Anyone who knows me well will know I’m into interior design. I love unusual arts and crafts for the home or as gifts so well stocked independent stores are a breath of fresh air to a bounty hunter like me. There is no surprise then that I absolutely love a very special shop in Crystal Palace called Coconut Trading. I’ve been going there for years but if you haven’t been there or heard of it then listen up!
I’ll tell you the history first. The owner, Perry Ukueku, of African and Caribbean heritage, left a successful career as a company Director after making a decision to change direction. He didn’t know what he was going to do next but knew he wanted to work for himself – a brave decision some might say. Perry decided to go travelling first and whilst on his travels it occurred to him that he should turn his passion of collecting artifacts from around the world into a living.
Coming from a Nigerian and Jamaican household Perry grew up with hand made crafts in the home and had a natural affinity for them. However, he found that culturally there was not much appreciation or significance given to them. This made him want to source handcrafted artifacts that would be talking points or become heirlooms.
And so the concept of the shop was born. In August 2000 with no previous experience Perry along with a business partner Neil Harvey opened Coconut Trading. The shop was given this name because in every country that Perry visited the artisans and craftspeople used coconuts in their craft.
Research is done in the UK to source and meet the artisans personally from all over South Asia, East Asia and West Africa. This includes Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, China, India, Vietnam, Philippines, Nigeria and Congo. Perry sources the artisans and products, learns about the process then fairly trades with them.
As a result world crafts from various cultures using indigenous materials and traditional techniques that are passed down from generation to generation have been sourced. Materials such as reclaimed teak, mango wood, bronze, waxed cotton, silk, glass beads, jade and of course coconut shells are some of the indigenous materials used. Everything in the shop is handmade or handcrafted, you will not find any of these crafts mass produced on the high street.
So this is more than a shop, it’s an experience. An oasis of gorgeous hand crafted artifacts from around the world fill the walls and the space. There is so much to see, show stoppers large and small, from the largest bronze Buddha to delicate sheets of handmade wrapping paper and everything in between. Earthy hand carved wood ornaments and furniture, vibrant hand painted silks and papers, hand made bags, intricate jewellery and more. Most of the artifacts carry a significant cultural or spiritual meaning. The shop has a lovely atmosphere and beautiful energy that seems to carry the feel and aura of the artifacts and of the crafts people who made them.
Low mood lighting with world music playing gently in the background further creates the mood. You get transported away to foreign climes once you step through the door and the beauty of the objects and the positive energy keeps you enchanted while you are there. Crystal Palace sounds like a fitting location for this shop as once you step inside it feels like a small foreign palace or temple in the middle of South London.
Then you will meet Perry, who counts as one of the treasures in the shop. He is so friendly and welcoming. Ask him anything about the products and he can tell you the story behind it because he has sourced it personally, met the person who made it and knows the materials and the process used to produce it. Perry is very knowledgeable and passionate about the items he sells, but more than that he is always up for a chat. Great conversations are always taking place in the shop, people often pop in just for a chat and the local coffee shop is used to taking orders for Perry and his visitors.
So not only will you have a lovely shopping experience, you can purchase an item of beauty and support an artisan for their skills and craftsmanship. You can be part of the far reaching story of the product from a village in Asia or Africa to your home.
Perry still travels twice a year to visit the artisans he has established a trade with over the years but also does research in the UK to periodically source new artisans. Perry was asked, “What is it like going into Asia as a black man sourcing products. How are you received?” “Very well!” was his quick and cheerful response. Perry went onto explain that we (black people) should not be limited by how we think other people will perceive us, otherwise we will limit ourselves on experiences. Just do what you need to do and think outside the box. “Besides there are African tribes in India and Asia, they are used to black people!”
Some would say Perry made a very brave decision to leave a successful career not knowing what to do next, but in hindsight he was guided. He trusted his intuition and now so many people benefit from his passion and his purpose. Moral of the story, follow your passion and don’t let any internal beliefs or boundaries stop you from pursuing them.
Finally I asked Perry, “What are your plans for the future?” He smiled and said, watch this space, exciting changes are coming …..
You can find and/or follow Coconut Trading at:
- 73-75 Church Road
- Crystal Palace
- London SE19 2TA
- Tel/fax: 020 8771 0700
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- FB: @coconuttrading
- IG: @coconut_trading
See you there!
© Elise – Cinnamon & Brown