Hey booch fans!
I’m Philippe Trinh, and I'm absolutely delighted to be featuring our very first of what will be many inspiring stories in our new series. And, wow, is this an amazing story!
We sat down and talked to Megan Landreth-Smith & Naomi Patridge, two co-founders of HOLOS London. Their story begins with Maya, a Cambodian survivor of human trafficking, and how that experience inspired them to launch HOLOS. Sit back, grab some kombucha, and learn how their small team of seven are helping to end a modern day slavery.
Thank you both for talking with us today and giving us the opportunity to learn more about you and your amazing brand. I want to start off by first getting an intro of both of you. Can you each tell me about yourself, your backgrounds, and how you two first met?
Megan: I am currently living in Brighton with my husband, Joseph, who is also involved in HOLOS, along with our one year old baby girl, Hephzibah. We moved to Brighton from London a year ago now and love what’s going on here, but we especially love being by the sea! If you’re ever in the UK you should make a visit! This is the longest we have lived in any one place. We are very nomadic, love an adventure and seeing new places. Before this we were living abroad, and dreaming big about how we could change the world... We still are. That’s part of how I met Naomi. We met at Heathrow airport before heading for a mission trip in Cambodia, we were the only Brits on the team, and hit it off straight away with our big dreams.
Naomi: I am currently living in London with my husband Tom, who is a fellow co-founder. I started my life in the food industry, and whilst in my early career I took a year out to live in California at a faith based school. It was through my time there that I got passionate about social justice and wanted to make a difference in the lives of survivors of trafficking. This led me to Cambodia, where Megan and I worked with women who had been sexually exploited. When I came back to London, I wanted to set up initiatives that supported survivors of trafficking. I started with an employability program, which now runs across a few cities in the UK, but always wanted to come back to my roots and start a business that could sustainable support survivors of trafficking and raise money and profile to fight modern day slavery. And when I met Megan, that’s what seemed possible.
When were you both first introduced to kombucha? And, what did you each of you remember about that first experience?
Megan: Yes this is an interesting one- perhaps not the most conventional introduction to kombucha. I was living in Cambodia, and after about 8 months of being there and not feeling too well, I found out that I had some critters of the parasite kind living in my stomach. A lover of all things natural and not wanting to take the medicine being offered to me, my friend from the states who I was living with at the time sourced me some kombucha from a guy brewing it down the road in Phnom Penh and made me up some capsules of oil of oregano and remarkably within a week I was dramatically better. I remember I was a little confused by the taste to start with but it wasn’t long after that, my daily rations were exceeded and I was knocking it back! So while not the best introduction, I soon realized the powerful properties of this wonder elixir!
Naomi: I actually didn’t like kombucha the first time I tasted it, which was when I was in California! However, I grew to value the health benefits, and then loved the taste, and became a bit of an addict!
Before we dive into your brand and kombucha business, how did you get into kombucha? Did either of you (or both of you) home brew kombucha before launching your brand? If so, how long did you home-brew before you started your own kombucha brand?
Megan: It was after the trip to Cambodia about 4 years ago that I scoured all of London to find where I could get my hands on some kombucha, at that time there were very few brands about, and it wasn’t so well known. It was shortly after that I started home-brewing and learning the ropes. I home-brewed for about a year before we started HOLOS.
Naomi: Megan was our brewer and I had the far easier (and yummy) role of taster! After Megan moved to Brighton we shifted the brewing to Tom, my husband for a few months before we officially launched. We started in the house, then converted the garage and now we have our own brewing space in Earlsfield, London.
We have a lot of booch home-brewers as fans - do you have any tips for home-brewers? Is there anything you do differently in the UK than what we would do in the States?
Megan: Oooh good question. Keep at it I’d say. Just with any form of art, it’s a process and takes some finesse. We’re always learning yet have come so far from those early days and our pretty flat tasting brew that was usually a day over or a few days under! Sit with the masters, glean from those you’re inspired by and few steps ahead! Tom and I spent some time in the early days with Ted from Bärbucha Kombucha in Berlin that was invaluable. He de-bunked some myths and we just threw so many questions at him! Thanks Ted!
Could you tell us a little about what your learned from Ted?
Ted was so passionate about the original beauty of kombucha, he wasn't interested in selling kombucha commercially or to upscale. He brewed in small-batch glass and spent a long time finessing and perfecting his flavors. The tea blends he came up tasted like fine wines. It was so much more than just an average bottle of kombucha.
Our time there helped me to see that we really wanted to create a product we were proud of rather than a product that would serve the masses as a means to serve our social purpose. We could do both, create an incredible product, and see girls set free from slavery. Plus, I learnt that while yes, scaling up was necessary there were some things that we didn't want to compromise on. We didn't want to water down our product, we still wanted to brew our kombucha relatively small batch and we wanted to use some of the best ingredients we could get our hands on even if it cost more.
What were some of the debunked myths Ted taught you?
I think until we saw Ted we had been a little over precious about our scobies haha! Until we saw Ted we had never flavored in first ferment, used kombucha to bake a cake etc. I guess he just gave us the freedom to have some creative license whilst brewing our kombucha!
We love your Instagram feed and fell in love with your story. The focus on overall Health and Wellness is also a primary goal of ours. Can you tell me about how the name HOLOS came about, what it means, and what it means in terms of health & wellness?
