Tools of the Trade: Belinda Evans & Alchemy

By Brianna Read The interview for this first chapter in the second volume of Tools of the Trade raised two particularly pertinent topics for the wonderful platform for discussion that is the Creative Women’s Circle: social media and collaboration. I shall return to these topics shortly, but let me introduce the subject who brought these to the fore… Belinda Evans is the creator of Alchemy, a beautiful label and online store which I admired long before I crossed paths with Belinda herself.

Alchemy Australian Found Wood Necklace - Alchemy Knitted Cotton Necklace - photos by Belinda Evans - 2012

My reason for this admiration was that this tiny little nook, in the vast ocean of online stores, managed to cultivate an extraordinary air of calm. As anyone who has lost their way while navigating the information superhighway will understand, calm is not something you happen upon very often. I mention this particular quality because Belinda’s extraordinary talent lies not only in her hands which craft each beautiful, thoughtful product you find in the Alchemy store, but also in her ability to create quiet space and genuine connection in the arena of online shopping and social media.

How, I wondered, has this woman stayed so true to the ethos of her slow, calm, creative practice while building a tiny empire and devoted following in the chaos of online?

Alchemy Faceted Maple Necklace - Photo by Belinda Evans - 2012

Belinda spent her childhood surrounded by a wonderful array of tools: lathes and pottery wheels were both things she was encouraged to try and with a glass blowing studio and furniture making workshop at her fingertips it would seem a natural progression for such a childhood to lead on to a practice such as that displayed at Alchemy. But not without an invaluable step in a different direction…

Belinda also works in the field of project and event management and it is her experiences using social media in this environment which she credits with developing the skills that have proven invaluable in the development and management of the online presence of Alchemy. Take a quick look at the Alchemy blog or her Instagram posts and her genuine enjoyment of this media is wonderfully apparent. Her beautiful blog for Alchemy has a quiet sister in the blog titled Simple Things which Belinda dedicates to displaying images of a wide spectrum of design works which catch her eye and entertain her mind. Belinda says of her sharing ‘I’m not shy about sharing my techniques, how I source my materials, and the beautiful work of other artisans that I love to surround myself with.’.

Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

This leads me to the second topic of collaboration. I recently read an article posted on Li Edelkoort’s Trend Tablet authored by Peter Stitger and to borrow his words ‘We are leaving an individual era behind us.’ This article continued on with a brief treatise on the merits of collaboration and fostering creative environments which work on the premise of camaraderie with the sharing of tools, knowledge and creativity at the center.

Belinda Evans - indigo textile dyeing - photo by Olga Bennett - 2013

Belinda has exactly this approach to her practice, take one look at the beautiful photos of Belinda using indigo dyes for some of her new projects below. Taken by Olga Bennett, these photographs showcase the talents of photographer and subject in equal measure, a perfect example of the beauty of collaboration. This appreciation for the talents of others is one of the defining characteristics which make Belinda’s online voice so pleasant to listen to. In a time which seemed to favour the loudest and most shamelessly self-promoting voices, stumbling across Alchemy and then crossing paths with the quiet collaborator herself was equal parts breath of fresh air and renewal of faith in social media platforms. Belinda, thank you!

Belinda's blogs can be found here and here. Her lovely escape from the world store is here and to find her on Instagram she is known as: @iamalchemy...

Brianna Read is a designer and maker based in Melbourne. Her knitwear label Jack of Diamonds  employs traditional hand-made techniques in combination with machine knit technologies. Her multi-faceted creative practice encompasses design, production, works for exhibition and machine knitting workshops

Eco-Friendly Creative Practice: Penny Eager from Pocket Carnival

By Phoebe Miller

Penny Eager - Pocket Carnival Purse Pocket Carnival Zig Zag Purse 

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!

Penny Eager - Pocket Carnival zig zag card Pocket Carnival Zig Zag Purse 

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.

Penny Eager Pocket Carnival Cloud cushionPocket Carnival Cloud Cushion 

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!

Penny Eager - Pocket Carnival Baby CardsPocket Carnival Baby Cards

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!

Penny Eager - Pocket Carnival baby productsPocket Carnival baby big and card

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.

Penny Eager - Pocket Carnival Baby BibPocket Carnival bib modelled by one cool kid!

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!

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You can find out more about Penny over at Pocket Carnival, Oh My Green, or get in touch about her product range via penny/at/pocketcarnival.com.au.

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.

Eco-Friendly Creative Practice: Supercyclers

By Phoebe Miller I'm interrupting this month's regular Eco-Friendly Creative Practice interview programming to highlight a very worthy event in the world of local sustainable design: the Supercyclers exhibition currently running in Sydney.

I'm sure many of you are no strangers to their work. Supercyclers are an ever growing international collective of designers who take waste materials and transform them into very beautiful, and often highly useful new products.

After successfully leveraging a campaign on the local crowd funding site Pozible, Sarah King - one of the original Supercyclers -  took an exhibition of new supercycling work to The Other Hemisphere at Milan Design Week. The "Supercycle Our Souls" exhibition is now back on home shores and available for your viewing pleasure in Sydney.

In honour of the event, and to make up for not being in Sydney to see it myself, I thought it would be fitting to highlight the work the local creative ladies that are part of this exciting exhibition.

Plastic Fantastic Transparent Collection Images via Supercyclers 

As part of her own supercycling work Sarah K works with another sustainable design dynamo, Liane Rossler, as Plastic Fantastic. Their stunningly gorgeous ethereal looking creations are made from discarded single use plastic bags.

Quilt light by Tamara Maynes (photo by Andy Lewis) Image via Supercyclers

Broken ceramic plates repaired with coloured glue by Tamara Maynes (styled by Vanessa Colyer Tay, photo by Sam McAdam) Image via Supercyclers

Tamara Maynes is something of a craft queen, with a tendency to re-use and see the beauty in the discarded. Her Quilt Lamp (pictured further above and right below), which is featured in the exhibition, is available as a downloadable template that can be made from any flat, stiff material.

Tamara Maynes Quilt Light made from recycled cardboard Image via Supercyclers

I should note that supercyclers are an equal opportunity collective! ;) While we're all about awesomely talented ladies at the CWC, you can also check out what the supercyclin' boys are up to on the supercyclers website.

SOS (Supercycle Our Souls) runs until July 15 at Moore Park Supacentre. Venue details here.

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.