By Phoebe Miller
Our subject for this month’s eco-friendly creative practice feature is so passionate about the issue that she has set up a website to share resources, tips and tools with others looking to make their creative practice or business more environmentally sustainable!
Penny Eager is the designer and maker behind Pocket Carnival, an art and design business based in Melbourne. Penny combines her love of sewing and drawing to produce eco-friendly purses, paper goods and baby toys and bibs.
She is also the driving force behind Oh My Green, a website that not showcases eco-friendly design and great DIY ideas, home and lifestyle tips, including a handy Eco-Resource Directory full of links and gems of info to help crafty and small business types green their business.
We thought it was only fitting that we take some time to share Penny’s story and pick her brain based on her experience in establishing and running a small eco-friendly creative business!
How do you approach sustainability and environmental awareness in your creative practice?
A desire for social and environmental sustainability is part of my personal ideology. I think everyone in the world should have access to the same human rights.
When I started making crafty things which led to my business (over 5 years ago now!), I wasn’t creating things in a particularly eco-friendly way. I definitely think that local production and handmade are a fantastic beginning, however as I increased the amount of things I was producing I began to feel uncomfortable with the increasing gap between my personal ethics and my business ethics – when you start producing a lot of items, the materials you’re using really start to add up!
So, I started to look for more sustainable ways of creating things. In no way is Pocket Carnival a perfect example of an eco-friendly business, but I think all the little things we do can add up and are helpful. If I find a more eco-friendly alternative to a conventional material I will use it (like organic instead of regular cotton, or corn-based toy stuffing instead of regular stuffing).
The availability of different materials also influences my product range too – often it can be so much harder to find eco-friendly options for small production runs! I had been wanting to venture into the new baby industry for a little while, and luckily enough Melbourne-based awesome digitial printing business Frankie & Swiss offer an organic cotton knit that my dribble bibs are now made of.
Eco-friendly craft & business supplies is a rapidly growing area, I often find that things I couldn’t find 6 months or 2 years ago are all of a sudden widely available, which is wonderful.
What key challenges have you come up against in trying to reduce the environmental impact of your work? How did you overcome them?
I guess the three main challenges I’ve found are cost, aesthetics and marketing.
Earlier this year I changed my greeting card packaging from biodegradable cellophane sleeves to polypropylene sleeves which I still feel pangs of guilt about! However I was getting a heap of feedback from shops stocking my cards that customers weren’t buying the greeting cards in the cello sleeves as often, because the cello sleeves get a little bit wrinkly over time, they don’t look shiny & new. I know we all love new shiny things! I weighed it up and after much angst I decided to go with plastic sleeves – I’d rather keep selling more cards than have a perfectly eco-friendly product that won’t sell.
Marketing can also be difficult. I think because Pocket Carnival’s products don’t necessarily look ‘eco’, marketing them as organic and eco-friendly hasn’t worked as well as it could have. I think naturally we all gain preconceived notions of what eco-friendly looks like, and if something strays too far from that it often won’t register. So for me a challenge has been marketing, eco-friendly products that don’t necessarily ‘look’ eco-friendly – trickier than it sounds!
Are there any particular resources you draw on to learn about issues around sustainability, in particular regarding design and production?
I studied politics and social studies at university, so this has absolutely influenced my little design business! My partner Chris has a Masters in Environmental Science and worked for a while in the environmental services industry. A lot of our friends also work in non-government organisations, trade unions and environmental organisations, which is definitely a massive influence. Can I call it peer pressure in the nicest way!? I think most of my friends would disown me if I started manufacturing in China.
The main reason I started Oh My Green is that it can be very difficult to find information and resources on environmentally and socially sustainable alternatives to traditional craft and business materials. It got to the point where I was getting a lot of emails asking me for information on my suppliers, materials and other random eco questions. Rather than constantly giving away my trade secrets and writing lengthy replies to questions, I decided to start the website!
Is there anything you’d like to do or learn to further increase the environmental sustainability of your work?
Oh there are always so many things on the list! Everything from carbon offsetting to finding a zipper made of recycled plastic to purchasing a studio printer that uses vegetable based inks. I would love for Oh My Green to become a little more widely promoted too, especially so I can show people how easy it can be to make small changes to be just that little bit more eco-friendly.
Who are the other creative women doing new or interesting things with a focus on environmental sustainability that you admire or are inspired by?
There are so many businesses and people, but definitely Lara and Teegs from Ink & Spindle are amazing – these ladies have not strayed from their core mission of making beautiful & timeless eco-friendly textiles.
Of course Kelley and the team behind Peppermint Magazine are an inspiration, especially for showing off the MANY many eco-friendly labels and inspiring people out there!
I also think Theresa from Rummage Style is pretty awesome – Rummage clothing is all made from vintage or repurposed fabrics here in Melbourne. And finally I’m just loving the motivation and inspiration behind The Smallest Tribe.
What advice would you give to women who hope to launch their own label with a sustainable focus?
Do it! Honestly I think part of the problem with climate change and environmental problems is that because the problem is so massive, we often feel powerless individually.
I think it would be completely amazing if our governments turned around and said ‘Hey! pesticides are bad for our earth! Grow things organically!’ or ‘Dudes! Recycled papers can be used in nearly all the same contexts as non-recycled! So use that!’, but they don’t. I think it’s definitely up to individuals, small businesses, big businesses and governments to work harder at being more environmentally sustainable. It can be really difficult, but I think we all have responsibilities!
However I would also love to say that if you try and be the most environmentally sustainable business ever, you will probably end up being extremely frustrated. You just have to figure out what you will and won’t be willing to compromise on, and stick to it. You need to be able to align your personal and artistic / business ethics with each other. But, do it!
Phoebe Miller is a Brisbane-bred, Sydney-fled, Melbourne-embedded gal who enjoys making, spruiking, collecting, exploring, telling her friends where to eat and posting photos of doors on instagram. After several years working in corporate marketing and communications, Phoebe followed the urge to explore her creative side. These days she divides her time between her sustainable fashion accessories label, Simply Phoebe, and freelance PR consulting.