More and more lately I’ve been discovering beautiful and considered homeware brands via Instagram, falling down a rabbit hole of hashtags, links in stories and the explore page.
This was how I came across ethical homeware brand Collective Stories recently, whose gorgeous cushions were tagged in a story of an account I follow (sorry, cannot for the life of me remember which one!). Clicking through to their profile page I was delighted to discover their contemporary designs were handcrafted by artisans in Mexico, the Philippines and Guatemala – where my boyfriend hails from. Having heard so much about the country and its Mayan craft heritage from him (we even have a selection of vibrant back-strap woven Guatemalan cushions adorning our sofa), I was eager to learn more about this new ‘positive impact’ brand, and discover their full range of products.
Founded by Pernille Brodersen and Pierre Luc, Collective Stories’ contemporary textiles offer the perfect blend between heritage craft and modern aesthetics. many of the designs are distinctly Bauhaus-inspired with a strikingly simple interplay of stripes, yet have a raw tactility that highlights the quality of their craftsmanship.
The Parallel, Talea and Linear designs have all been produced by artisans from the all-women cooperative in Nahualá in Guatemala, using traditional backstrap weaving and hand brocade adornment, while the Convergent and Pilotis designs have been made in Mexico using local wool which has been washed, carded, hand dyed and spun before being woven using a pedal loom. It takes 6 full days to complete one cushion!
Alongside their textile collections Collective Stories also have elegantly refined bucket baskets that have been handwoven in the Philippines using locally-sourced buri palm. designed by Pernille and Pierre in London, the subtle weaving details are a nod to upland farmers way of lacing sturdy baskets to hold their harvested produce, playing with the natural structure of buri to create rhythm and structure and give the basket a linear and airy aesthetic.
Having fallen for both the stylish designs and the ethos of the brand, I knew I wanted to get in touch with Pernille and Pierre and find out more about how the brand came to be, how they work collaboratively with their artisans, and how they in turn support the wider communities in Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines.
In doing so I discovered one of the founders, Pernille, was someone I had briefly worked alongside several years ago – what a funny small world it is!
Let’s meet… Pernille & Pierre, founders of Collective Stories
Collective Stories was founded with a passion for uniting contemporary design and ethical craftsmanship – how did this passion come about?
Pierre: My love for creating products started at a very young age when I was sketching planes & cars with my brother and was dreaming of what I could build with my dad’s tools. I realised that it wasn’t that straight forward to translate drawings into reality, which led me to study product design – this resulted in working for some of the most renowned brands in the luxury and sportswear industry. I find the creative process really interesting and have been lucky to work with, and learn from, various experts along the way.
Following our trip to Guatemala we realised that we could unite our knowledge for products and business development with skilful artisans’ craftsmanship to create design-led homeware products that we would have in our own home. Since then, every time we have met new artisans, touched the natural materials they use, discovered how they dye, their traditional ways of weaving, stitching or assembling, it is like being a child again when I was excited by all the possibilities in front of me.
Having worked closely with factories over the years, I have a great understanding of the impact that manufacturing products can have on our environment. It is very important for me that through Collective Stories we are addressing some of these issues. To be fully sustainable, one could argue that we shouldn’t produce anything, but we believe that there are definitely measures that can be taken to improve current manufacturing processes for homeware products. Ensuring that workers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions should be the standard for any business. For us, it is also important that our products are handmade and made to last by using quality materials and working with skilled artisans using generations of knowledge to create uniquely handcrafted products. For that reason we only create small batches and some might find our price tags high, however this is simply the price it costs to have handmade products made by people who are paid fairly for their skills
Pernille: My interest in design started while I was working in a small interior shop in Copenhagen, while I was studying at Copenhagen business school. The store focused on Nordic design and I ended up spending half of my salary buying some of the new things that came in every week, which made my small apartment a playground for trying out different interior styles, some more successful than others!
The interest in design, art and architecture grew and when I finished university I ended up only applying to design-led businesses. I was fortunate to get a job at the British design brand Case Furniture and moved to London. 7 years later and I’m still working at Case as their Sales & Marketing Manager, which has given me the privilege to work with contemporary design everyday.
Both Pierre and I enjoy exploring different types of art forms and we attend all kinds of creative workshops to learn and have fun and often have a side project in the making at home. I think we both enjoy working with our hands and making something out of nothing. when we were planning our holiday to Guatemala, we were researching if we could do any creative workshop there, as we thought it would be a great experience learning a new skill from the locals. We found a backstrap course, which turned out to be a great experience! It wasn’t easy, but the artisans were so patient and helpful that we left the workshop with a whole new appreciation for craftsmanship. They made it look easy, and I can tell you it definitely wasn’t!
My interest in ethical craftsmanship started when I did a course on corporate social responsibility back in 2011. I think i always had a strong opinion about the concept of what is fair and ended up writing my masters dissertation about fair trade. It is unfortunately not as black and white as one could hope, and I think the same can be said for sustainability. I don’t think that there is a perfect solution to either unfortunately, but I don’t think that should keep us from trying to do better and change the ways that can be improved. We are all humans, and we want to ensure that we are doing our best to have a positive effect on the makers. It has to be a collaborative process that benefits all parties to ensure long-term success.
