Stortford's Rachel Rissbrook has a gift for choosing handcrafted delights
As a teenager who spent part of her childhood growing up in the south of France, Rachel Rissbrook's mother would often traipse round the region's markets with her, taking in the locally produced crafts and wares for sale.
Little did Rachel know then that years later she would go on to develop a passion for lovingly handcrafted gifts that would inspire her to set up her own business championing artisan producers.
Having turned 50 last summer, Rachel decided to quit a successful marketing career in the travel and leisure industry working for big names such as First Choice, Go Ape and CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) to launch her own solo venture, Artisan Lane Gifts.
It was while working alongside the eclectic mix of independent retailers and market traders in her previous role as a marketing and commercial manager for Cambridge BID (Business Improvement District) that she discovered the sheer number of talented producers and craftspeople on her doorstep.
"I came to appreciate the quality gifts, food and drink that were available,said the married mother of one.
"I was amazed at the range of beautiful, locally made items available and it got me interested in what was around the Stortford area, so I visited a number of local craft markets, including the Stortford Christmas market last year. I couldn't believe the array of local producers, talented designers, artists, potters, wine and food producers."
Rachel has lived in Stortford for almost 17 years. She lives off Beldams Lane with husband Neal, daughter Ella, a pupil at Herts and Essex High School, and Milo the cockapoo.
The individual gifts, trinkets and crafts she selects from designers, small-batch producers and artisans across the East of England are often unique and hard to find, which Rachel believes makes them extra-special and ideal for those looking to give something that is a bit different."You're buying a gift with personality that is lovingly made by a passionate artisan,she said.
The Artisan Lane collection includes Bishop's Stortford family-run tea blenders Tealicious, Takeley handmade knitwear company Finesse Knits, Saffron Walden potter Claire Folkes Ceramics and Dunmow's Golden Soaps Ltd as well as gifts ranging from locally designed stationery and children's handmade soft toys to confectionery and skincare products.
In addition, Rachel hopes to work with local vineyards, breweries and gin distillers for her autumn and Christmas ranges, while a range of corporate gifts for businesses is also in development.
As someone who has always enjoyed making up her own gift boxes for relatives and friends to mark special occasions, Rachel also creates modern curated gift box collections, all of which are carefully packed in luxury keepsake boxes, tied with brightly coloured ribbon and with the option to add a personal message that is handwritten.
"The gift boxes make ideal gifts for family, friends and colleagues - there's a box for every occasion and season, whether it's a birthday, new home or simply a thank-you gift,she said.
Rachel, who is a member of Bishop's Stortford Lawn Tennis Club and a marketing volunteer for the Rhodes Arts Complex, hopes that the appreciation for authentic, skilfully produced crafts and gifts will continue to spread and that eventually Artisan Lane Gifts will become a recognisable national brand supporting artisan producers all over the UK.
"I'd like to be able to bring these artisan products to local people by making them available in retail spaces as well as online,she said.
"It's hard for artisans to get their products to reach people as the shops demand a high mark-up on a product that is already more expensive to produce because it's handmade, made on a smaller scale and from more ethically sourced materials.
"I hope that if I work collectively with the artisans I can get an established space in some key retailers so that they have a more permanent presence and bring something of a community feel to the shops."
You can view the full Artisan Lane range at www.artisanlanegifts.co.uk. A selection of gifts is currently available at Victoria's Vintage in Church End, Little Hadham.