INTERVIEW // SAMANTHA SELJAK - CO-FOUNDER & DIRECTOR OF SELJAK BRAND
Welcome to Compass Studio's eighth instalment of our 'Explore More' series where we dig into the stories and inspirations of those people that are conquering uncharted grounds right now - whether physical, environmental or social, in the hope of spreading the good further.
With small brands starting to really push inventive, and forward-thinking sustainability measures, will we start to see large and tired corporations left in the dust? With sustainability embedded at their core, Seljak Brand are agile, utilising a ‘closed loop’ business model to be the change they wish to see in the world – and putting nothing to waste. We talk through this promising way of doing business, below.
Let us know more about yourself, and Seljak Brand?
I’m a social entrepreneur who founded Seljak Brand, alongside my sister Karina. Having spent several years in Brisbane working at Gilimbaa Indigenous creative agency and starting community initiatives such as The Box and No Lights No Lycra Brisbane, it was time to take the next plunge. Karina moved home from Brooklyn where she had been working in the local food movement, and together we wanted to create a company that would create a positive impact.
Seljak Brand envisions a world without waste. We use waste as a resource to make beautiful products that are regenerative by design. Our first product, a recycled merino wool blanket, is made from factory floor offcuts at an old mill in Tasmania. It is a closed loop product because it can be remanufactured at the end of its life. Now we’re exploring other textiles waste streams to develop new products. A scary amount of textiles (pre and post-consumer) end up in landfill and we want to change that.
How did the idea come about? Was it a ‘lightbulb moment’?
The Seljak Brand blanket wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but more of a slow burner that came into being after months and months of consideration. We had been exploring circular philosophies for a year or so, and we also spent time in India understanding weaving practices. When we visited the mill on a trip to Tasmania, which is the oldest wool mill in Australia, with over 135 years of manufacturing knowledge, we knew we wanted to work with them. Our philosophies were aligned as they too understood the importance of using precious waste resources.
It’s such a simple idea. How can we encourage others to think small (in order think big).
I think it’s about working with what you have. We looked local, to the beautiful and under-celebrated resources we have in Australia. We also didn't want to work with virgin resources, so we looked for materials that was otherwise considered waste. Above all, think about 'why' you want to do something and then the 'what' will come.
Can you tell us more about the ‘circular economy’ and ‘closed loop’, and how it relates to sustainability?
The circular economy is a concept that rejects the traditional ‘take, make, waste’ paradigm, and shifts to one that is regenerative by design and uses renewable inputs and waste as a resource. In theory, the circular economy is where all resources are used at their highest value, in continuous loops. A closed loop means the endless cycling of resources, where nothing is wasted and no new resources are used in the initial and ongoing production process.
Sustainable goods can be known to cost more. How do you think this shapes the general public's perception of sustainability?
When the cost of a product is too good to be true, then it’s usually a sign that somewhere along the supply chain, someone or something is getting exploited. Whether it is the workers involved in extracting or growing the raw resource and assembling the product, or the environment itself that suffers from negative externalities, the true cost of the product is not reflected. Usually the price of sustainable goods more closely reflects the true cost of making them. Unfortunately sustainable products aren’t always accessible to all given their price point. But this is why we champion quality over quantity, with ultimately more value provided over a product’s lifetime.
Why do you think sustainability seems more prevalent within small business. Why not large corporations?
Purpose-driven small businesses are more agile, have sustainability embedded at their core and are often majority or 100% owned by top management. This means that sustainability is always on the agenda and part of almost every decision made. In contrast, systems change is hard for large corporations who already have not only their processes in place, but their very business models. Traditional business models are no longer considered holistically sustainable as they often don’t take into account anything beyond profit, namely social or environmental impact.
Tell us more about the influence sustainable-focused businesses can have on others.
A range of initiatives are inspiring, and prompt you to think about what you do, or how some of the simple things in life, could benefit others. We were inspired by a toilet paper company of all things… Who Gives A Crap, who support those in developing countries, by providing access to more hygienic water sources by donating 50% of profits to Water Aid.
What do you believe the lowest, and highest point of the global garment and textile industry has been in the last 10 years?
The lowest point is without doubt the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2014, where 1,134 garment workers lost their lives. It was the second most deadly disaster in industrial history and a never-again moment for the textiles industry.
The highest point would perhaps be the incredible consumer power that was displayed after Rana Plaza, with a demand for more transparency and fairness through the people’s movement Fashion Revolution.