Hello & happy sunny Friday!
I’ve got a goodie for you this week – carrying on the sustainability theme from last time (read our chat with Jenni from The Sustainable Way here!), we spoke to Kate from Stellen about her business and what it’s all about!
Stellen is an eco friendly brand, helping to divert waste from landfill by using off-cuts and reclaimed materials to create fun, colourful jewellery, designed to make you smile. I bought one of Kate’s necklaces about 3 years ago and it is still going strong (and I can confirm, it most definitely makes me beam!).
Stellen necklaces are made from t-shirt yarn, which has been reclaimed from the fashion industry as pattern off-cuts, and is considered as waste by the factories it comes from.
Stellen earrings however are a whole other kettle of fish – made from salvaged bouncy castle PVC (how cool is that?!).
Mega talented Kate also writes a blog called Good Folk, where she interviews amazing makers, shop owners and sustainability superheroes like herself!
So let’s get going…
JANEY: Hi Kate! Please tell us – have you always been a maker? How did Stellen come to be?
KATE: Well, I have always made things, but I actually trained in Theatre. My ‘specialism’ was community theatre, and so I usually had to find or make props with little to no budget. I worked freelance as a drama workshop facilitator for a number of years, and also ran a theatre company for drama clubs and youth theatre. Then I trained as a drama teacher, and taught at a secondary school until I had my first child. Once I had two children, and they were both finally off to school I started Stellen. It actually came about after being inspired by a visit to Elvis and Kresse at their workshop in Tonge, Kent. I had been a fan for several years, and thought what they were doing to reuse old firehose was an awesome idea, but I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by their racks and racks of hose – I was only dropping in a bag for repair. The scale of what they were doing in that workshop, the skill and the environmental impact (or rather lack of) really sparked something in me. I drove away down a quiet country lane just thinking: “That’s what I want to do”. So, now I make things using t-shirt yarn, which is recovered from garment manufacturing and wound onto bobbins, and from the off cuts of up-cycled bouncy castle bags.
J: It is clear that this sustainability mission forms the foundations of your business – how do you ensure that your practices are environmentally conscious, and why is this so important?
K: Firstly, I have to say that I could be doing better. Every day it bothers me that there are so many frustrating aspects of running a small business and buying in supplies (for example packaging, jewellery findings, tools, display equipment etc) which mean you are somewhat reliant on other businesses and their processes. I always try to make the best choices, but I have definitely made mistakes by falling for greenwashing. For example buying jewellery boxes (marked as eco friendly), which arrived with a foam insert – which the company admit is not environmentally friendly, and every individual box was wrapped in a small plastic bag because “it’s how they come from the manufacturer”. So, now I don’t include a jewellery box, I use a recycled cardboard backing card. Recently I sourced some gift boxes that were surplus (unused) from another company, which felt like a good choice in reducing waste. I have found that as I’ve grown, the problems increase. There’s a constant battle between business on one shoulder saying: “sell more” and the planet on the other saying: “consume less”. I realised one way to balance this is to sell some of my earring lines as sets, or as pieces so that my customers don’t need to buy multiple pairs of hoops, but can still change the look of their earrings. I try to buy display equipment that is built to last and ideally second hand, and I have changed my parcel box supplier to a company that manufacture in the UK. I am always up for conversations and ideas around this aspect of business and how to “buy better”. We only have one planet, and resources are precious. There are many very clever companies doing great work to reuse materials that already exist, it would be even better if there were more.
J: That must be so frustrating – but you are certainly doing more than most, and are also helping to educate on the simple changes in attitude and mindset that can make a huge difference.
So how on earth you come up with the GENIUS idea to use the bouncy castle scrap materials to make earrings?
K: I was searching Etsy for an eco-friendly birthday present for my Step Mum, when I saw a bag made from old deckchairs, I immediately knew this was the right present, and added a matching washbag. The company was Wyatt and Jack – I hadn’t seen their work before so I spent hours browsing their other items and reading all about them. I shared their ex-bouncy castle rainbow bags in a Facebook group, and thought I’d send them a message to say how awesome their stuff was… and then I added “if you’d ever like to do a collaboration, let me know”. I didn’t have any idea of what I would make or how it would work, I just knew that they were doing the sort of work that I really admire, and that fit so well with my aims. To my utter surprise Georgia said yes & put some of their offcuts in with my order. Now I use offcuts from their brilliant bags to make earrings with. I am also looking for a solution to the much smaller pieces of offcuts that I produce, such as embedding it in eco resin, or even jesmonite to make new items that will have a longer life than the sum of their parts. I have actually been working on and puzzling over this for a couple of years and haven’t as yet found a solution that I’m happy with. So, I’ll keep on collecting the pieces in a very colourful box in my studio until I can use them.
