“Plastic Free July is a key initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation that allows us to work towards our vision of seeing a world free of plastic waste. From humble beginnings in 2011, the award-winning Plastic Free July campaign is the result of years of hard work” ~ Plastic Free July Foundation
As with many of the world’s challenges, the quantity of plastic strewn across our continent is one that is hard to fathom and unpleasant to think about. That’s when foundations such as Plastic Free July come to the rescue and ask that we, just for one month, try and do one thing to reduce our single-use plastic habits. When a big problem that seems unsolvable is broken down into small bite-size tasks that we, the average person, can do, all of a sudden there is hope. Over the past month, you might have noticed that we have been posting our Instagram images with a watermark on them as a way to show our support for this movement and to remind everyone who engages with us on this platform that there is something each one of us can do to help.
And while it is each individual’s responsibility to take action, there are some businesses who are thinking of the most brilliant ideas to save our planet. Natalie and Kim Ellis, sisters, co-founders, and friends of Londolozi have created one such business. The Joinery has continued to amaze us with its innovative methods to create stylish items that are not only beautiful and friendly to our planet, but products that also begin to counteract the waste in a positive way. We proudly support The Joinery by using as many of their products as we can (I personally adore their safari hat that keeps my face covered from the hot summer African sun when out and about on the reserve).
As part of our way of featuring as many ways to support our environment during July, and supporting local South African, women-owned businesses, I got to know Kim and Natalie a little better…
How did the Joinery come to be? What inspired you and how did you begin creating products from used plastics?
Our name, The Joinery, is based on our founding principles to collaborate and ‘’join’’ up with artisans, designers, and brands to create designs that promote a cleaner planet. We are sisters in business. Kim and Natalie Ellis. Our father used to be an entrepreneur and worked in clothing manufacturing in South African in the 1980’s. Kim and I spent lots of time in the factory as children, witnessing the extraordinary production process in action, from design to the physical making of the clothes, in those days being manufactured here on South African shores. This lead us to design our own handbag ranges. Making was in our blood.
Our love for creating was inspired alongside our exposure to sustainable living, with our parents growing community vegetable gardens right off our home on the pristine beaches in Natal. Later living off the grid in the mountains in Kwa Zulu Natal in a magical stone cottage my Father built by hand, foraging wild mushrooms and experimenting with making organic jams and beauty products from our father’s fruit trees and bramble bushes and creating homemade ceramics from clay from the river bed. Always immersing ourselves in local culture and African traditional Zulu skills and crafting.
Our love for the ocean, mountains and nature, product design, and witnessing firsthand from our Father how manufacturing in South Africa creates employment and sustains families made Kim and I dream of one day also starting our own brand. This dream got more elaborate after we were exposed to the international sustainable design movement alongside the circles of Safia Minney and Orsola de Castro while working in London for a few years.
And so, The Joinery was launched in 2012. We wanted to uplift highly skilled workers who had been affected by the downturn of the manufacturing industry. We started off created ethical and sustainable fashion ranges and bags with a product range branching out to recycled plastic products, such as luxury slippers, hotel amenities, hats, and laptop bags to start.
Our intense concern for the issues of plastic waste and single-use plastic landing up in our oceans and landfills made us turn to find solutions for reusing waste and question how to clean up waste streams. All the plastic bottles in our fabric are collected in South Africa. We saw the impact of plastic waste on the beaches, in the ocean and water streams and within the cities and outskirts, this drove us to realize we need to DO SOMETHING (Our business motto). We conceptualized and created a felt made from recycled plastic bottles working alongside a recycling company. Our Future Felt™ collections are now luxury product ranges seen in some of the most luxurious hotels and lodges around the world as well as bespoke products and packaging for top retailers and corporates. All our products are handmade by local South African Artisans closing the loop on sustainability.
What does “do something. Anything” mean?
This is our Motto. We realized at the beginning of starting our sustainable brand that there were so many boxes to tick in order to feel like we were doing enough in terms of sustainability, that we froze up and felt helpless at the thought of not being able to tick every box outright. That is when we decided – unless we do something…. We will get nowhere… this became our mantra and has driven us forward as we strengthen our sustainability pillars. Each step is a positive, each tick makes a change and a difference to people and the planet.
We say ‘’Do Something, Anything… Don’t be afraid to take action.
To get an idea of your impact, how many plastic bottles does it take to make a meter of fabric? And to this day how many bottles have you prevented from landing up in a landfill?
To give you an idea, there are approximately just under 25 recycled plastic bottles in a meter. One tote bag is made from 5 plastic bottles, and a weekender travel bag is made from 26 recycled plastic bottles. We are on route to saying 1 million plastic bottles from landfills and the ocean, this is our goal, we are well over 500 000 bottles and counting with the support of our amazing clients ordering our Joinery products.
How big is the Joinery family and what impact has your business had on these individuals?
