Seljak sisters Karina and Sam have recently launched their line of luxurious and practical recycled wool blankets. They produce the blankets using offcuts from the factory floor of Australia’s oldest mill in Tasmania. The blankets themselves are made from 70% recycled merino wool and a 30% blend of recycled alpaca, mohair and polyester for strength.
When your blanket has been loved to death, you can send it back to the mill for free, where it will be shredded and spun into new yarn for future blankets. The lifecycle of the product is considered from start to end. This closed loop, zero waste model is one way the Seljak sisters believe businesses can bring about real change in our world in which we have grown accustomed to simply consuming and dumping.
What’s the only way to make this story even more cozy? For every ten blankets sold, one is donated to asylum seekers starting out their new life in Australia. Beautiful!
We chatted to co-founder Karina about her motivation behind launching Seljak Brand, how a recent trip to India inspired the sisters to do what they do and what is making her feel optimistic about the world.
The two of you took a trip to India in 2015 to research the textile manufacturing industry before creating your brand. What were a couple of your key observations from the trip that really stuck with you and influenced your business model in the end?
We looked at printing and weaving techniques from Rajasthan to Assam to gain an understanding about what really goes into making what we think of as simple cloth.
Seeing how all the different players contribute to the final product, and the effect on the workers involved, forced us to acknowledge the complexity of the supply chain. We saw farmers moving silk worms from tree to tree, armed with handmade bows and arrows to protect themselves from tigers. We saw dyers with discoloured patches up and down their arms from the chemicals. We saw how equipping people with a loom or a spinning wheel could give them a sense of purpose and ability to financially support themselves after being affected by war.
So we design not just our products, but our whole supply chain, and invite our customers to see that and be part of it, too. And we want to be sure we empower others with what we’re doing. Right now, that’s simply by offering warmth and comfort to asylum seekers with blankets, and in the future it could be more involved.
Ethical Style Hunter, like you guys, is a collaboration between two sisters and we can totally relate to knowing you wanted to do something together. How do you find being in business as sisters? Any challenges or is it just clicking?
Sam and I are like yin and yang; we have different skills and ways of thinking, while sharing similar passions and working toward a common goal. The biggest challenge is probably the realities of hard work - we find it difficult to switch off sometimes. It’s actually really fun to connect on a whole other level, and wonderful after being apart for the three years I spent in New York.
I know this is a massive question, but what is a circular economy in a nutshell? It sounds like this is a huge motivation behind your business model.
It is! The Circular Economy moves away from the take, make and waste model (extraction, manufacturing, consumption and disposal) we’ve been operating on since the industrial revolution to one where waste is the resource. It’s about material flows working at their highest value for as long as possible – humans will continue to consume, so it’s about finding ways to impact the environment less and create more value in what we have.
The characteristics of the circular economy, like ‘strength in diversity’ or ‘waste as a resource’ can be found in other models, too, like permaculture. We need more collaboration between industries and more sharing of knowledge to make these models happen at scale, to create real change.
What other people or businesses have inspired you along the way?
Such a variety! One is Interface, which makes and rents carpet tiles, returning old tiles to be reprocessed to make new carpet tiles. A fantastic example of product life extension and remanufacture at scale. Another is Patagonia - repairing the adventure wear of their customers is just one way Patagonia is aspiring to a more sustainable model of production and consumption. Revering nature is part of their model. Who Gives a Crap is a guiding light as an Australian social enterprise, and Sheryl Sandberg is our ultimate power person ;)
Interesting that you have a background in fashion. Obviously textiles is a bit of a common ‘thread’ here, but why did you end up making blankets and not clothing?
I kind of see the way of making life essentials as the most interesting part, whether that’s food, clothes, things. And blankets are great, because they’re so inclusive, fashion vibes can be a bit exclusive.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your blanket?
Take them to the beach in winter so I can swim and be toasty after getting out!
How has the feedback been from the recipients of your blankets so far?
The blankets are going like hotcakes. We’re curious to see how useful they’ll be in the summertime. We may stockpile them for next winter, or Melbourne’s weather might be weird enough that they’re always wanted!
Are you sensing a shift away from mindless consumerism that creates all this waste, towards a culture of more thoughtful consuming?
Definitely. Starting Seljak Brand has shown us overwhelmingly that consumers and businesses are hungry for a new way of buying/sharing/using/renting their stuff – the intuition that guided us in setting up our company turned into conversations we have every day with our customers and other businesses.
What else is making you feel optimistic about the world right now?
What a great question. Women. Optimistic about how far we’ve come and where we’re going! We’ve still got a long way to go but the conversation is getting stronger and stronger. Don’t get me or Sam started; a topic for next time!
What’s next for Seljak Brand?
Exploring other closed loop opportunities, whether that be in Australia, or elsewhere, with blankets or other products. We’re excited to work with other people and businesses who want to transition to another way of making. And soon, COLOUR in our blankets! Watch this space.