J: Just the coolest idea ever if you ask me!
Once you have sourced and got hold of those materials, what is your design process?
K: I usually have an idea in my mind of what I want to make, and then draw a picture on whatever note book, diary, back of a piece of paper is to hand – with a few notes to explain to myself what I was aiming for (especially if it’s late at night and maybe also dark…). Then I just get on and try it out. If it’s a crochet piece it usually just takes a bit of trial and error to get the design how I imagined. If it’s bouncy castle then I draw the idea on my iPad and make it into a cut file and have a go. Working with scrappy bits of bouncy castle can take a lot of trial and error.
J: What would you say is your biggest achievement as a business owner so far?
K: Well, pre-pandemic, I would have said having my own studio in the Creative Quarter of Folkestone AND earning enough to be able to afford it’s rent. But as I have been shut for the majority of a year now, I will go for: any single time that a person chooses to buy something that has had a previous life, rather than something made from only new materials.
J: Yes that has to feel good – knowing you’ve played a part in them making that decision!
Please can you tell us about your own blog? What was your motivation to start it, and how does it feel to be on the other side of the Q&A!?
K: I spent some time building a new website in September, and around the same time I listened to a conversation about being an activist, and that was to use your platform – what ever that may be, no matter how big or small. So it got me thinking about what my platform was/is and I thought about this new website I was making, and what else I could make space for on it. So, naturally I wanted to include people and brands doing ‘good’ and working for a sustainable future. I contacted about 10 people and within an hour I had 6 agreed and by the following week I was up to 20. Now I have over 40 interviews. It’s just the small way that I have of being able to lift others up and hopefully bring them a new audience, and I know sustainability is a high priority for many of my customers – so it’s win win. Being on the other side is harder than I thought!
What is Daughters of Industry? What is their mission as an organisation and how does that fit in with Stellen’s values?
K: The Daughter’s of Industry was born over vegan cheese toasties and a lot of tea and coffee in a café in Folkestone. We are a collective of makers who were each spending every day working by ourselves in the same town who one day just thought: “I bet we could come together and do something spectacular, and have fun whilst doing it”. It so happened that the very same day – I emailed a pop up shop space (who were fully booked, and so took a booking from us for the following May) and they had a last minute cancellation which they offered to us. So, the café chats about “one day..” suddenly became “in three weeks time..” and because (and this is how you know you want to work with people) we said YES to this highly impractical idea, we very quickly came up with a sort of core group, and a name, and a logo, and some display racks, and opened a pop up shop. It was so much better than we though it would be, and it was also a pleasure working with everyone. The next year we managed to persuade a couple more makers (who were part of the original coffee chats) to join. We have opened 3 pop up shops, as well as pop up markets and pop up festivals. It has been a year since we last worked together, at the Take Up Space festival, on International Women’s Day 2020, which was an absolute riot of live music, talks, workshops and, of course, women supporting women. In terms of values, each maker has at least an element of sustainability somewhere in their product range, and they are all independent local makers and amazing women.
J: Sounds like my kind of girl gang! It is so important to be surrounded by like minded people, and it sounds like you’ve got yourself a real good bunch!
What is your ultimate favourite thing to make?
K: It’s really hard to choose because I love all of it! My favourite earrings are the bouncy castle PVC triangles, and my favourite necklace is the Neon bright pink Curve.
J: How funny – that’s the exact necklace I have, so I’d agree with you on that one!
And what about, if you could only wear one for the rest of your life, would it be necklaces or earrings?
K: Necklaces (sorry ears).
J: Ooh controversial, I’d have to be the opposite there, looking at my ever-growing collection anyway!
I think it is safe to say, we are completely sold! So where can we get our hands on your work?
So how about brightening your (or someone else’s!) day with some beautiful pieces from Stellen, made from materials that would have otherwise ended up in landfill!?
Both bouncy castle PVC and upcycled t-shirt yarn are also really light, which means they’re mega comfy to wear all day long!
Thank you for reading this week, I hope your weekend is full of sunshine and sparkly things!