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!
Tell me about yourself and the work that you do.
This interview is with Lorelai, a jewellery designer-maker based in Sheffield. Last year she took the plunge and completely changed her (successful) business, and moved to sustainable plastic alternatives to acrylic. Although this hasn't been without it's challenges it goes to show that you that you can make more ethical business choices.
Hello! Im Lorelai, a colour loving, pattern clashing, tchotchke collecting jewellery maker living in Sheffield. I have been making jewellery for about five and a half years; I used to make my pieces out of laser cut acrylic but last year I made the huge decision to switch to recycling waste plastics instead. I absolutely loved making acrylic jewellery, I taught myself everything I know and made some of my best pieces in that final year. But, I had suddenly come to the uncomfortable realisation that making my jewellery out of virgin plastic was grinding against my ethical and environmental values. Although technically the material itself can be recycled, it is initially made from oil and I am a firm believer that fossil fuels should be left in the ground (except for when a plastic is the best material for the job, for example aeroplane windows are made of acrylic) Also, each sheet of acrylic comes with protective plastic film on both sides, the amount of that that I threw in the bin over the last few years is horrendous..
How or why did you get started?
I initially started making jewellery after a few years of having no direction, following my degree in Fashion and Textiles; I've always had a creative streak and I really wanted to put it to good use. I've always loved wearing jewellery and there were a couple of acrylic brands that I loved, so I decided to give it a go. I taught myself how to turn my sketches in to cutting files read for the laser cutter and got going.
What is your favourite thing about the materials that you work with?
My favourite thing about the waste plastics that I'm using now is that there are so many different types; so there is so much more scope for play and experimentation. I hadn't realised that I had been missing the play element in my acrylic business until I started my Lorelai's Leftovers zero waste sister brand. I started Lorelai's Leftovers because I had a lot of leftover shapes from making my acrylic jewellery, little hearts and stars and circles etc and I was planning my big move and needed to raise some money for the deposit and the movers and all the other little things involved in such a big move (all the way from Reading to Sheffield.) I had so much fun playing with all the shapes and seeing what I could make, that it became one of my favourite aspects of my work.
What are you most proud of?I am most proud of how far I have come this year; I started working with waste plastics in January when I took nearly three months off to have a play with the materials I had and see what I could make. I developed a few techniques in those months which I have continued to develop further throughout this year. I actually launched my new pieces a couple of days after we went in to lockdown, which was surreal. I think having all of these new ideas to mess around with is what has been keeping me sane through this pandemic.
What is the most challenging thing about the materials that you work with?
The most challenging thing about working with waste plastics is that I can't just buy more of anything, with a lot of my designs, once something is gone it's gone for good. My lemon earrings have been my most popular piece since I launched, but when I ran out of yellow carrier bags I just couldn't make any. Fortunately, one of my customers found a couple of yellow bags in her cupboard during a sort out and sent them my way. That's another challenging aspect, using solely waste plastics means that I rely so much on my customers and followers clearing out their cupboards and sending me their “bag of bags” (everyone has had one of these at some point) and the pack of plastic straws gathering dust behind the paper plates and the box of birthday candles. I collect plastics through my Plastic Amnesty, I have a checklist on my website which I add materials to once I have found a successful way of incorporating them in to my jewellery pieces. One lady said that she was making a “Lorelai Box” full of her waste plastic and that has caught on, which is so lovely.
People mostly send things to me when they are switching over to using reusable fabric shopping bags and metal or bamboo straws (or giving up straws completely.)
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not an advocate for an outright ban on plastic straws as there are some people in our society who need them to be able to drink comfortably. Some people have a disability or a chronic illness which leaves them unable to properly grip a cup to bring it to their mouth or one that causes them to shake and bite down on their straw. A metal or bamboo straw would damage their teeth. So, refuse a straw if you don't need one, resist those pretty coloured straws you see that are “only a pound” in the supermarket, but don't campaign to ban them for the people who need them. If you want to fight for our planet, campaign against the huge corporations that cause 71% of the planet's pollution.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me starts with a black coffee and my morning pages; I have been doing The Artist's Way, a twelve week course in discovering and recovering your creative self, written by Julia Cameron. She advocates sitting down each morning to do three pages of stream of consciousness writing to clear out your head and work through any blocks. She also suggests taking yourself on a weekly artist date , something that is fun or interesting that entertains your inner artist and fills your creative well. The artist date is a little challenging in a pandemic, but there are lots of suggestions for things you can do at home.
