4th April 2023
An Introduction To Boon & Up
Interview With Founder Jonathan Hall
Like all worlds which aren't dealing with life, death and the things that closely surround it, the interiors world can seem somewhat vapid. I don't feel that way, but we all know the old troupes. So when a company comes along and not only wants to produce beautiful things while making a wider substantial difference, it makes one sit up and take notice. I have to admit it was their product that first drew me to Boon & Up. I had no idea about social responsibility; all I saw were their handsome colours which instantly struck me. Later, finding out about Jonathan Hall and the ethos behind Boon & Up made me even more delighted with the brand.
Boon & Up has set out to create beautiful, timeless fabric and pieces. They have remained authentic to the traditions of the Dagaaba region in the remote far northwest of Ghana. Their throws, cushions, blankets and rugs have all been expertly handwoven by a collective of women weavers using sustainable materials. The cotton that goes into their throws and cushion covers is 100% sustainable cotton grown by smallholder African farmers under the ‘Cotton Made in Africa’ initiative. The wool for all their blankets and rugs is surplus wool sourced from mills in North England. Boon & Up seeks to remain authentic to tradition whilst adapting the weavers’ designs for a new market. In doing so, it brings much-needed employment to this part of our world. 20% of profits are invested in projects that provide further employment opportunities in the district.
What was your background before you started Boon & Up?
JH: I had had a mini career in the City (ghastly) but then put myself through art school, first Heatherley's in Chelsea (Foundation) and then the Slade School of Art (BA). I practised as an artist for a number of years, interspersed with various travels, the biggest adventure being selling our Putney house when our two daughters were young and buying a boat and sailing around the world for four years.
What made you start Boon & Up?
JH: I was volunteering for a small UK charity (Action Through Enterprise) in the district of Lawra in the far upper west of Ghana. It's a rural area, 16 hours by bus to the capital, and no Westerners (apart from a couple of German missionaries). My job was to set up arts clubs for kids with special needs. Any child born with a disability in West Africa is seen as cursed - and not only are they seen as cursed by the whole family is believed to be cursed too. The result is that SN children are put in the back room out of sight and barely see the light of day. My job was to bring them out and stimulate them and also try to show the locals that these kids are not cursed, just perhaps unfortunate. It was while I was setting up the arts clubs that I first met the weavers. I was intrigued by what they were doing, but they told me about their struggles and that they were finding it harder and harder to find customers and make a living; it turns out primarily due to climate change - as the annual rains falter and change pattern the local subsistence farmers (95% of the local adult population) are finding it more difficult to make a living out of the soil. Thus there is less cash in the economy, thus no one is buying the weavers' cloth (which is traditionally made into smocks for Sunday best). I said I'd see what I could do, and I took samples of their work to Liberty's. They said they liked the patterns, but the cloth was too narrow, the colours too vibrant, and the material was 100% Chinese polyester, a no-no.
So I set about changing all that, and now, with a little simple technology, they weave at 110cm width. The colours I've chosen reflect the more washed-out colours that they paint their houses, and I've sourced carbon-neutral cotton that's been grown by smallholder African farmers.
What is your favourite thing about Boon & Up?
JH: The weavers. They make me laugh, and I seem to make them laugh (although we only understand a few words of each other's language). I travel to Lawra about four times a year, and they always give me a huge welcome when I arrive, and I'm so sad when I leave them all. I feel very protective of them and worry for them. According to the UN their region of Ghana is 100% food precarious, and in our district, the girls will have left school before they have learnt English; their own language of Dagaare is only spoken within a 50-mile radius, so if they venture out to find work they are very vulnerable to being exploited. Some head down to the capital Accra, and at best, their job will be as market porters carrying huge baskets of goods on their heads. I'd like to find work for all the weavers in our district, but that might be a bit of a tall order!