Megan: Coming up with a name for something is always tricky, but one day I happen to see in a journal I had jotted down HOLOS on a blank page. No idea why, or when. I quickly looked it up on google and found out that it was greek for wholeness. Tri-dimensional wholeness: mind body and spirit. It struck something so deep within all of us. This idea of HOLOS – complete wholeness – connects not just to the products we want to make, and the way we want our consumers to feel, but the impact we want to have on the lives of survivors of trafficking, in particular through equipping and inspiring them through providing meaningful work.
When did you launch HOLOS?
Naomi: We officially established HOLOS as a business in February 2018, although we had been working on building the business for well over a year prior to this.
Why did you decide to partner with each other? Julian and I are both partners at Seek North. He's the business and marketing guy and I'm the mad scientist and flavor maker. What do each of you bring to HOLOS?
Naomi: HOLOS is unique because we are five friends who decided to build a business together, and met each other outside work and outside university. Because Megan and I met due to our passion for social justice and fighting slavery, we actually have really different backgrounds, as do the rest of our founders. Tom and I bring more of the big business, corporate backgrounds alongside my charitable experience which helps us with our social purpose. Megan and Joseph bring their creativity, social media and visual branding skills and Christine brings her editorial, marketing and research skill set.
How many founders are behind HOLOS? Who else is behind the HOLOS team?
There are three core founders, myself, Naomi and Christine. then my husband Joseph and Naomi's husband tom make up our team of five! Joseph is creative director- everything visual you see is done by him- and Tom is our full time brewer and main lead of the business!
Do you remember what the first store you got into?
Naomi: Our first café partner was Luminary Bakery, in Hackney, London. They support disadvantaged women through their incredible work so they made sense to be our first London partner. Thank you Luminary!
The UK is known for their tea, so do you source tea locally? Do you prefer a particular tea?
Naomi: We source the majority of our tea through UK based ‘Tea People’, they are a social enterprise who invest in the tea plantation areas. Darjeeling and Earl Grey teas produce some wonderful fruity tasting kombucha and are firm favourites. In our kombucha we love to use a blend of green and black tea as we find this give a well balanced brew that is a good base for further flavoring.
Kombucha is a huge business in the US (almost a billion dollar market now and estimated to reach 3 billion by 2023). How big and how popular is it over there in the UK?
Megan: Kombucha is growing in the UK at approximately 25% year on year, it is cropping up everywhere particularly in the larger cities.
You have a very compelling story about Maya, how she was the inspiration to create a socially purposeful business and raise funds for a great cause. Can you tell us more about your story with Maya, human trafficking, and the foundation that you contribute to?
Naomi: Megan and I met Maya in Cambodia. Maya was working on the streets, the only way she could support her five children. As we got to know Maya, we realized she had a passion for nail art and so we spoke with the hotel we were staying at to see if Maya could come and do manicures in the hotel lobby for guests. We supplied her with a start-up nail kit, and in that moment, the seeds of an idea were born. Our experience with her showed us the power of employment in helping survivors of trafficking rebuild their lives. We set up HOLOS with a 1 in 4 principle. 1 in 4 of the founding shares have been assigned to the HOLOS Foundation, which we will be setting up over the coming year. Secondly, 1 in 4 of our jobs will go towards providing meaningful and supportive training placements for survivors of trafficking, which will be in partnership with local London based anti-trafficking charities who work on employability such as the Sophie Hayes Foundation. We start with this aspect of our work from the summer.
Your flavors all sound amazing. What are your top flavors, and what makes your Kombucha different from other brands one might find in London?
Naomi: We are a small batch kombucha company, ensuring our products are all natural and still contain all the good stuff for your gut which drives the health benefits. Part of our offer is that we combine unusual botanical and herb flavor combinations – such as Ginger & Hibiscus and Basil & Mint, giving seasoned and new kombucha drinkers unique flavors to experience.
Our facility is based in Earlsfield, South West London. It’s in a light industrial estate with lots of other startups, so we feel very much at home.
After much experimentation we settled on using the ‘batch brewing’ process (as opposed to continuous brew) as we have found it creates a more consistent and generally better tasting brew.
For our kombucha we use a blend of fine teas including green, black, rooibos and yerba mate, this creates a unique taste with subtle flavor undertones. We pair this with unrefined organic sugar giving the kombucha culture the best fuel source.
As for flavoring we use different techniques depending on the flavor we are creating. Basil and mint for example we add cold pressed herbs to the fermented kombucha. For ginger and hibiscus we flavor with hibiscus during the fermentation process, and then add cold press ginger juice once complete.
We brew in small batches of up to 30 litres. We produce around 1,000 bottles a month currently with capacity to grow significantly from here.
Thank you for talking with us today. How can we find you?
Naomi: We are currently expanding our reach across London and hopefully you will find us in some of the larger health stores over the next few months. For now, you can find us in some incredible independent coffee shops, natural health stores and vegan restaurants across London and Brighton. Why not treat yourself with a visit to London’s favorite restaurant on trip advisor called Amrutha Lounge – they are an incredible warm - hearted business with gorgeous vegan foods, and you can buy our kombucha there.
And for our fans, what is your instagram and website so we can all be inspired by your journey?