As I’ve already mentioned I’m going to change things a bit on this blog, and so today’s post is definitely a very start of it! I decided it’s time for me to speak up about the companies I choose to purchase from daily, the ones I don’t purchase and why. As well as show the support, spread the word, and raise the awareness. And so today I’d like to share this very honest and real interview with the Owner and founder of Natural Accessories Woodfolk – Julia. I’m a big fan of Woodfolk and hearing Julia’s and her company’s story inspired me a lot! I hope ya will feel the same!
Fashion and accessories play a big role in my life. It’s already been a year or a two since I’ve started to be more conscious about my fashion choices, the brands and companies I buy from, so coming across Woodfolk Natural Accessories online shop was a great discovery indeed.
It’s ethically made, sustainable sourced natural accessories, which are very unique, full of story and beautiful the least!
Woodfolk believes in honesty, compassion and being kind to our environment.
They work in harmony with both natural materials and communities in need to create beautiful jewellery and accessories for everyday wear and homewares that bring warmth and creativity into our homes.
And yes, I stand for these words – this jewellery does really have this honesty and warmth, and it feels special wearing it.
But enough of me, let’s dig ito Julia’s interview and learn more about this unique and natural Woodfolk brand.
• What’s the name Woodfolk mean?
The name Woodfolk came from two parts. The first was ‘Wood’ which represents nature, earth, grounding, depth, foundation. The second part ‘Folk’ represents people, community, light-heartedness, as well as a love of Folk music and its story telling.
• What’s the brand philosophy?
Woodfolk believes in honesty, compassion and being kind to our environment. We work in harmony with both natural materials and communities in need to create beautiful pieces for everyday wear, and that bring warmth and creativity into our homes. Our purpose is the create a viable business that remains authentic to its ethos. We’re committed to working and collaborating with small family-run businesses as well as Women focused organisations, creating opportunity, self-determination, support and hope in these communities through social entrepreneurship. By supporting with trade, not aid, the positive impact is sustainable.
• Can you tell us about your background and how you started Woodfolk?
I’m a designer and jeweller by trade with 10+ years’ experience creating Fine Jewellery for prominent Jewellery houses around Australia and for private clients. Finding myself drawn to more natural materials, I launched Woodfolk in August 2013. I’m proud to say that Woodfolk is now stocked in 60+ stores around Australia, and over the last 3 years has developed a strong and loyal following.
• What drew you to wanting to create homewares, accessories and jewellery?
After completing my Fine Arts degree, I took off travelling that ended up lasting for 2-years through 21 countries. When I found myself spending the final 6 months of my trip in Central America making jewellery from seeds and shells, I knew Jewellery was my calling. Homewares, scarves and bags are more recent. I started incorporating them into the brand because they work so well alongside our jewellery, and made for the natural next step.
• What inspired you to create an environmentally friendly, ethical and sustainable brand?
During my time working in fine-jewellery, I loved working with metal, diamonds and gemstones; however, felt myself becoming very drawn to wood and ceramics. They held very different properties to the materials I had previously worked with – they were earthy, subtle, quiet, and more in tune with who I am. They represent a different lifestyle – one that is more compassionate, honest and authentic. I felt passionate about creating pieces that don’t impact our environment. Our world is already filled with so much stuff, and I certainly didn’t want to add to it. We use sustainable materials such as wood, ceramic and cotton that nature has provided us with, without having to look too hard to find them and without needing to fabricate them ourselves. These materials go through the cycle with us and when no longer needed can be turned into something else or recycled, which is important to me.
• How and where are your products created? Where do you get your inspiration from for your designs?
Each piece is a collaboration between myself and our artisans in Nepal. All pieces are designed in my studio in Sydney. This can take anywhere between 1 and 3 months. There is a lot of consideration and refining that takes place during this time. After the design work is complete, I travel to Nepal to make my wood samples, as well as our scarf and bag samples. Travelling to Nepal is essentially about making samples, but it is also about bonding and deepening relationships, something you can’t do through a computer. On my return to Australia, each item is completed and finished in my studio. This includes all ceramics, silverwork and stringing. All ceramic and stoneware pieces are hand made by me at my studio in Sydney. I develop these designs, sculpt the pieces by hand, fire in my studio and glaze. This is a special process that results in each ceramic piece having a different shape and a slightly different colour/glaze finish. My inspiration comes from nature, my travels in third world countries and collaborations with these artisans and their cultures.
• What materials do you use to create your products?
