Meet: Michael Butler
Michael Butler is a Graphic Designer turned tea specialist and retailer, and the co-founder of Yuyun, which sells high-quality tea from the Yunnan region in China. He graduated with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design from Camberwell College of Arts in 2016.
Michael is also a member of the UAL Sustainability Alumni Network, a new space for graduates that focuses on sustainability and the climate emergency, and how the arts are working to combat the most pressing crisis facing the planet.
He spoke to us about the importance of loose-leaf tea, and how it feels setting up his own sustainable business.
You studied BA (Hons) Graphic Design at Camberwell. Can you tell us about your time there? What were the highlights?
I think studying at Camberwell opened my mind to what graphic design was at its heart, going back to concepts, what it is to communicate and giving us the guidance to grow and follow our passions. It was very hands-on and fast-paced and I loved the modules and projects. Some highlights include a trip to Belgium to visit a printer and some studios, the letterpress facilities at Camberwell, our end of year Bauhaus themed holiday exhibition/party and it may sound strange but, research projects, I love understanding the history of a place/object especially if your work is relevant.
What did you do after you graduated?
After I graduated I explored quite a few avenues, I worked in street food for a while, tried my hand in acting, and I did some freelance design. I'm now working for my tea business by day and part-time work by night, which keeps me busy.
You’re the co-founder and Creative Director of Yuyun, which sells high-quality loose tea from the Yunnan region in China. Can you tell us more about this?
Tea has such a vast and interesting history and I'm very proud to have our little part in it. Yuyun was established in April 2020, and while it's hard work, it's very fulfilling and I love what we're trying to do. Yunnan is one of the oldest and best places for growing and producing tea, and in my opinion, suits the British palate. We aim to provide an affordable high-quality loose leaf tea, and to set the bar for quality, the more we grow the cheaper our products will become, eventually, we want to set the standard for the everyday brew.
Can you tell us more about your experiences of setting up your own brand? What does your role as Creative Director include? Is there anything surprising that you’ve had to undertake in your role?
After floating about for a while, I met my partner and co-founder Zora, who had pretty much always wanted to run a tea business, and after Zora gave me a taste of some of the tea, I playfully said we could definitely make a business out of that.
It was the start of the first lockdown and suddenly I was stuck in one place, and the question popped up, should we do this? And then Can we do this? Answering those questions took about a month, furiously googling import and tax legislation. But once we were comfortable enough to press on, we did. Zora is originally from Yunnan and has family who have worked in the tea trade, while I did most of the design work and correspondence.
Working as a creative director in a company of two means creatively I call the shots but also means I do a lot of work, including our website, promotion, packaging, artwork for sale, and more. But my role will evolve in time, especially as we begin to hire staff.
I think when you do everything from designing logos to delivering tea you often don't find surprises, other than looking at looking down a forested path for delivery and thinking where am I right now?
Why was it so important for Yuyun to be a loose-tea brand? What other things should people think about to make their daily cup of tea more environmentally friendly?
Why is it important to know where things come from? When we know this information we give ourselves freedom of choice. If we considered every product individually we would be trapped in a limbo of indecision in the form of your local supermarket. We're often led by price, by previous experience or by recommendations.
And only in the last 30 years have we begun to ask is it free-range? Is it organic? Does it contain plastic?
It is the normality of convenience that stop us from asking questions, which stop us from exploring, and which give us a false standard of quality, where everything is identical and uniform.
Going loose-leaf is breaking that convenience, there are four grades of loose tea and 90% of British tea drinkers are satisfied with the lowest.
Look into your diet and do a little digging and leave the convenience in the aisle.
You can also consider how to make things go further, Used tea leaves also make great mulch, compost, and can act as a smell absorber.
Can you tell us about any highlights that you’ve had with Yuyun?
The first time we sold tea online, found our first retail supplier, we recently hosted an exhibition as part of a local festival, and meeting people who know about tea or are just there are on a whim and letting them have a taste, we sold a record amount of tea that month.
What is next for you and for Yuyun?
The journey continues, I've been designing some new packaging which is aimed at retail, and we recently received a fantastic grant from our local government which we will put in motion. We're also looking to run some more workshops and pop-ups, and we want to continue producing work for future exhibitions.
If you like what you see, want to find a way you can get involved, collaborate, support us or simply have a chat then please get in touch!