The Joinery team has grown from our early days of Kim and Myself burning the candle at both ends, to often having as many as 50 Artisans working at a time on our eco products and a strong core team at the studio guiding the ship.
What do you feel everyone is doing right at the moment (with respect to sustainability)?
We are seeing people making conscious choices as to what they are investing in for their hotels, offices, retail stores, and at home. This is a time where we have to think of not only healthy communities but a healthy planet for our future.
What are your latest sustainability trends to watch in the travel industry?
We are seeing a trend towards really appreciating local travel, indulging in giving guests a luxury experience during these times when a holiday is seen as a luxury in itself. Most certainly when it comes to gifting or products inside hotels and lodges or on the retail shelf, eco, recycled, and handmade is coming up at the top. So in terms of our Joinery products, our luxe Future Felt ™ Recycled plastic bottle weekender bags are so popular at the moment, a really beautiful travel bag. It’s handmade and is a real symbol of African heritage and craftsmanship. Our bed and bath hotel collections of soft eco-felt slippers made from recycled plastic bottles get real applause from guests who are used to the throwaway slipper culture and get to feel good about shuffling around in our luxury hotel slippers upon arrival in their suite. Our recycled plastic felt washbags filled with organic and local products are not only useful for travel but aesthetically beautiful in any bathroom as an accessory.
We are seeing a trend towards items having multifunctional use. At a time when we can no longer afford a throwaway culture for our planet, we have designed a collection of multi-purpose pouches that can double up as travel document holders, cosmetic bags, hard drive covers, holding all your smalls, phone, coins, etc. When it comes to interiors our homeware and interior hotel collections are designed to be multi-functional and have a real high-end design look and feel. Our In-room storage baskets, double up as planters, we have storage trays that are collapsible and hold anything from bath salts to sherry glasses. Floor cushions and ottomans allow for more time to relax in your suite. Our floor cushions are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles and even the filling is made from the same fabric offcuts.
We are seeing a concerted effort to implement sustainable practices in the hotel and travel industry as well as a drive to support local more than ever before.
What do you hope the sustainability landscape looks like in 5 years’ time?
We foresee sustainability and technology merging to create smart solutions to deal with waste. We are already seeing design creating change in both the health, travel, and recycling industries. We are experimenting with natural substrates too in terms of alternatives for a cleaner planet, and this is where a lot of design is heading at a fast pace. We see travel, health, and sustainability merging to create holistic lifestyles for people. There will be no other alternative but for all industries to rethink their choices and implement sustainable decisions within their agendas.
Do you have any tips for Plastic-free July?
Do Something. Anything… Start small:
- Pledge to give up plastic bags, invest in high-quality reusable tote bags
- Shop natural and give up plastic packaged items
- Wear fabric masks
- Get yourself an eco-travel mug for takeaway coffees
- Rethink your home and kitchenware to start to phase out plastic
- Educate your children
- Pledge to educate yourself to think consciously every time you think of what you purchase for yourself or your children and what are the alternatives to plastic options.
What is your most sought-after product?
For the frequent and chic safari-goer – what products would you suggest and why?
Our Joinery recycled plastic bottle Future Felt ™ Safari hat is a stylish sustainable must. A pair of our eco slippers look fashionable in your suite, the spa, or at the pool. A washbag for your travel cosmetics or bath products, and a handy tote for the pool or mooching around the lodge or beach.
What advice would you give a brand trying to move to a more sustainable approach?
Never give up, solidify your internal process to always have sustainability at the forefront of your end goals. Put people and planet first when designing and conceptualizing. Work with local Artisans and upskill our talented youth to create local employment and drive our economy.
Despite being such an eco-friendly brand, does The Joinery face any sustainability issues?
Indeed we have faced many challenges over the years. Initially, a lack of eco-friendly fabrics left us despondent until we took this into our own hands and designed our own sustainable Future Felt ™ fabrics and product ranges working with local partners.
I loved getting to know Kim and Natalie a little better. It made me feel incredibly hopeful that there are amazing brands – led by passionate teams of people- who are willing to overcome the challenges to do something good. That’s why we support them here at Londolozi. It may seem like safari and recycled plastic products have nothing in common, but when you get down to the heart of it, we stand together as we both do our bit to not only preserve what is left but actively play a part in restoring our planet through practices like permaculture, recycling, re-wilding, species protection, job creation, and community support programs. And we aren’t the only ones doing it. But the more we speak up and out about the small (and big) ways that individuals and brands are pushing us forward in a positive way the easier it’s going to get to adopt these principles for a better future. With initiatives like Plastic Free July, it’s critical that we take these ideas, make them our own, and find ways to implement them in our everyday lives. I hope that the wonderful duo at The Joinery has inspired you to find inspiration to do something… anything…towards being a peaceful and engaged part of our wonderful planet.