Core to our ethos is a commitment to the environment. Our items are created exclusively from Wood, Ceramic, Cotton, Linen and Wool, all sustainable materials that nature has provided us. Our wood is Sisoo wood, a Nepalese hardwood that’s part of the Rosewood family, which has been grown sustainably and more commonly used for decorative objects like furniture, stair railings and carved symbols. We use natural or non-toxic dyes for our scarves and bags, lead free non-toxic glazes on our ceramics and product packaging is always carefully considered. All pieces are packaged in our 100% cotton pouches that have been handmade by our women’s organisation in Nepal.
• What made you decide to support artisan families in Nepal, and how are you helping them?
Feeling the need to work with only natural materials and having read about Nepal, an impoverished yet culturally rich nation, I travelled there in 2013 to find artisans to work with. I wanted to know exactly who would be making my products and that they would directly receive fair pay for their efforts. I feel very privileged to now be working with the most lovely, talented Nepalese family. They are of Newari culture from Kathmandu Valley, who have been woodcarvers for generations. Having travelled to Nepal on two further occasions, I have also since developed a strong relationship with a Women’s run co-op that hand make my scarves and bags.
At Woodfolk we seek to demonstrate a fairer alternative to businesses seeking trade with third world countries by partnering with small family-run businesses and Women focused organisations, not exploitative sweatshops. Our relationships in Nepal are built on trust, equality, fair trade and a long-term goal of bringing meaningful change to their lives, creating opportunity, self-determination, support and hope to these communities through social entrepreneurship.
Our craftspeople in Nepal foster master skills developed over generations. Whether it be traditional carving, natural dying, wheel-work, weaving and knitting techniques, these skills contribute to our uniquely beautiful and quality made products while simultaneously preserving authentic art forms.
• What has been the hardest thing about starting Woodfolk? What do you love the most?
One of the obstacles I faced in the earlier stages of starting Woodfolk was finding the right people to work with overseas. I could have easily gone somewhere like China, India or Bali to work with a factory, not even needing any face to face contact, however that defeated the purpose of my business. I wanted to make it more personal and was looking to work with a family or an organisation that I respected. The wonderful thing about Nepalese people is how open they are to help you. From when I arrived, I found that they always made time to meet me, would always take my request seriously and if they couldn’t help, would provide details of someone that might be able to. I followed my instinct which eventually led me to exactly who I was looking for.
I find all parts of my work extremely rewarding. Not only am I fully involved in the designing and making of each product, as well as the look and feel of the brand; I also get to support and build personal relationships with our artisans in Nepal; liaise with our wonderful growing list of stockists in Australia and with the public who love our product; and not impact the environment in the process. It’s all very exciting, humbling and a genuine reward.
• What sets you apart from others in the industry?
I feel like it’s Woodfolk’s depth and story that separates us from everything else out there. Not only is the customer choosing something that is beautiful, handmade, quality and unique, they are also directly contributing to a better life for our artisans and their communities in Nepal.
• Where do you hope to take Woodfolk in the future?
Currently, I’m focusing on building a solid foundation of stockists and customers in Australia. There is a lot of opportunity here, particularly now that people are starting to recognise how important it is to support local businesses and stores. With time, I would like to expand overseas. Why not share the love!
• What piece of advice would you give to anyone who wants to start any kind of ethical and sustainable business?
My advice would be to make the business as personal as possible. For example, if they’re working with artisans then build a relationship with them, visit them and get to know them on a personal and professional level; or if they’re working with a particular material, meet the people who grow it, or visit the country its coming from. It really does makes a huge difference and brings in a level of depth and perspective.
• Why do you think people should be more environmentally and socially aware of the products they purchase? What’s best way to raise awareness?
The true power lies with the consumer and every time they spend money they are making an active choice to support the brand, its values and processes. That might mean sweatshops, harm to the environment or locals where materials are sourced. I believe that people are inherently good and caring and that few would want to think that their purchases have been made in a sweatshop under terrible conditions. For any meaningful change to occur, it’s vital for every person to choose wisely and ethically each time they make a purchase.
At Woodfolk, we raise awareness by placing our values at the forefront of our brand and telling our story with pride. We hope also to inspire other brands and business owners and provide a working model of what a fair trade and ethical business can look like.
I hope you liked reading this post and that Julia has inspired you to support ethical and sustainable businesses like hers! I’m fascinated by her story and hearing where the jewellery comes from makes every single piece even more special!