For the series Good Folk on this blog I have sent interview questions to some really wonderful people who are either making things, running shops, or generally promoting sustainability. I think you will enjoy reading their answers as much as I have, and I hope they inspire us all with the knowledge that there are people doing good in the world!
This interview is with Caroline Akselson, who makes up one half of Selkie Patterns with Alexandra Bruceho. Together they sell dressmaking patterns, lifestyle patterns, vintage haberdashery, and textiles, and run an online membership called The Table which is full of video content on sewing and sustainability
[ Photography by Quadrille : Charlotte Medlicott ]
How has working sustainably impacted your non-business life?
It has definitely made me more aware, mainly because I research lots for my company which I can then apply to my non-business life. I also teach at a university so I try to pass on what I learn and research to my students. It has also made me more open to try different products and ways of living my life.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of all the things I have managed to learn throughout running a business for two years now. I have learnt skills that I never knew I was capable of learning and that I would have actually avoided learning in the past, such as learning my way around a website and the technical side of the business, and also bookkeeping as I have struggled with numbers since I was very little. I am also proud of how strong my friendship with my co-founder has stayed throughout. We have been close friends for a decade and it’s a joy being able to share this. In the future I hope my son will be proud of me when I tell him what I accomplished whilst carrying him and in his first 12 months of life, the highlight being writing a bestselling book ( a childhood dream of mine). It feels special that he was there in some way for all of this!
What are your plans for the future?
We plan on growing our membership platform so that we can deliver more quality content in a digital format, which has two advantages for us: the environmental impact of producing digital content is smaller than producing physical products, plus it will allow us to work remotely so that we have the freedom to work wherever life takes us. We also hope to both be going full time in the business in the future and make a full living from running it.
[ Photography by Josh Edgoose ]
Have you got a particular cause or issue that you would like to raise awareness of?
I have worked with a wonderful organisation called The Girls’ Network, mentoring a teenage girl so she can take on the world. I have fallen head over heels for mentoring and being mentored and I think everyone should have a mentor, and if you can, mentor someone else. My hope is that she will remember her experience of being mentored and how it made a difference, and then mentor a young person herself when she is an adult, so that it becomes something we pass on. There’s no rulebook for life, but if we share more about the methods you can use to find your own rules, then we would all get where we want to be faster!
What is the most challenging thing about the work that you do?
I would say the most challenging thing is actually to scale and grow our business in ways that we feel comfortable with. I think it would be more straightforward to grow a business without environmental or ethical standards that you want to keep to. I want to make a living in a way where I feel I contribute to a positive change.
Take me on an imaginary tour of your workspace.
We work in a former warehouse that’s been temporarily converted into artists’ studios. It’s very “arty” and most studio owners are makers rather than business owners. We have two desks underneath the window where we do all our laptop work. On one side of our desks is a sewing desk with a sewing machine and an overlocker, and on the other side is our tea and coffee trolley. In the middle of the space is a giant cutting table with lots of storage space underneath. We built it ourselves and it has wheels so we can move it around. We also have a big open shelving unit which houses all our packaging, haberdashery stock, sample fabrics, etc. And then we also have a rail with samples and card copies of our patterns. On the walls we have a big wipeable year planner, illustrations from our pattern covers and painted fabric designs.
Do you have any advice for people trying to shop or live more ethically?
I would say that you will make the biggest impact with the things that you do the most, like your daily transport and food. I think people always feel they need to do everything at once to really make a impact, like make all their own food from scratch or live entirely zero waste or entirely plastic free. You could have some kind of workday/weekend day rule about what you use, or just concentrate on the thing that you use the most. If you buy a lot of clothes, could you rent them instead? If you go to work every day, could you take public transport or a bike instead of driving? Could you change your baby’s nappies to reusable nappies? I think it’s the things that you do every single day that can make the biggest impact.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I teach 50% of the week and work in the business the other 50% and some evenings. I don’t necessarily have a typical day but I always try to get things like emails out in one batch in the morning, and then I decide what needs doing that day and whether I should do it early or late in the day. So things that I know I find challenging or where I’m unsure of the time frame I will need to complete it, I do at the start of the day as I love the hours between 9 and 12 and I can focus best then. My co-founder and I work together through Trello, which enables us to have a shared to-do list. We distribute tasks accordingly to who is best for the job and some admin jobs we swap over each week to give the other a break and focus on something more creative. I work roughly between 9 and 17:30.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your free time and why?
I have a one-year old son so I spend my free time exploring with him. I also like to read, fantasise about interior design and think up my next home DIY project. I like being creative in ways that are not what I do for a living when I’m not working. It relaxes my mind and I love working with my hands.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
All the reasons you can think of why you’re not suitable for starting a business will turn out to not be true. Girl you’re even doing maths!
What would be the top thing that you would change about the way we treat the planet if you could?
I would love to change the way we have started to consume. We shouldn’t be consuming clothes and tech like we consume food, and yet we almost do. Consuming means that once you’re done with something, it’s gone, like food. But this mindset is really harmful if applied to things that we don’t have to consume: why not purchase something and keep it for a long time? The mindset of buying something without the intention of replacing it is something I wish we could get back to.