Every brand name holds both a meaning and a promise, and Woodfolk Accessories is no different. ‘Wood’ represents nature, earth, grounding, depth and foundation. ‘Folk’ represents people, community, and light-heartedness. Woodfolk Natural Accessories believes in honesty, compassion and environmental awareness, and a commitment to the environment is at the core of their ethos. Economic sustainability is also a key goal: “by supporting trade, not aid, the positive impact is sustainable.”
Woodfolk has become a hub for accessories and homewares that are proudly designed in Australia by jeweller and designer Julia Denes, with her creations being handmade either by herself or artisans throughout Nepal. The Nepalese artisans Woodfolk works with have mastered the skills and authentic art forms handed down from generation to generation, which is why every single one of their products is completely unique and quality-made.
Woodfolk is also a proud Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand member, and works closely with family-run businesses and women-focused organisations with the hope of encouraging and supporting their communities through social entrepreneurship. A women’s co-op in Kathmandu Valley hand-makes their natural scarves, bags and cotton gift pouches, and it is this development of skills that gives these women a primary or secondary income to not only provide for their families but also to give them a sense of self-worth.
This is not just for Woodfolk’s benefit either—although the artisans they employ provide them with the incredible range of products you see on their website, the income these artisans are generating is ultimately helping them to change their socio-economic position. Also, according to UNESCO, the craftsmanship of the Newars is one of the most-highly developed in the world. Talk about bang for your buck.
All of the materials used in the creation of Woodfolk’s items are natural, including wood, ceramic, cotton and linen—all recycled if they’re no longer of use. The wood they use is Sissoo wood, a fast growing, plantation-grown Nepalese wood commonly used for high-grade furniture and marine-grade plywood. What’s more, when you order your Woodfolk piece it’ll arrive in their 100% cotton pouches hand-made by a Nepalese women’s organisation. They also use 100% recycled paper, traditional ink and hand-pressed stamps in their branding and packaging.
Not only do Woodfolk use completely natural materials in the creation of their products but they also work together with people who do not have the same opportunities as you and I. Woodfolk’s ultimate goal is to shift the way businesses seek trade with third-world communities by demonstrating a fairer alternative to exploitation and mistreatment. This is a business we can all definitely get behind.
Behind the Brand:
An interview with Julia Denez, the founder of Woodfolk.
What made you start Woodfolk?
As a designer and jeweller by trade, I have 10 years’ experience creating fine jewellery for prominent jewellery houses around Australia and for private clients. I loved working with metal, diamonds and gemstones, but at some point I started to feel drawn to more natural materials such as wood and ceramics. Combining this newfound appreciation of these materials with my love of all things natural and ethical, I launched Woodfolk in August 2013.
Woodfolk has given me the opportunity to express my creativity and apply my trade in a more authentic way, with inspiration coming from nature, my travels in third world countries and collaborations with the artisans I work with and their cultures. I’m proud to say that Woodfolk is now stocked in more than 70 stores around Australia, and over the last 4.5 years has developed a strong and loyal following.
What is something others wouldn't know about starting an ethical business that you think they should?
I feel that starting an ethical business goes beyond just financial success. Of course, a prospering business is important as it supports you to continue and grow, however an ethical business runs deeper and gives you the opportunity to make social changes in this world. You’d be surprised at how much more important that becomes. For me that’s where I get excited and inspired to keep doing the work I’m doing.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since the beginning?
Initially before launch, I found it a challenge to find 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. I chose Nepal because it felt like a good fit and I had always wanted to travel there. After doing months of research on materials available and skills of the local people, I booked a month-long trip there to give myself plenty of time.
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 requests 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 to work with.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?'. In the scope of Woodfolk, who made your accessories? Can you tell us a bit about them?
I am a passionate advocate for supply chain transparency. I’m a big believer that transparency is just as important as the design and the designer. From start to finish, one item might touch the hands and use the skills of 20 people and every consumer has the right to know where their items are truly coming from. Understanding transparency lifts the veil on brand’s practices, and consumers can factor in their behaviour as a global citizen into the purchasing decision to support the movements.
Woodfolk works with artisans in Nepal to hand-make our pieces from natural materials, a path I chose because I wanted to know exactly who would be making my products and know that they would receive fair pay for their efforts. After learning about Nepal, an impoverished yet culturally rich nation, I travelled there in 2013 to find artisans to work with. I feel very privileged to be working with the most lovely, talented Nepalese family to make our Wood pieces. They are of Newari culture from Kathmandu Valley, and have been woodcarvers for generations. Through our partnership and as Woodfolk grows, more job opportunities have been extended to other members of their family and community.
Having travelled to Nepal on two further occasions since 2013, I have developed a strong relationship with a Women’s’ Co-Operative that hand-make our scarves, bags and cotton pouches, which we use for packaging. Working with women-focused and social enterprise organisations aligns with our values and as we grow, we can provide more work, the co-op can train more women, and this will ultimately provide opportunities for women to hone their craft, learn new skills and make money independent from their husband or partner. This is empowering to Nepali women as they can broaden their skill set, as well as support themselves, contribute to their family’s finances and provide future opportunities for their families.
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.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
It’s hard to pick just one, but at the moment “it’s all about the journey, not the destination” is relevant for me, particularly in more challenging times. It really puts things in perspective and helps me to appreciate all the learning and ebbs and flows that come with running your own business.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Spend as much time as possible researching before you start. I spent over a year on my business before I launched and I would do it again in a heartbeat. During that time, there’s no rush, no pressure and it can be an enjoyable, inspiring experience spending that time carving out a special and unique business for yourself.
Where do you envision Woodfolk in the future?
The next year will see the launch of a brand new collection in August/September, which will include beautiful wood and ceramic jewellery and homewares. I had a baby late last year, so we’re also looking to include 100% cashmere baby blankets into our ongoing range. We’re also looking at the possibility of doing a pop-up store in Sydney later in the year, so stay tuned!
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
I feel I’m inspired by different things each day. It could be a person, someone I know personally, someone I work with or someone I read about; it could be a moment walking in nature or a sudden surge of courage; it could be something visual (a colourful flower, a beautiful photograph, a lovely interior); and every now and then it’s music—a song that I connect with straight away and play over and over again.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I do have a morning meditation routine that I do ideally before I speak to anyone or jump online. It helps me to start my day in a positive way and reminds me that today is a new fresh day, even if it was a disaster the day before. Oh, and I also have a giant healthy smoothie for breakfast, which I love!
One book everyone should read? Why?
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Trust me! I know it’s long, however that book has so much gold in it. The story is quite beautiful and the characters, their heartfelt relationships and their trust in the journey I find very inspiring.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Yes, there are so many amazing people doing amazing things. I’m very inspired by ethical clothing designer Laura Seigel (her documentary Traceable is a must), and New Zealand based Gosia Piatek from ethical brand Kowtow clothing. I also love the work of Shannon Sheedy from Dharma Door, and Carly Nance & Rachel Bentley from ethical store The Citizenry.