Today I have an interview with Julia Denes, the designer behind natural accessory and homeware brand Woodfolk. This ethical brand is supporting Nepal with the environment in mind, read on to find out more:
What can you tell us about Woodfolk?
Established in August 2013 by Australian designer and jeweller Julia Denes, Woodfolk was born with the intention of creating an honest and authentic accessories and homewares range made entirely of natural materials, compassionate towards those in need and kind to our environment. As a break from our fast moving world, Woodfolk aims to bring you down to earth, a slower pace, raw and genuine. We work in harmony with both natural materials and communities in need to create beautiful pieces for everyday wear, and that bring warmth and creativity into our homes.
Woodfolk products are proudly designed in Sydney, Australia and proudly handmade both in Australia and by Nepali artisans, throughout Nepal.
Where did the name come from?
My name Woodfolk came from two parts. The first was ‘Wood’ which represents nature, earth, groundedness, depth, foundation. The second part ‘Folk’ represents people, community, light-heartness, as well as my love of Folk music and its story telling.
How is your product range developed?
Each piece is a collaboration between myself and our artisans in Nepal. All pieces are designed in my studio in Sydney. This can take anywhere between 1 and 3 months. There is a lot of consideration and refining that takes place during this time. After the design work is complete, I travel to Nepal to make my wood samples, as well as our scarf and bag samples. Travelling to Nepal is essentially about making samples, but it is also about bonding and deepening relationships, something you can’t do through a computer. On my return to Australia, each item is completed and finished in my studio. This includes all ceramics, silverwork and stringing.
There’s a really beautiful synergy in the process and collaboration of our pieces that make us different to other businesses.
What made you decide to support artisan families in Nepal, and how are you helping them?
Feeling the need to work with only natural materials and having read about Nepal, an impoverished yet culturally rich nation, I travelled there in 2013 to find artisans to work with. I wanted to know exactly who would be making my products and that they would directly receive fair pay for their efforts. I feel very privileged to now be working with the most lovely, talented Nepalese family. They are of Newari culture from Kathmandu Valley, who have been woodcarvers for generations.
Having travelled to Nepal on two further occasions, I have also since developed a strong relationship with a Women’s run co-op that hand make my scarves and bags.
At Woodfolk we seek to demonstrate a fairer alternative to businesses seeking trade with third world countries by partnering with small family-run businesses and Women focused organisations, not exploitative sweatshops. Our relationships in Nepal are built on trust, equality, fair trade and a long term goal of bringing meaningful change to their lives, creating opportunity, self-determination, support and hope to these communities through social entrepreneurship.
Our craftspeople in Nepal foster master skills developed over generations. Whether it be traditional carving, natural dying, wheel-work, weaving and knitting techniques, these skills contribute to our uniquely beautiful and quality made products while simultaneously preserving authentic art forms.
Can you tell us about your background and how your brand got started?
I’m a designer and jeweller by trade with 10 years’ experience creating Fine Jewellery for prominent Jewellery houses around Australia and also for private clients.
With my background in Fine Jewellery, starting Woodfolk felt like a natural progression. Feeling the need to work with more earthy materials combined with my love of all things natural and ethical, the idea was born. In starting Woodfolk, I began a more authentic expression of my creativity and application of my trade.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from nature, my travels in third world countries and collaborations with these artisans and their cultures.
What is your favourite piece in the range right now?
It’s really hard to choose just one piece. At the moment I’m loving wearing my beautiful Wood Triangular bangle. I wear it everywhere. I couldn’t sell it, it was calling my name!
What has been the hardest thing about starting this business?
One of the obstacles I faced in the earlier stages of starting Woodfolk was finding the right people to work with overseas. I could have easily gone somewhere like China, India or Bali to work with a factory, not even needing any face to face contact, however that defeated the purpose of my business. I wanted to make it more personal and was looking to work with a family or an organisation that I respected. The wonderful thing about Nepalese people is how open they are to helping you. From when I arrived, I found that they always made time to meet me, would always take my request seriously and if they couldn’t help, would provide details of someone that might be able to. I followed my instinct which eventually led me to exactly who I was looking for.
And the most rewarding thing?
I find all parts of my work extremely rewarding. Not only am I fully involved in the designing and making of each product, as well as the look and feel of the brand; I also get to support and build personal relationships with our artisans in Nepal; liaise with our wonderful growing list of stockists in Australia and with the public who love our product; and not impact the environment in the process. It’s all very exciting, humbling and a genuine reward.
Where can we find the Woodfolk range?
I’m proud to say that Woodfolk is now stocked in 60 stores around Australia and online. Please feel free to check out my list of stockists or online store on my website: www.woodfolk.com.au
What does being a woman mean to you?
Feminine, strong, self-aware, grounded, a leader, responsible, authentic.