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 Natalie from Me and the bear, a pet accessories brand. I wanted to interview Natalie because I saw her talking about running a carbon positive business, and that inspired me to sign Stellen up to Ecologi. So I though it might inspire you too! Here she talks the best and most challenging parts of making accessories that are durable enough for our four legged friends.
Tell me about yourself and the work that you do.My name is Natalie, I am 29 and I live in the South Down's National Park with my fiance George, our three rescue rabbits and two dogs. I create and sell handmade pet accessories which are all sewn using a vintage hand-turn Singer. I operate as a carbon positive business, so I more than offset our carbon emissions. I also plant a tree with every item purchased, through a company called Ecologi.
How or why did you get started?
I started May 2020, in the midst of the first lockdown, just for something to do really! The initial plan was that me & the bear would just be a hobby, which I could continue in a smaller capacity when I went back to work, but it just grew and grew and I'm now running the business full time!
What is your favourite thing about the work that you do?
I love the community having the business has created. I've formed friendships with other small business owners, dog owners, cat owners, people from all over the world, and that's something I would never have done before.
What is the most challenging thing about the work that you do?The most challenging thing for me is the selection of fabrics that I use to make our collars and leads, and the trade off between making something durable or using eco friendly fabrics. Our best selling, waterproof collars and leads are made from PU backed, polyester fabrics. Obviously these aren't the most eco friendly fabrics, but they're the best fabrics I've found for making something really long lasting. So it's the struggle of weighing up the environmental impact of the fabric, vs the environmental impact if I were to make a collar from an organic cotton which wouldn't last as long and would result in the whole collar eventually having to be disposed of.
It's something that I'm still looking into alternatives for, but I'm hoping by next year I'll have transitioned to something more sustainable but equally as durable!
How has working sustainably impacted your non-business life?
It's been really eye opening. I think the more you go down the path of sustainability, the more shocking things become. On the flip side of that, I've met some amazing people as the result of it and it's been really interesting hearing about how they've introduced sustainability to their businesses and lives in different ways.
Can you recommend any other makers or businesses that work in an ethical or sustainable way?
So many, but I'll list a few of my favourites:
Eco & the bear @ecoandthebear uses offcuts from her business to make reusable facewipes, washcloths and other items.
Cpsle collective @cpslcollective for ethical womenswear
Refurrrb @refurrrb for upcycled dog accessories
Green Fang @greenfangshop for eco dog toys and treats
Have you got a particular cause or issue that you would like to raise awareness of?
Last year we adopted our second dog, a rescue from the meat markets of China. The meat markets, and particularly the use of dogs for meat, isn't something I'd given much thought to before, but it's a huge issue in China.
Underdog International and Slaughterhouse Survivors (Harbin SHS) are both doing incredible but challenging work to help these dogs, I'd love for anyone reading this to go and look them up and give them a follow.
Do you have a motto or quote that defines your practice?
I have a banner in the Cabin where I work that says 'There's no substitute for hard work'. I really live by that, I honestly think absolutely anything is possible if you really put your mind to it and work hard to get there.
Do you have any advice for people trying to shop or live more ethically?
My biggest advice would be to not beat yourself up about it if you slip up and that you don't have to do everything! I've had friends say to me that they could go Vegan but they couldn't give up fish. So just cut out everything else and still eat fish! I don't think it has to be all or nothing with living more ethically, if everyone picked even just one thing in their lives to change to be more ethical, it would make such a massive difference.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your free time and why?
I love walking. We live right in the middle of the down's so there's just beautiful walks for miles and miles. I like to pick out a new route, take the dogs and just go off and explore. It's the absolute best thing for clearing my mind, all of my best ideas have come to me on walks!
What would be the top thing that you would change about the way we treat the planet if you could?
I'd love for us to be more kind and considerate towards the other creatures that we share this planet with. So much cruelty towards animals goes on in the world and a lot of them are essential to our eco-systems. I feel like animals live in a very symbiotic way, no one takes more than they need, everything just co-exists in perfect harmony and this is something I think we as humans really need to learn from.