Hello, how are you? Hanging on in there or delighted to be in the heady approach to Christmas? I’m just approaching the bridge that will take me from one state to another, I reckon I have one more week of life being ultra hectic and then I’ll be able to breathe out. Thank you for keeping on reading while posts have been a little shorter, I’ve just about finished with my Christmas prep posts now, soon we’ll be back to midlife lately but today I’m bringing you some small business recommendations – old and new. As it’s Small Business Saturday tomorrow I thought I’d talk about some of my favourite small brands, some are old friends, others new discoveries. We all know that the retail environment is especially tough this year but these little businesses keep on keeping on, bringing us products that are better quality than the mass produced items you can find everywhere. So maybe this weekend we should all challenge ourselves to shop at least once with a small retailer – just imagine what a difference we could make if everyone did that.

Small business recommendations – old and new

1. Oubas

Knitwear brand Oubas has been a great new discovery for me. Based not far away in the Lake District town of Ulverston, it was founded by local Kate Stalker who wanted to create a slow local alternative to fast fashion. She had a vision of forging a close connection between maker and wearer so that every item of clothing they produced would feel special and personal. Oubas is staffed by local people who sketch and develop the designs in Ulverston and then produce their knitwear in small batches. They use only natural fibres and are working closely with local Lake District farmers to develop their yarns as well as sourcing from other parts of the UK. They are very careful with the dyes that are used, choosing natural colours that can be found in the British Isles so you’ll see lots of lovely, earthy shades.

Oubas knitwear

The Elba British Wool Tabard

Looking through their collection is a pleasure with its Lake District backdrops and natural looking models.

Oubas knitwear

The Olan British Wool sweater

Their Instagram account is like taking a trip to The Lakes – just browsing through it clears your head and if you come up here you can visit the studio to see where the pieces are designed and made – details here.

Small business recommendations - old and new

One of the options that I find really exciting is that you can have pieces personalised as well so that they fit as you want them to. Oubas kindly invited me to select a piece to show you how it works with my style and I decided to photograph it over in Newcastle – just to illustrate that the very natural look works in a city too. I loved the neckline of this jumper as soon as I saw it but couldn’t decide between the brick red and the lime green. In the end I went for the lime because I know it’ll feel like a positive spring colour to wear through the coldest months of January to March when they come along.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Donegal sweater

It’s made from 100% merino wool that’s been spun and dyed by the last traditional Donegal slub producer in Donegal, Ireland. I’m wearing the medium in the standard pattern because I knew the shorter length would work well with my collection of high rise jeans but if you want it to be knitted in a longer style they will do that for you.  This picture of me tucking into my usual Sunday morning Geordie banger shows just how beautiful the yarn is. It’s a bit like wearing a jumper from somewhere like Toast but actually the quality is much higher.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Donegal sweater

Oubas isn’t just about jumpers though, they also produce dresses, cardigans, accessories and menswear too. Finding them has felt a bit like going back in time to when clothes were bought from source with the knowledge of exactly what their footprint was. As a very small company in this far flung corner of the north I really hope they thrive so do go over to their website and have a look at them – or follow their stunning Instagram account @oubasstudio which will bring you a breath of fresh Lake District air every time they post.

2. Claudia Bradby Jewellery

It isn’t often that I’m able to support a friend with my blog but I can with Claudia and her beautifully designed jewellery. Actually she won’t read this because she’s off fulfilling her lifelong dream of trekking in Nepal so I hope she’s having a good break because she’ll be throwing herself into a full-on family Christmas as soon as she gets back. You know her jewellery because you see me wearing it all of the time but before she left, she sent me a special offer for Midlifechic readers – 25% off with code MIDLIFE25. So if you still can’t think of anything you’d like for yourself let me point you towards my all-time favourite pieces:

‘The world is your oyster’ has been my consistent favourite since I first met Claudia. It’s a lovely, organically designed disc that feels very tactile but it’s the message that means the most to me – I don’t think a midlife woman could wear anything better as her mantra than ‘the world’s your oyster’ – because at this stage of our lives it finally is.

Small business recommendations - old and new

The world is your oyster necklace (also available in gold)

This love knot necklace is my new favourite this year, in fact I loved the gold one so much that I bought it in silver as a gift to myself as well. It comes from Claudia’s ‘stronger together’ collection which she built to celebrate relationships and friendship with the designs inspired by ancient pieces discovered at Stonehenge. I love it for the meaning but also for the way that it nestles between your two clavicle bones. And because it’s slightly weighted it doesn’t twist around your neck like so many other necklaces do so it’s great to wear alone or layered with other pieces.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Love knot necklace (also available in gold)

This gives you an idea of how it sits when you layer it with a simple pearl drop necklace.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Claudia puts so much thought into every piece she makes that you can almost feel it as you wear it and don’t forget the Christmas 25% discount until with code MIDLIFE25.

