& Karina Seljak
“Our mother instilled in us a curiosity for where things were made and how, and also a quality-not-quantity mentality.”
Sam and sister Karina Seljak are the sister team behind forward-thinking Australian textile brand Seljak. Seljak creates durable, but snuggly, eco-friendly blankets using Merino wool offcuts collected from the factory floor of Australia’s oldest mill located in Tasmania. The duo’s combined wealth of experience in the global fashion industry and small business world, as well as their passion for innovative sustainability solutions and eye for great design, have propelled the label from a bedroom project between two sisters to one of the most exciting ethical businesses in Australia.
Recycled wool blankets
The genesis of the Seljak brand goes way beyond the label's 2016 launch, back to when the pair were kids growing up in the Samford Valley. Sitting about 21 kilometers north of Brisbane, Samford Valley is a humble town, but what it lacks in population it makes up for in untamed natural beauty, a quality not lost on the duo, “with mountains, sub-tropical rainforest and waterholes to explore, it was a pretty idyllic place to be a kid” explains Sam. A reverence for the resourceful beauty of the natural world was something learned at an early age Sam explains, “our mother instilled in us a curiosity for where things were made and how, and also a quality-not-quantity mentality.” From the outset, it was clear that both sisters would inevitably end up in creative careers, “we were both arty kids” Karina puts it. In school, Karina would win awards for drawing and pursued art throughout her secondary education, which led her to study Fine Arts Fashion at Queensland University of Technology. She later moved to New York City where she experimented with natural dyeing techniques, creating and selling textile products at boutiques in Brooklyn. Sam’s career trajectory saw her become more involved in the community building space; she studied Leadership and Sustainability at Malmö Universitet in Sweden. Before Seljak Sam also worked for an Indigenous design agency and had started several other community initiatives in Brisbane including No Lights No Lycra and The Box art gallery. In early 2015 the seeds for the brand were very much sewn but Seljak came into full bloom when the pair discovered a textile mill that recycled its offcuts. Inspired by the process and motivated to take a more proactive approach to product design, their past experiences became the catalyst for the Seljak philosophy.
“For us, design extends beyond the physical look, feel and even functionality of a product”
It’s impossible to separate Seljak's design philosophy from the label’s ethical ideologies. While living in New York, Katrina became involved in the contemporary mainstream fashion world. “It only took interning for six months” she explains “to see the monumental amount of waste the fashion industry generated in its rapid production and fast-expiring trend-based collections.” “For us, design extends beyond the physical look, feel and even functionality of a product,” Sam confirms. The thick, rugged Seljak blankets are aesthetically beautiful in their rustic earthiness, but for the duo when it comes to design it’s just as important to “take into account all parts of our product’s lifecycle” an environmental awareness of the product’s lifespan is just “as important as the product itself.”
Their level of appreciation for a product's longevity and the physical beauty of nature is something woven into the DNA of every Seljak blanket. “We wanted to reflect the outdoors in the products themselves” Sam explains, “we looked to the Australian landscape and articulated some of our favourite colours (of the ocean, desert, forests) into tones for our Seljak Colour range”.
The Twelve Apostles, South Australia - The ocean is inspiration for their Indigo coloured blanket
Looking beyond their immediate surroundings, the pair gathers inspiration from other cultures, picking up on “design concepts from around the globe; Swedish functionality, Japanese efficiency and Moroccan simplicity.” They're both avid travellers, hopping across the globe, learning, discovering new and age-old textile techniques; storing them in a memory bank, like a pool of future possibilities to wade through when the time is right.
Seljak's original fringe blanket
The label's philosophy is embodied in the wabi-sabi ethos of their Seljak Original blanket. Purposefully left undyed to express the multitudes of production runs that have come before it, the blanket is not cookie cutter perfect, but that’s why it’s beautiful.
The current Seljak designs came from a considerable period of experimentation, “we explored all kinds of different finishes, like leather trim, and different fibre compositions” the pair explain. But ultimately they learned “simple is best.” The blankets are made from 70% recycled Australia Merino wool, 30% recycled alpaca and mohair, plus some polyester for strength. A word of valuable advice from Seljak is to start simple; “when you get feedback on simple, you can start designing iterations based on what people want rather than what you think they want.”
Uniquely, the end of a Seljak product’s lifespan is just as important as the beginning. Their ideas of building ‘circular economy‘ and running a business on a ‘closed loop model’, have built the foundations on which Seljak was born. As they put it, being aware that “how things are made and where they will go are as important as the product itself.” When you buy a Seljak blanket, you also buy peace of mind knowing that you’re not contributing to the expanding world of waste. The brand ensures that once you’re done with the blanket to a point you no longer want it, they'll “pick it up, free of charge, using a carbon neutral courier service and bring it back to the mill for remanufacturing into more blankets. It means no Seljak product will end up as landfill.” It’s the epitome of perfect, clean, sustainable design from start to finish.
One of the most environmentally blankets ever made. Seljak blankets consist of 70% recycled Australia Merino wool, and 30% off the other offcuts collected from the factory floor.
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