“Home is where one starts from,” according to T.S. Eliot. For so many of us, especially the last few years, those words have never felt truer. Understanding the foundations our homes represent, a comforting sanctuary to seek solace; to share moments with the people we love; to inspire. A philosophy deeply rooted in Earl of East since its incarnation in 2014. The cult multi-brand lifestyle destination that, it’s hard to believe, has grown from a humble market stall in Hackney just nine years ago, selling home fragrance and own-brand candles, to recently opening their third brick and mortar space on one of the most iconic streets in London.
The masterminds behind the self-funded operation and partners in life and business, Niko and Paul, opened the latter just a few months ago in the grand Quadrant Arcade on Regent’s Street. A threequel to their beloved spots in Redchurch Street in Shoreditch and Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross, after much deliberation (exploring options from Notting Hill to Battersea Power Station). “I think we have a bit of a legacy of placing ourselves in awkward places and making it work,” Paul says. “It feels more like you’ve stepped into an apartment; it doesn’t feel like you’re in a Regents Street store.”
Like any happy home, it is filled with personal touches. A sense of community and face-to-face connection, as any Earl of East-er will attest, has always been a lure. Whether experiencing a scented soy wax candle making workshop in Coal Drops Yard with Niko himself or discovering something that will invariably make one’s life feel (and smell) a lot more beautiful. Walking into EoE feels more like a creative hub. Where you can idle away time, grab a coffee, mooch around, chat with friendly staff (the pair are often manning the tills themselves, mingling and getting to know every character who walks through their doors) and deliberate over their insatiably chic and thoughtfully curated rolodex of products (think gua sha spoons, candles, bougie condiments, face oils and more). On the outset, everything, from the packaging to the in-store atmosphere feels effortless. Which is not to suggest that behind the scenes it’s been an easy feat.
“I feel exhausted to be honest, not gonna lie!” Niko laughs, when reflecting on 2023 and how far they’ve come. “At times it feels like we’re starting from scratch, it’s like moving into a new home…” Paul says. “Central London is the epicentre for anyone visiting from everywhere…[so] you have to take a longer-term view of what success looks like, because our other stores kind of run like clockwork. We hope that what we've created is a neighbourhood store in the centre of town.” It’s important, he adds, “for us to still have a real connection to our actual customer. We want to understand what works, what doesn't, how we can tailor it…”
Their hunger to leap into the unknown, cook up new ideas, keep progressing, has never faltered. Starting over, again and again, is familiar territory. “You’re going to be your biggest critic [when running your own business],” Niko shares. “If you’re waiting for it to be perfect, you’ll never get it off the ground.” For wannabe entrepreneurs, being comfortable and “happy with failure” is necessary. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and you go, ‘cool, I’ll try the next thing!’”
Both are candid about the less-fun reality that with any success in life there will be, inevitably, sacrifices. Late nights. Few days off. Missed birthday parties. It can feel isolating at times. Paul’s advice? “Find other like-minded people, other founders,” he says. “You know, when you’ve got the responsibility of paying 25 people’s salaries it can be stressful. There’s been times in the last couple of years where I’m like, ‘it’s getting a bit too much’. Then you speak to someone else and you’re like ‘OK, we’re all in the same boat. You’re not alone.”
As a fast-growing independent brand, working seven days a week for almost a decade is equal parts tiring, part suited to their restless personality types: “if we take a day off, we’re bored by lunchtime.” Looking ahead, South Korea would be a fantasy destination to set up another shop, after travelling there for the first time earlier this year, inspired by its rich retail landscape.
“I think it gives you an opportunity to learn again,” Niko says. “I think whenever it feels like we’re settled and we can make sense of it, we're like, no, no, no. We need to throw something in there that will stretch us. From that learning, or overcoming a problem, an issue, a challenge, you get that natural high. Like, ‘what's that next thing?’”