3. Sustainable Cashmere

It’s a while since I’ve covered the brilliant concept of Nearly New Cashmere. You may remember me visiting their shop in Masham, Yorkshire last autumn – since then they’ve moved to a bigger site which is enabling them to rescue over 15,000 cashmere jumpers and cardigans a year from landfill. Anything that isn’t good enough to be resold is reworked into cashmere accessories and they make luxurious but affordable Christmas gifts. My particular favourites are the fingerless gloves because they’re just so useful, you can even wear them when you’re working from home on a chilly day.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Fingerless gloves

There are socks, hats and snoods as well as other gift ideas – you can see their Christmas gift guide here. And don’t forget that they have the most stunning collection of rescued vintage silk scarves including a selection of Hermes. They’re offering Midlifechic readers 10% off until 8th December with code MIDLIFECHIC.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Boxed Hermes silk scarf

4. Johanna Basford

I’m sure you know Johanna Basford’s work, she’s the queen of adult colouring books. They’re beautiful but I often marvel at the time it must take to complete one and slightly envy anyone who has that so I was interested to read an interview with her a couple of months ago where she said she’d had a moment of epiphany. After having a bit of a bumpy midlife ride, becoming a single parent and losing her dad over lockdown, she realised that we don’t always have to drive ourselves to undertake big tasks. As a result she’s published a much simpler colouring book called Small Victories which includes tiny drawings that can be completed quickly for a little quiet satisfaction.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Small Victories

I’ve been given her books before as presents but knowing I could never hope to finish them, I haven’t even been able to face starting them – this would be much easier.

Small business favourites - old and new

She doesn’t sell her books direct but you can support small independent booksellers by buying one here.

5. Duo Boots

Some of you will already know Duo Boots, I’ve been buying boots from them for a long time because they’re the only company in the world to offer calf width fittings – there are eight calf sizes and nine shoe sizes. Once you’ve measured your calf (you can use their special Duobelt if you don’t trust yourself with a tape measure), you order your boots and they’re made by hand in Portugal. Designed by Creative Director Mary Alice Malone who studied shoemaking at The London College of Fashion, the lasts, leather marking and pattern cutting are all bespoke to Duo and carefully overseen by her. You can’t buy their boots from any other retailer, they only sell to customers directly so that they can carefully manage the whole process. Their designs are deliberately more classic than fashionable so that you can wear them timelessly, year after year. You’ll find beautifully designed riding boots, cowboy boots and fitted knee highs with both low and high heels. I have a beautiful burgundy fitted knee high pair, I’ve had them for a long time but they come out year after year as you can see from last December’s carol concert here…

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

And this is the pair of Duo cowboy boots that I have in a photo from December 2019. Mine are grey but they still make them in other colours here.

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

This season they kindly invited me to choose a pair so I opted for some of the classic riding boots.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Classic riding boots

They’re supremely comfortable because they have a memory foam sole and I love the deep burnished tan colour. I know I’ll wear them endlessly in my rural life and I had them on for our weekend in Newcastle last week as well (and as you can see, I’m wearing the same outfit that I had on in the 2019 picture – only the coat and boots are different!)

Nikki Garnett, Midlifechic

Classic riding boots

They ship to the EU too with all taxes and duties included; worldwide shipping is exclusive of import duties. I’d compare the quality with Penelope Chilvers but they’re much more reasonable and you get the precise calf fitting too so Duo is another small British brand that I feel I can recommend personally.

6. The Penrith Toffee Shop

And this last little mention is one that’s been close to my heart all of my life. It’s the Penrith Toffee Shop. My sweet toothed dad knew the founding family and his idea of a good trip out was to buy a selection of their toffee and fudge. It’s a tradition that I know my London brother still keeps when he comes up and I always have with my boys too. The toffee is my favourite, it’s still handmade and you may veer towards butter like me or treacle like Mal… or fudge like my brother. One of my happiest days was when Selfridges discovered it while I was working there but once the Londoners had a taste of it, it was hard to keep up with demand and so they went back to selling it in house and through independent sweetshops in the North West. However, if you’re in the know you can order gifts online to be sent as far as America, Canada, Australia and Asia – shipping details and dates are here. I can assure you that once tasted, it’s never forgotten.

Small business recommendations - old and new

Penrith toffee shop

7. The big give Christmas challenge – can you help?


Ok so this isn’t a small business, The Big Give is a huge Christmas charity appeal but I want to tell you about it because it’s a great way to give twice as much to a charity of your choice. If you make a donation before midday on 5th December, the big businesses behind the scheme will match fund it. All you have to do is choose which of the hundreds of charities taking part you want to support and make your donation. It’s an absolutely brilliant scheme, an easy way to give twice as much as well as an opportunity for small charities to get good exposure and a whole new raft of backing. Details here.

So that’s my little round-up of small business recommendations. I make a point of only including the ones I can vouch for personally but if you’d like to give a boost to any small business you know, please do add them in the comments and say why they’re special – maybe between us we can rally around small businesses all over the country. Isn’t it a shock to find ourselves in December today? The weather’s been at its winter best here this week, frosty with plenty of sunshine.

We have a particularly busy few days ahead because Mal has just told me that Christmas is coming early for me – my present is a trip away next weekend! It’s a lovely surprise but it does mean I’m having to pull a lot of things forward because the boys start coming home the weekend after that. So tonight I’m singing at the village Christingle service then my list for tomorrow and Sunday includes putting the outside lights up, buying the tree, decorating the house, writing the letters to go with Christmas cards to old friends and finishing the Christmas shopping as well as going to the gym and taking photos of December’s Boden edit. Part of me is hoping he’s booked somewhere relaxing but when I asked for an outfit planning brief he said, ‘magazine editor chic’ so I suspect not because I know it’s his shorthand for the way I used to dress when we met at Selfridges in the 90s – a rotation of sharp Calvin Klein suits… I don’t think I even owned a pair of jeans then. But yes – I’ll have to pack this weekend too. Midnight oil may be burnt! I’ll be back with two posts before we go though so have a lovely weekend – I hope you’re feeling festive.

Disclosure: ‘Small business recommendations – old and new’ is not a sponsored post

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