We caught up with one half of the formidable duo behind Seljak Brand to hear about their latest projects, musings on ethical and sustainable practice and how to measure the good we do!
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? My name’s Karina Seljak and I am the co-founder of Seljak Brand alongside my sister Sam. We make blankets from the offcuts of a wool mill in Tasmania. As well as taking back our blankets to be recycled at the end of their lives, we also send one blanket for every 10 sold to the Asylum Seeker Resource Center in Victoria. We explore making and using things that reduce impact on the environment, last a long time, and celebrate Australian resources.
Was there a specific moment when you realised you wanted to pursue this particular path?It’s a culmination of my journey, I think. I explored trans-seasonal, modular, waste-less design in my Fine Arts Fashion course. Then in New York, where I lived for three years, I joined the handcrafted food movement, making syrups for cooking and cocktails with local produce. I came back to Australia to collaborate with Sam to bring these philosophies to life – of using local stuff, less stuff but good stuff – among our own communities.
Are there any projects (professional or personal) that you are especially proud of? In New York I continued my creative practice by hand-dying fabric with food by-products, like turmeric, and real indigo to create beautiful home textiles, like napkins, aprons, knife-covers… A whole range of things I’d sell at local markets and stores, and just give as gifts. You can find that work here http://www.karinaseljak.com/
Can you share some details about your most recent project? Right now at Seljak Brand we’re looking to use the offcuts of other Australian businesses in the production of our blankets. Ever since we launched, just over 18 months ago now, we’ve been approached by dozens of businesses to take their textile waste. Think uniforms after a re-brand, fast fashion waste, offcuts from merino undergarments and so on. I’m off to the mill in a couple weeks to see how samples of this waste goes in our machinery. The product we’re hoping to achieve is a summertime blanket, one that you can toss on the couch or veranda for cool summer breezes.
What is the next step for you? What does the future hold? Product range expansion with Seljak Brand, creating new products with textile waste!
How does where you grew up and where you live now affect your practice? I grew up with Sam in Samford Valley, just outside of Brisbane. We were lucky enough to feel connected to a city but be surrounded by mountains, creeks and paddocks. We’d camp and bushwalk with our parents and friends on weekends and holidays, and although sometimes we were complaining in the back of the car, I think these activites cultivated a deep love and respect for the natural environment.
Which artists/thinkers/creatives/entrepreneurs are you obsessed with at the moment? I saw a fantastic retrospective of Marina Ambrovovic outside of Copenhagen when I went to visit Sam (who lives in Malmo, Sweden currently). She puts herself on the line, over and over and over again, to explore the limits of her mind and her body. Stuff like shouting for hours until she’s hoarse and filming it. Or handing herself over to the audience for them to do as they wish with her. Stuff that seems weird or scary if you just walk by it in a gallery, but when you see it as a collective body of work – and stop and engage – it’s really powerful. When I see an artist, activist or entrepreneur do something so fully, and often in the face of risk, to tell their story I am inspired.
What is a social conscience? Why do you have a social conscience? Why does it matter? It’s thinking about the impact of your choices on people and the planet, not just who’s standing beside you or the clean air you’re breathing now, but the whole of humanity and the natural world now and in the future. It matters more now then ever as we are seeing the impact of our collective action – a growing wealth gap and climate change. If humans are the perpetrators, then we too have the power to be the healers.
How do you tackle the job of becoming ‘ethical’? Does it make life difficult? What are the challenges involved? Being ethical is asking questions about what you’re doing – where you’re spending money, where you’re working – and adjusting your behaviour to respond to your findings, based on your own framework of ‘that’s okay with me, that’s not okay with me’. The biggest challenges are time and money. Time to research your choices… for example, what’s the difference between organic and free-range eggs, for instance. Do I care how chickens are treated? Will I fork out a few dollars more to support the egg production I’m okay with? That’s why this ethical consumer movement is so great, because there are platforms popping up more and more, like Well Made Clothes for fashion, that does a lot of that work for you.
Do you think that there is a stronger sense of accomplishment or success in conducting your business with an ethical and social conscience? Of course. I mean we’re a drop in the ocean, but every drop counts.
What is success, how do we measure the “good” we do? It depends what your goals are – to be able to see progress you need a focus and a measurement. For us, it’s diverting kilograms of waste from landfill into beautiful, useful things. But it’s also inspiring others. Inspiring individual consumers to use their purchasing power, as well as inspiring big businesses with alternative ways of doing things. Showing them it’s possible and profitable to be part of more sustainable systems. This stuff is harder to measure but really important, too.
Do you become disillusioned? And if so, how do you remedy that? True change takes time so patience and perseverance is key, which is challenging in the face of the shadow side of an industry, all industries. There is amazing work being done by so many, so I surround myself with these people, these things. However, if there’s something I cannot find peace with, I pivot. I’ve realised it’s okay to change direction or change your mind. That’s the mark of an inquiring, evolving human being – and the same goes for business!
Where can we find and follow you? Find us at @seljakbrand on Instagram and /Seljakbrand on Facebook. For the latest, sign up to our mailing list at www.seljakbrand.com.au.
This is one of our favourite interviews to date, thank you Karina for your time and for producing beautiful recycled wool blankets!