By Hannah Tapping
Following the trail of El Camino, where travellers’ steps are recorded for posterity.
Founders Candace and Tom
For those with a wanderlust that cannot be suppressed, the recent opening up of countries and borders will be sweet music to the ears. Such seasoned travellers are often avid collectors of mementos; journals stuffed with memories of place and time, wrists wrapped with bands of travel honour, badges, stickers…all tokens that conjure memories of places far-flung or near and dear. El Camino has taken this idea and created a set of bracelets and collectible charms which serve as an ever-present reminder and documentation of taking the road less travelled. I uncover the background to the brand in conversation with co-owner Candace Kellough.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and where the idea for El Camino came from?
I’m originally from Canada, but have been in Europe for about 11 years. I was living in Barcelona, when I realised that I was missing winter and the snow, so I decided to venture to the French Alps. I met Tom in Meribel and after our season, we decided to pack our bags and try to walk from Barcelona to Monaco. We had an amazing time pitching our tent in extraordinary places, walking and swimming in the Mediterranean sea and scheming over campfires; which is where the seed of the idea for El Camino came from.
We were so excited by the idea we decided to go back to Tom’s parents in the UK to see if we could make this little dream a reality. After a lot of ups and downs, we were finally ready to share El Camino with the world. The El Camino love quickly spread and we found ourselves working day and night making and sending bracelets all over the world. Working long hours every day, we found that we weren’t doing the things we loved, and those that originally inspired El Camino. With the business needing to be based in the UK, we decided we should live somewhere that would feel like we were on holiday during any spare time we managed to find. Hello Cornwall!
How does Cornwall inspire you?
In so many ways, Cornwall is such a magical place. Having the sea on my doorstep is something I’ve never experienced before. I love being able to jump in at any time of the day; the feeling is like no other and is the perfect refresher. Not only does the beauty of Cornwall inspire me but also the people that live in this beautiful place. I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals, all of whom love the outdoors and share my passion for nature. I find myself amongst driven and talented individuals with big hearts, all working hard to live their best Cornish lives.
Tell me more about the company…
At El Camino, we care about working with good people, creating good products and being good to the planet. We believe in living our lives in the most environmentally responsible way. For the El Camino team, this means keeping our impact on the planet as light as possible, both at home and work. Our HQ is made from recycled shipping containers, fitted out with large windows. Not only does this make for a bright workspace, but it reduces the need for too much artificial electric light. When we do need to plug in, we use e-on as our electricity provider, which is powered by 100% renewable energy sources. Our products are made from durable materials, carefully chosen to ensure they’ll be around as long as the memories we make. An El Camino is made with love and the strength to endure everything you have to throw at it on your travels. All our materials are responsibly sourced. We build relationships that last too; many of our suppliers have been with us since the start. All our packaging is 100% plastic-free, from the envelopes the orders are sent in, to the wrapping containing the steps and bracelets.
We recycle as much as possible, keeping things digital wherever we can to avoid unnecessary paper waste. All packaging cycles through the business time and time again: finished bracelets arrive in a bag, which then is sent back to the makers to re-fill. If we can, we walk to work. And canine companions are positively encouraged, which makes for a very happy working environment for all.
Who are your customers?
Anyone that loves travelling! When creating El Camino we thought it was important that everyone could start their EC journey, so we made sure there was a wide range of sizes available. Over the years we realised that not everyone was able to have an El Camino – we were missing children’s sizes! So, we’ve just released a new Junior El Camino collection available for ages three plus. El Caminos are worn by all types of different people all over the world – young teens, backpackers, professionals, mums, dads, grandmas, the list goes on.
Where and how is an El Camino made?
Our bracelets are all handmade with lots of love in the UK. They are made of four cords knotted together, each with a breaking strain of 34kg, making an El Camino very durable. Our bracelet making team are from all over the UK and make the bracelets from their homes. We love our little EC family, we’ve been working together as a team with for about seven years now. Our head bracelet maker is the first person we ever trained to make a bracelet – she’s still with us today and has trained many others since. The success of El Camino relies on all the individuals whose commitment and hard graft pours into every piece.
Who designs them and where does the inspiration come from?
I design the bracelets and necklaces myself. I learned how to macrame when I was young and always enjoyed making handmade jewellery for my friends and family. I never thought that 20 years later, my bracelet making hobby would be such a big part of what led to my dream life and job. I find a lot of inspiration while travelling, exploring local markets and appreciating the different craftsmanship around the world. I love meeting new people and learning of their travel story, listening to their tales and learning of places I’ve never heard of. As much as I’d like to sometimes switch off from work, I find some of my best ideas come from when I’m on my travels.
What are the components of the bracelets made from?
The stainless steel Steps are engraved by a gentleman who lives down the road from Tom’s family home and the glass Steps are handmade in the English countryside. We have developed some amazing relationships since the beginning of El Camino and are so proud of the family we’ve grown to become.
Do you make bespoke charms?
Yes, definitely! You can engrave anything you’d like on a Step (charm) up to 32 characters. They’re actually our top-selling product. Everyone’s El Camino is so unique, so having the Custom Step option makes your El Camino that little bit more special. You can engrave special dates, like birthdays, weddings, engagements, along with extra special places you’ve been to that we may not have a Step for. The options are endless.
How did the pandemic affect you in terms of the travel ban?
We were really worried about how the travel ban would affect the business and I’d be lying if I said we haven’t felt it. However, we’ve also noticed that our lovely customers’ appreciate their past travel memories even more now which has encouraged both new and old customers to fill their El Caminos with the priceless travel memories that are not so easy to make any more. People are loving being able to keep these memories with them at all times and maybe it offers them hope for the future when travel becomes more free again. We’re feeling hopeful as travel begins to open up again and our lovely customers (along with us) will be able to continue doing what they love – travelling and making memories around the world.
What’s next for El Camino?
Excellent question and one I wish I knew the answer to. We know how much our lovely customers are missing travelling, just like us. A lot of the El Camino love spreads through word of mouth, so once travel opens up again, we’re looking forward to even more new people being introduced to El Camino and collecting their travel memories.
When you’re not working on El Camino, where can you be found?
In the sea, walking my dog, café hopping, or snowboarding in Morzine in the winters. If I’m in Cornwall, you’ll find me swimming, surfing, walking my Australian Sheppard Dougal, or perched up in a café. I love exploring Cornwall, it’s the most amazing place and somewhere you can never get bored. The Cornish coastline is the prettiest I’ve ever seen. I love finding new cafés and exploring different villages. A coastal dog walk with friends, coupled with a sea swim, followed by a hot drink in a cute little café leaves me feeling at my happiest.
More specifically, I spend a lot of my free time on Fistral beach and in the Gannel. I walk Fistral at least once a day, rain or shine. My favourite time is sunrise and low tide, sandwiched between the sea and the sun rising over the dunes, sometimes just me and Dougal on the whole open beach. I really do love where I live.