“Weaving treads lightly on the Earth” – Interview with Abury Design Experience winner Ruth Hepburn

Changing the face of fashion one thread at a time: with ADEx 2017, Ethiopian weavers join Abury’s circle of amazing artisans from different cultures. 

ABURY Design Experience – ADEx – is the first sustainable accessory design competition for emerging designers and design students. ADEx 2017 winner Ruth Hepburn is a UK-born designer living in Canada. She specialises in weaving – which makes her truly a perfect match for this year’s Design Experience. As this very article goes live, Ruth is already in Ethiopia, working with the artisans of Sabahar, a local ethical company that creates beautiful, entirely hand-made textile products using locally sourced silk and cotton. The day before she left Berlin, we sat together in the sunny Abury showroom to talk about weaving, building sustainable habits, and Ruth’s personal role in changing the face of fast fashion.

Interview with ADEx 2017 Winner Ruth

Q: An emerging designer specialised in weaving – talking about a perfect ADEx match! What led to your passion for weaving?

A: I wasn’t really planning to. In textile design first years are more general and you specialise later. I never really thought about weaving that much because I found it a bit restrictive. And I liked experimenting, even more so in the first year of uni: I loved to play around with different techniques and not be constrained by just one. But then I realised that got a lit bit paralysed by too many options, and this is when weaving gave me some really good parameters, allowing me to be creative within some boundaries. Also I saw some work from older students and loved the idea of weaving. And from that point I realised how universal weaving really is. Every culture has it. So it can be a connecting point. I love learning how different cultures express their identity through the fabric, I think it’s also a really special process for things being made ethically and sustainably. It has a very low footprint, no electricity is involved, the process generally is a slower one, and the product you come up with has a real personality. What’s also really amazing is that it’s a kind of craft that can be applied in lots of different contexts. A good process that can tread lightly on the Earth.

Q: You are going to spend six weeks in an amazing artisan community. What are you looking forward to? How do you see your personal role in changing the face of fast fashion?

A: One of the reasons I wanted to enter the ADEx competition is that I love Abury’s model of finding artisan communities and providing them with a consistent income and a market for their product. There are so many skilled people around the world who don’t necessarily know how to connect to people who’d love to actually buy what they are creating.

Mostly I’m looking forward to meeting people who are so good with their craft, am looking forward to the mutual exchange. I’m going to learn a lot from them and I’m going to help make their skills relevant to an international market and to international customers. I think crafts are so valuable, they express so much about a culture and its people. So my role in the ethical world, in the world of ethical fashion is helping preserve those things.

Q: With the textile-producing Sabahar community, we’re possibly about to get the first vegetarian-friendly Abury collection, and this excites me a lot as someone who gave up wearing leather…

A: That’s the strength of weaving, it doesn’t have to be connected to an animal product. However, Sabahar work not only with local cotton, but also with silk and wool. It’s also worth mentioning that Ethiopia does have quite a big leather industry, and is home to the first fair trade certified shoe manufacture with an advanced tannery.

Q: Do you have ideas on your mind what kind of collection you want to create? Going commercial or couture?

A: We’ve been discussing it here in Berlin. And I can share one thing, we want the products to be very functional, think modular or customisable by the consumer. You can buy one element or you can get a set. We all love beautiful design but if you cant actually use it, there’s no point in it. As I’m trying to think and be careful about the things I buy, I want to make things that people are going to use and love.

Q: I get asked this question a lot, and I’ve started passing it on to my interviewees 😉 What is your starting point to a sustainable lifestyle? What do you do to “tread lightly”? Any advice for novice green fashionistas?

A: I guess the biggest change in my life is the fashion industry, and how we treat our clothes. I love discovering new brands that do sustainable things brilliantly. But I don’t have a tonne of money, so they are often out of my reach to buy, even if I appreciate what they’re doing. I think people can relate to this.

Something I try to do is extend the life of the clothes I have already, like the trousers I’m wearing right now. I buy second hand, in thrift or second hand stores, so even if the garment itself wasn’t made in the most ethical way, it’s at least not in the landfill somewhere. I’m also trying to refuse using single use items, the biggest waste area that we have. I’ve been quite disciplined, for example, about having a reusable coffee cup with me. Small things that make me feel like “I can do that”. You have sometimes to commit to just one little thing and if it feels more natural then you can go on forming new habits. It’s important to build sustainable habits, and to be aware of the impact that things have. Half the problem is that most people are ignorant to the impact of their actions.
A good question to ask yourself is “do I really need this”. We often confuse need and want.


Thank you, Ruth!
And have a lovely creative adventure.

While Ruth and the Sabahar artisans work on creating something very cool, check out Ruth’s portfolio site with weaving projects and a gallery of portraits and illustrations and check out amazing collections from Morocco, Ecuador, India, Tanzania, Romania, Kenya and Peru at Abury.net.


Geeking out about all things truly green, healthy and ethical over at BEAUTYCALYPSE.com (Avatar illustration by A. Goncharenko)