Idyllically situated overlooking the cobbles on Shaftesbury’s picturesque Gold Hill in Dorset, the business has become a destination of discovery for visitors and a commercial success for founders Amber Harrison and Karen Brazier. Now the physical and online operation is forecasting a £175,000 turnover in 2024 as the independent bookshops sector enjoys more than a moment following five years of growth according to the Booksellers Association.
Both good fortune and clear vision have shaped FOLDE which began as an online operation in 2020, but swiftly changed just months later when a shop became vacant in such a perfect setting turning it down was impossible.
Both professional career women, neither Harrison or Brazier had experience of bookselling. However the friends and neighbours “had often chatted about the importance of nature and as an antidote to busy lives. Inspired by books on our shelves we built an idea of what FOLDE could be, not growth at any price but provide a better work life balance. We knew exactly what it should be,” they explain.
“The shop has allowed us to create the FOLDE experience, a homely place where people can browse, shop or chat – an essential community space. One customer told us ‘I can just breathe in here’.
“Our focus on nature is unusual, but has come at a time when the climate and our environment have become ever more important to people.
“Our themes are land, sea and self, so you may find a book on wild swimming next to ones about urban foraging, rewilding from Underhill Wood Nature Reserve or badgers and everything in between – treasures you never knew existed.
“Publishers have really shifted recently to create more engaging book covers. We display a lot of ours with the covers out – that draws in people, especially younger readers.
“From our side, events like Planted that reconnect cities and nature have introduced us to new audiences.”
FOLDE, which takes part in the annual Independents’ Day campaign celebrating indie retailers, also sells works by Wessex makers and artists with such as prints and ceramics, while its name poetically resonates with meanings, being the old English name for land as well as links to paper and shelter.
A beautiful wood engraving of iconic regional landmark Melbury Hill by illustrator and printmaker Robin Mackenzie captures its visual identity while Shaker-style boxes are made from local woods and baskets from Somerset willow.
Set up on a shoestring, it cost less £6,000 to get FOLDE going, with Harrison and Brazier using sustainable MDF, second-hand items and gifts for their fixtures and fittings.
“Local tradespeople then did what we couldn’t,” adds Brazier.
The confidence to open a physical store was also fostered by Shaftesbury and its people, where 82 per cent of shops are indies and retailers support and inspire each other. “We all make sure we don’t stock the same items so we can recommend each other,” says Harrison.
Through online supplier Bookshop.org it is able to offer a greater range of titles and through Instagram and other social media it has promoted its destination potential, not least as the site where the famously nostalgic ad for Hovis was filmed.
“We create a FOLDE feel with suggestions about walking book clubs, scenic spots, and playlist suggestions,” explain Harrison and Brazier who are also planning more author events.
A new programme FOLDE out sums up the spirit of the business, “so people experience nature, not just read about it,” say the pair.
“We want to ensure access to nature isn’t hindered by worries about getting lost or not having the right equipment. When people are on their own they can lose confidence. This is our antidote so they can engage with nature through walks and wild swims in a friendly supportive way.”
Refreshing reads: FOLDE’s nature book top tips
· The Nightingale In the past, we mapped our seasons through birdsong. Nightingales would have been commonly heard as a harbinger of spring, arriving back in England at around mid-April to mate. It’s one of the reasons they make regular appearances in folklore and folk songs, literature and poetry, and the book is rich with examples of how they have inspired musicians, writers and artists around the world. Link to buy: https://uk.bookshop.org/
· Featherhood Part story of a young man who hand rears an abandoned magpie chick, Featherhood is also the story of an estranged father-son relationship and the author’s attempts to understand why his father, the poet, playwright and activist Heathcote Williams, abruptly left him and his mother when he was just six months old. Link to buy: https://uk.bookshop.org/
Humongous Fungus A beautifully illustrated children’s book that guides the reader through the world of fungi and their different uses from food to medicine, and the characteristics that make them unique, like those that glow in the dark. Link to buy: https://uk.bookshop.org/
· A Year of Forest School This is designed to help children enjoy outside activities all year round. Broken into seasons, the book has projects that encourage making, playing and doing, for children aged 2 years up. It includes details of what you need for each project, age range and location. Link to buy: https://uk.bookshop.org/
A walk and swim: https://www.foldedorset.