my children. I now have two boys, Joseph (six) and Lennon (four).

How did your career change after having children?

When I became a parent, my perspective on life changed and I became increasing concerned about the level of plastic pollution in the world and the climate emergency.

I was worried about the legacy being left behind for my boys and future generations. My youngest was about to start nursery and the time felt right to get myself back into work.  

I decided I wanted to create a brand with vision to end of the plastic revolution and the throw-away mindset of our generation. A brand which would inspire others and change the way people consume forever. So, in January 2019, The Wood Life Project was born.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

My husband Jimmy and I were alarmed when we assessed how much plastic was in our lives, especially baby products such as plates and bowls.

We sat down at the kitchen table, had a discussion and questioned why these types of products were made from plastic and not wood like they were historically. Jimmy then began sketching ideas and that was that! 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

We turned our designs into prototypes, launched a website and I booked a stand at Top Drawer trade show for September last year.

What’s your USP?

Our designs are unique, and we own the registered design rights. We manufacture in the UK only use sustainably harvested trees in the UK. We are a truly eco-friendly brand and as such our strapline is “eco-friendly living, without compromise”.

Who’s your target audience?

We target people like ourselves, either parent’s or people with little people in their lives, who want a better world for the children to live in, who have a social and environmental conscience, and overall want great quality products. 

For our pet’s products, we target a similar customer, but with pets in mind, rather than children!

Our lunchbox is targeted for both children and grown-ups, people who care for the environment.

What aspect of your product is sustainable, and where did your idea for this come from?

Our wood is sourced from the UK only. Our sawmill adheres to EU Timber Regulation rules and so we can have the confidence that all the wood we use is legally felled.

They also hold the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Grown in Britain (GiB) certifications We are also working towards FSC and GiB, which increases our accountability even further. 

All of our manufacturing, including our packaging materials, is UK-based. 

Our packaging supplier is one of only ten in the UK to be recognised as a carbon balanced printer by the World Land Trust.

It is a member of the Carbon Capture programme administered by The Woodland Trust, and also has ISO1four001 and Forestry Stewardship Council accreditations – we are confident in the knowledge that they are following environmental best practice.

Furthermore, we are looking into becoming a B-Corpwhich balances people, planet and profit, considering the impact of decisions on our workers, suppliers, community and the environment; so watch this space!

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Our biggest obstacle to date has been finding a manufacturer. Almost all woodworking factories are now based overseas, due to the demand falling when plastic became more popular in the UK. 

We reached out to so many manufacturers who worked with metals and plastics, to persuade them to manufacture our products. The machinery needed for our products is the same machinery used in metal work and plastic. However manufacturers weren’t keen to take us on as it meant cleaning lubricants out of equipment and building extraction equipment for all of the sawdust produced.

We eventually managed to find manufacturers who believed in us, our brand and our products and the relationships we have developed have gone from strength to strength.

And your proudest moment so far?

Since founding the company just over a year ago, there have been so many, from seeing our first prototype, to our first sale, to seeing Instagram posts on Christmas day of  other children using our plates. 

But I guess, what was really special was seeing my family so proud of me back in July last year, when we were invited to attend a breakfast meeting at the House of Lords at the request of Lord Billimoria (Cobra Beer founder) at a British Library event. 

We had the most wonderful day and we were even fortunate enough to be able to display our products and speak to all of the invitees (including Lord Billimoria), about our company.

Who inspires you?

There are many people that inspire me, but Julie Deane, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company is a particular inspiration to me. I had listened to her story on podcasts and read press stories and I find her to be the most inspirational woman in business.

I love Julie’s “do it yourself attitude” and how she taught herself to code in days and come up with her company logo in a few minutes. Her hard work, passion, energy and drive is truly inspiring. After listening to Julie speak, I had the revelation of “why can’t I do this?” and this was the catalyst I needed to get the courage to start our business.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Know your numbers!

Cashflow is what will make or break a business, so its important to have transparency in your numbers.

2) Get comfortable with selling your product

No one knows your business and products better than you do, so you need to ensure the passion comes across every time you speak to people.

Selling was completely alien to me when we did our first trade show, however knowing how much I wanted the business to be a success was all the ammunition I needed to give me the confidence to sell.

3) Don’t give up

Running a start-up is like riding the most terrifying rollercoaster, a mix of extremely testing low points mixed with wonderful high points. Resilience and risk-taking is an everyday part of start-up life, and not for the feint-hearted, but if you don’t take those risks, then you risk losing everything.

You can find out more about The Wood Life Project on their website, follow them on Instagram and find them on Facebook.