As my partner is working from home for the foreseeable future, I sit and eat lunch with him every day. It has been really nice as I used to just sit and munch my lunch at my studio desk and get straight back on with working, this time has taught me to slow down a bit and give myself a full half an hour to eat and chill for a bit.
Back at work in my studio, I usually just make whatever I fancy in the moment, unless I have any email stock requests; then I will get on with those if I have the right materials to hand. Those stock requests are really useful, they come through when a customer hits the “notify me when this is back in stock” button on a sold out item. This lets me know exactly what my customers want and I always reply to the email once I have restocked the item, to let them know.
Do you have any advice for people trying to shop more ethically?
My advice for someone trying to shop more ethically and eco friendly is to swap one item at a time when it comes to toiletries and cosmetics that you use daily, as trying to go plastic free all in one go can be very overwhelming. A first step could be to remember to take your reusable tote bags with you when you go shopping; Plastic bags might only cost five pence a go but why waste money creating a huge “bag of bags” in your cupboard when that money could be better spent elsewhere? I've used tote bags for years because they usually have a shoulder strap and are so much more comfortable than having plastic digging in to your fingers.The easiest plastic free swap I have ever made is switching to a shampoo bar, you only ever use as much as you actually need (I'm sure we're all guilty of accidentally squeezing out way too much liquid shampoo and getting in a crazy lather!) I avoid fast fashion like the plague as it is not sustainable to produce thousands of garments every week, and when they're that cheap you know that the garment workers are not being paid properly. I do recognise that my ability to buy from charity shops and vintage shops does come from a place of privilege, I have the money to spend on vintage clothes and the time to go and have a good old rummage. I have a couple of favourite online vintage sellers at the moment, Retrospect Finds on Etsy and HMLVintage on Instagram. When I buy new, I buy from indie businesses with small production levels and transarent supply chains like Tallulah's Threads and Kemi Telford. I also have my eye on an Aesthetic Laundry tassel t-shirt at the moment; they make everything to order so that they never have surplus stock and then they have a zero waste kid's line which is cut from the remnants left from making the adult clothes.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your free time and why?
My favourite thing to do in my free time is to go and have a good old rummage in the charity and secondhand stores, I have nine within walking distance of my house! I am a maximalist and I love to go treasure hunting and add fun, colourful objects to every room in the house and add interesting patterns to my wardrobe.
I also love to visit galleries and museums to see other artists' colourful work. My partner is an avid gamer, so I often play video games with him, my favourites are zombie games like Dying Light and Dead Rising and I have actually found them oddly comforting as they are set in the aftermath of a pandemic but zombies are way worse than coronavirus. I also enjoy playing solo games like Tomb Raider and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. At the moment we are playing a much more lighthearted game called Unravelled, where you play as two cute little people made of yarn.
Do you have a motto or quote that defines your practice?
I don't have a motto as such but my art practice revolves around play and experimentation, and leaving absolutely no waste. I developed a technique to make a faux leather style material from plastic bags, but cutting out my shapes leaves bits of waste, so I am currently working on ideas to use up all those little scraps.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is to keep developing more techniques to use up as many different types of plastic waste as I can. I have had lots of ideas recently for other types of wearable accessories that I could make like bags and purses and I would like to venture in to homewares too. Watch this space!
Where can we find you on the internet/buy your work?
You can find my website here: Http://lorelai-lq.co.uk
My instagram is: Http://instagram.com/lorelai_lq
And my Patreon, where I work on my themed projects and do most of my experimentation is here: Http://patreon.com/lorelai_lq
Photographs by @lorelai_lq