I met Karina Seljak and her sister Sammy in 2015. At the time, the two sisters were embarking on a journey through India to learn about production and how waste is used as a resource, and to see “makers as an empowered and celebrated part of a transparent supply chain.”
They wanted to come visit our operations in Assam to witness this in action, and we have a hard time saying no to babes with a mission like that. So myself and our partners in Assam happily hosted the Seljak sisters in the oppressive June heat, and got to know the little seed of an idea that would grow into the Seljak Brand – high quality Merino wool blankets made from factory floor waste.
Fast forward two years, and the Seljak Brand is a living breathing thing, growing in fabulous new directions. After traveling India, the sisters headed back to Tasmania where they’d partially developed a product with a local wool mill. The result is something beautiful, that’s made to be used, and made to last.
This is the core of the Seljak’s mission –
“Waste is piling up really really fast. Businesses don’t know what to do with it and consumers don’t know what to do about it. In so many ways there is this silent fashion and textiles disaster some people are aware of, and most people aren’t. So we wanted to find a way to tell this story. We are not just a producer of blankets. That’s just the way we’ve been able to bring it to life.”
And telling this story through the Seljak Brand is opening up a whole new way to engage in sustainable business – consulting with other businesses to evaluate their waste streams and find innovative manufacturing solutions.
“In the one year that we’ve been trading, we’ve actually had so many businesses coming to us with their textile waste, and say “can you use this in your blankets?”
Karina is sober about the reality – the Seljak brand can’t solve Australia’s textile waste problem with their blankets alone. But, there is an opportunity to assist businesses: “and they are absolutely willing to innovate - in fact they’re hungry to.”
The Seljak brand is not only a manifestation of the sisters’ values, it neatly reflects their design approach as well. Karina’s background is in fashion, so it is not surprising she has pretty articulate views on design.
“Ever since I worked in a commercial kitchen making cocktail syrups - I’ve started dressing in a more utilitarian way. I wear things that I can move in easily and comfortably, but that also work wear as an inspiration. The onesies tailors used to wear, or the outwear that you see in construction.”
“As someone who loves utility, (the Mihai) makes me think about painters’ coats, and denim, and - it’s got a get-shit-done kind of vibe which is really cool"
"The other thing that has changed in my personal style is that I live at Bondi. Bondi has this wonderful crazy glam aspect to it. But it also really attracts lovers of the land. Waves crashing on this beautiful sandstone rock and the sea breeze. It has a really interesting style, and over the last few years it's rubbed off on me a little bit. I wouldn’t usually glam up in my neighbourhood streets like that, but I just really felt like it when I was playing with these pieces”
Utility meets glam and skin: ready for the beach at any moment. We probably couldn’t find a more awesome endorsement the versatility of the Rise collection if we tried.
I ask Karina about how her style converges with her ethics as a consumer.
“My biggest thing is longevity when I buy something - how often am I going to use it, how long will I have it for? Simple day to day questions - can I wear this during the day, and at night?”
I am nodding in wild agreement, as making pieces that transition and that survive the trend-mill are a big part of our design process.
“The other thing is material itself. I really love natural fibres. The way they look and drape, and the way they breath. What your clothes are made from, and of course who they’re made by is such an overwhelming thing to consider. But there are a lot of interesting brands coming along.”
Check, Check, and check!
And moving into this space as a maker, and as a brand, has unexpected dividends – doing it as a woman is less of an uphill battle. I explain that part of the interview series is to capture what challenges women are facing in their creative sphere, and how they rise above.
Reflecting on it, Karina finds things have changed since she started the Seljak Brand.
“I remember when I was in Brooklyn working in the craft syrups industry - it was really obvious the way that my company would be received by manufacturers.
Karina thinks being a boss certainly helps –
“Just being like - I started this and I’m not answering to anyone one”
But since the Seljak brand was born, the sisters have found themselves engaging lots of women – as photographers, designers –
“It wasn’t really a strategy that we explicitly expressed, but at some point we took a step back and saw that we were getting so many women involved with this project.”
And other people are seeing that in their brand too – they really highlight the role of women as leaders in the industry.
“But now that I have realised that I personally want to do more - I absolutely want to highlight women and amplify them. The time is now.”
You can check out the Seljak Brand here.
Photography thanks to Anna Langdon.
Sharna is the Co-Founder of The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working with conflict-affected women. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.