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Sustainability in Artistic Practice with Ferweh

This week we caught up with Laura from Ferweh UK to talk about sustainability in her practice as part of our Sustainability Week here at Second Home. Big thanks to Laura for taking the time to chat to us!

image from @fernwehuk via instagram

Could you tell us about what you do and how you practice sustainability within your artistic process?

I’m Laura and my business is called Fernweh UK. I am a bag designer and maker here in Aberdeen. I make slowly crafted bags and accessories inspired by my love of the outdoors, the environment, and rock climbing.

Incorporating sustainability into my practice, I use a lot of slow, locally sourced materials where I can. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years shoring up my own supply chain and making sure fabrics have minimal impact on the environment and that people are being paid a good wage, as that is equally as important. I mostly use waxed cotton - It’s a really rugged, hardwearing fabric that you can re-wax, and it gets better with age, so you can create really long lasting products with it. That’s actually from a company in Dundee. They’ve be making waxed cotton since 1864 so they’ve got a really big Scottish heritage here in Scotland which is quite important to me as well. I use a lot of leather in my work as well which can be quite controversial. I did a lot of research over lockdown into sustainable leather suppliers. I get my leather from a small tannery down in Devon which is the last oak bark tannery in the UK. It’s a really slow process which takes just over a year to tan every single hide. They get their hides as a bi-product of the meat industry from local farms in Devon. They slowly tan the hides in pits underground using a 400 year old mill to generate the power for it so it’s all very low impact and zero waste. Theres no chemicals used in the process which the leather industry is really bad for - there’s a lot of chrome-tanning and a lot of dyes which are then just released into the water systems which is pretty bad.

Both of these materials create a really beautiful product at the end which is also really hardwearing.

What is slow fashion?

So fast fashion is high-street brands that make things in vast quantities, for really cheap with about 20 different seasons a year. Slow fashion is basically the opposite. Things are made really mindfully, and the processes, fabrics and people involved in the supply chain are very important. It makes sure the whole system is fair because at the moment, it’s really not.

Social justice and fair working wages are an important part of sustainability too, How do you make sure you’re paying yourself fairly?

I spent a lot of time reading up on knowing your worth and improving my own confidence so now I have the confidence to charge what I feel is a fair wage for myself. Your price isn’t just your time taken to make something, it’s the time taken to design, research, training and developing your own skills - it’s all part of it. I’ve also set myself an hourly rate which I work into my pricing structure. And I make sure I take breaks too.

Who are your favourite slow fashion brands?

I really love Law Design Studio, based in Glasgow. She makes these beautiful slow crafted garments in her studio, all using organic, consciously sourced materials. The pieces last all seasons - you can layer them up for winter or as they are in Summer. She also has this really amazing circular system in her practice where once you’re finished with a garment you can return it for a discount on the next piece. Then the fabric from the garment you’ve returned is then re-purposed into another product.

How do you minimise waste within your own practice?

For me, it’s starts with the design process. There are some really horrible statistics in the fashion industry for example every metre of fabric used, 30% of that goes to waste. In my design process, I try to make angular shapes to minimise waste. From that, there is obviously a wee bit of textile waste but I try to make patchwork pieces with the offcuts and one of a kind bits. I’ve been keeping my offcuts for about 6 years and I only have 3 wee bins of offcuts so I feel like I’m doing an okay job!

It’s quite nice being in a shared studio space also. Between us we’re trying to set up a waste swap where we’ll make bits and pieces from each others waste so I’m really looking forward to that.

How do you practice sustainability at home?

The pandemic has made it a lot harder. My ethos is it’s a journey, you can’t cut out everything automatically. Plus getting rid of things just to buy new sustainable things where you could just use what you’ve got is really expensive and it kind of defeats the purpose of being sustainable. My main one is using a re-useable coffee cup because I go through so many disposable coffee cups, I love coffee haha! For cleaning I use a lot of white vinegar in cleaning and make my own rather than buying all the supermarket brands. I used to work in retail so I used to live in fast fashion and to an extent I still do because I can’t afford to buy some of the more ethically sourced pieces which I would love to one day! But if you can make the clothes you own last a long time, you know mending things and making sure you look after the things you already own, if you make those garments last that is at least a little bit more sustainable that wearing things a few times and throwing them away.

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