Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword it’s a real tangible trend as informed consumers demand greater transparency from brands when it comes to the sourcing (and disposal) of their raw materials and their production methods. There’s a growing desire for authentic products that are made locally with as little negative impact on the environment as possible - whether that is through the use of materials such as wind-fallen or salvaged wood, organic raw ingredients or recycled and biodegradable packaging. Social media and easy access to information online has allowed the consumer to become more informed and many are now operating from a mindset of sustainability demanding products that are ethically made with respect for the natural environment.
As small niche businesses, working at a local level, many Irish brands are well placed to capitalise on this new consumer demand for high quality goods that are consciously produced. Colin Harris, Ría Organics and Rachel Corcoran are three new Home & Gift exhibitors at Showcase this year - each producing very different products, but all with sustainable practices at the heart of their businesses.
Colin Harris creates beautiful items for the home from wood in his rural studio in Newcastle, Co. Dublin. He works with a sawmill in Co. Wicklow to source wild native Irish hardwoods that are windfallen in order to create his range of bespoke furniture and smaller wooden items including his new candle and napkin “cubes”, his Repose shelves and his elegant Trigonon tables. Colin’s new collection will be launched as part of Design Ireland at Showcase 2019 and was supported by the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland under the mentorship of John Jenkins - renowned designer with iconic UK furniture brand Heal’s. Every item Colin makes is carefully considered, well thought out and nothing goes to waste in his workshop. His designs are deceptively simple and elegant - functional, beautiful pieces handmade to last a lifetime.
Colin was first introduced to the notion of sustainable design back in 1995 as a student at Parnham College, the revolutionary training college in Dorset, England, and it has been a core theme running through his work ever since in terms of both the design and engineering of his products. Interestingly, Colin believes that the word ‘sustainable’ can sometimes give the impression that something is lacking in a product and he prefers to use the terms “local, wild and simple” to describe what he does. With this in mind, Colin Harris strives to source natural materials as locally as possible which are sustainably managed and can be naturally disposed of at their end of life. “I strive to minimise the use of glues and finishes and where used, for these to be the best available on the market in terms of environment and performance. There are very few waste streams in my workshop and the ones there are, are treated appropriately.”
I believe it is also good for a person to connect with objects that they love and that mature with age instead of living in a throw-away culture with a constant need for the new and shiny
Colin believes that the key factor in terms of sustainability is to create items with longevity that won’t end up in landfill after a couple of seasons. “I think the key element is trying to achieve a longevity to each piece. I try to do this by making to a very high standard with high quality materials. I also try to create a connection or resonance with the piece - so that the person keeps it for their lifetime. A piece of work should get better with age, not deteriorate. I believe it is also good for a person to connect with objects that they love and that mature with age, instead of living in a throw-away culture with a constant need for the new and shiny.”
Ría Organics is an organic skincare brand making a range of certified organic skincare in Ireland that includes their Energising Day Cream, Replenishing Night Cream and Restorative Eye Cream which contain organic oils, natural plant extracts and antioxidants of the finest grade. The company will launch its latest product, a rosehip oil-based facial serum, in Spring 2019. A facial cleanser is also in development. Developed by the King siblings, this eco-friendly brand is certified COSMOS-Organic by the Soil Association and is registered with the Vegan Society. “From the outset, we wanted to make an organic, vegan and cruelty-free brand that maintained the sophistication and performance of other, regular brands,” explains co-founder Richard King. “As people are moving towards more environmentally-conscious ways of life, in terms of diet, etc., we wanted to provide an effective alternative in the skincare market for those wanting to do their little bit for the environment without sacrificing their own needs in terms of the quality of product they were purchasing. We have achieved this by using blends of the highest grade organic oils and actives such as vitamins C and E, hyaluronic acid, lupine peptides, caffeine, and cucumber extracts.”
Richard believes that social media has played a significant role is educating people about the effects of mass consumerism. “There is still a large population of consumers who simply do not care what environmental footprint their purchase may have, however the global movement towards a healthier lifestyle has spilled over into the cosmetics market in terms of consumers wanting to know what goes into each product and what impact each brand in having on the environment,” he says. In order to achieve organic certification, every aspect of Ría Organics’ product development is carefully scrutinised. “Our packaging is 100 percent recyclable, none of our ingredients or products were ever tested on animals, nor do they contain any animal products or by-products,” says Richard. “Never a brand to stand still, last year we launched a growing program in the Co. Wicklow hills by planting 3,000 rosa canina – these plants are the foundations of our strategy to produce our own rosehip oil and hence reduce the amount of ingredients we need to import into Ireland.”
Illustrator Rachel Corcoran creates whimsical and witty art prints from her studio in Ireland’s capital city. Rachel calls herself a daydreaming, Autumn-lover with a genuine love of the environment. To this end, all of her cool and quirky prints and greeting cards are printed local to her studio in Dublin using FSC-certified papers and come in plastic-free cornstarch sleeves with recycled envelopes. Rachel is inspired by a variety of interests including books and historical periods of interest to her. She collects vintage objects and ephemera, excited by the “personal stories that these may carry”.
It was imperative that I refrain from using plastics in my packaging, especially single-use plastics
Rachel’s decision to print on FSC certified paper and card and to use recycled envelopes and corn starch packaging was based on her own experience as a consumer and her own eco-conscious ethos: “I’m quite concerned with the alarming amounts of plastics in the oceans and the enormous quantities of rubbish that’s found on roadsides, city streets, rivers, and fields,” she says. “As a consumer myself, I’m often shocked by the quantity of waste packaging after I’ve opened my purchases. I would always think, well isn’t there a better alternative to this?” Rachel decided to search for “earth-kind” options when establishing her own business: “It was imperative that I refrain from using plastics in my packaging, especially single-use plastics and I also reuse cardboard boxes from my supply orders for my wholesale orders.”
The artist and illustrator believes that being eco-conscious is a growing trend among consumers: “I think it’s definitely becoming a trend and hopefully a trend that will not fall out of fashion,” she says. “Thankfully more and more people have a better understanding of the problems we have with plastics and waste products. Businesses like mine who have a sustainable heart, make it easier for consumers to shop without the guilt of harming the environment.” She believes that it is a personal choice for consumers but one that is driving a seachange. “At my last show, whenever I mentioned the eco facts of my business, about 95 percent of customers were delighted to know this, and were eager to discuss the problems that exist with waste products. The biodegradable corn starch sleeves are a source of great interest in particular, as customers are quite surprised that such a natural alternative actually exists.”