You work with master artisans around the world – how did you first make contact and what was the process for getting them on board?
The backstrap weaving course we did in Guatemala was really the starting point for Collective Stories, as this course was held at a local non-profit social organisation that provides fair trade employment to artisans in Guatemala.
After the course one of the production managers showed us around and told us that they partnered with designers around the world to transform their designs into reality. This sparked an interest with us, and we spent the rest of our holiday setting up a business plan. When we came back home, we reached out to the organisation again and we spent a good year or so learning the different backstrap techniques and the possibilities and constraints, which all have driven which designs could become a reality and which we would have to adjust or completely disregard.
Learning that some designs simply weren’t possible to do with the backstrap loom, we started to search for other handcraft methods in order to expand our creative possibilities. We spent a lot of time searching and speaking with different cooperatives, but they can be difficult to contact, as some places don’t have easy access to the internet. Through research we came across a small family-run cooperative in Mexico, who had an american woman help them run their Facebook site. We got in contact with her and she very kindly helped us get in contact with the cooperative to make our first samples a reality.
Most of the cooperatives and makers we have contacted understand our ambitions and understand that we want to work collectively with them. We are benefiting from their knowledge and skills, and they are benefiting from our knowledge on how to sell products to a global audience.
You talk about the need to be socially and environmentally responsible to live sustainably, how do these principles manifest themselves in your own everyday lives?
For us, it is not about perfection but about changing habits, one step at the time. there are a lot of ways to interpret sustainability and what it means. To us, it is about being mindful about what we purchase, consume, and the waste we leave behind. We like to research and support small businesses and those that are trying to make a positive impact from an environmental, but also social, point of view. We are pretty minimal with the things we buy, but when we do, we care a lot about the quality, the materials and the values of the brand. We also try to buy items that we can see ourselves using and keep for a long time. The life of any product is key and we try to fix, recycle or give away to charity shops whenever possible. We either bike or use public transport to get around, but we are still guilty of flying too much since we love discovering places and meeting new cultures.
How have you transfused these values into Collective Stories & what social and environmental policies have you instigated within your company?
Our main focus goes to what we create, how we create, and with whom we create our products. from an environmental point of view we consider the entire process when we develop our collections:
- the materials used are natural and locally sourced as much as possible.
- the artisans use natural dye or azo-free dyes to colour the materials.
- all our products are handmade in small batches, which requires very minimal energy consumption.
- we make sure that we do not use any plastics in our packaging. there are great companies out there making sustainable packaging, which we have implemented into our business.
The biggest challenge we face is transport, which is inevitable when you produce and sell products on a global scale. When possible, we ship with couriers that are co2 neutral, but this is unfortunately not available for all destinations yet. This is an area that greatly needs to improve, and we can’t wait for more couriers to use electric vans.
You work with women in Guatemala, Mexico and the Philippines – how do you feel you’ve been able to help these women develop and access better living standards as a result?
By providing the artisans with work, we are creating a sustainable way for them to earn a living and contribute to their household. in Guatemala we work with a non-profit organisation which is part of the world fair trade organisation, and our work with them contributes to their work with the artisans and cooperatives. They offer educational programs, health orientation, gender equality awareness and sustainable economic development.
In Mexico, the cooperative is family run and consists of women that are either widowed, single or their husbands have migrated for work. We help empower these women by providing them with a sustainable income, which benefits them, their families and their local community. The women have achieved something fantastic in a male dominated culture and working with them has given them the opportunity to run community projects that has gained respect. The cooperative have initiated the village’s recycling system, created an eldercare program and organised planting more trees on communal land.
In the Philippines, the cooperative provides jobs to sugar cane farmers’ wives. Sugar cane farming is only active 8 months of the year, leaving many farmers’ families without an income for 4 months of the year. Working with these women means that they can provide for their families 12 months a year. The cooperative is based in a rural part of the Philippines and they work with livelihood associations and grassroots communities for their raw materials.
How do you see the Collective Stories brand progressing through 2020 and beyond; what are your ambitions for the brand long-term?
We are looking to widen our product offer, explore other traditional crafts methods and partner with more artisans and makers in 2020, while continuing to grow and reach new customers. As we produce in small batches and have a close relationship with the makers, we have slowly opened up the possibility for clients to customise our products, but it does come with some constraints, so this is an area we are looking to further develop.
Long-term, we aspire to be the go-to place for contemporary and ethical home décor. There is so much we can do and we have only really scratched the surface, but it is important to us that we grow organically.
I know I certainly feel hugely inspired after speaking with Pernille and Pierre, and am keen to support the brand however I can, which I hope you will feel like doing as well.
If you are inspired to purchase from them, Collective Stories have very kindly offered Fabric of my Life readers 15% off purchases using the code ‘fabricofmylife’ – if you do buy something be sure to let me know, and tag the brand if you photograph the product for Instagram!
All imagery © Collective Stories, used with permission.