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Storytelling With The Seasons

Storytelling With The Seasons

“To know, to love, to protect is a guiding principle in all that we do. 

We use our skills as designers to share the beauty and cleverness of our natural world. We do this in a bid to push others to get outdoors and ultimately to be moved to protect our natural environment.”

 

Recently, Georgina got in touch. She wanted to know more about our story and was curious about what motivates and inspires us.

"It’s why I became a journalist and documentary filmmaker," she writes. "I love to listen to people, to understand what matters to them, and to help them to tell their story.”

We got chatting. And, we enjoyed the conversation that ensued so much we decided to share it with you today...

If you want to discover more interviews like this with small brands and makers? Visit the Simple Matters Media blog. Or follow @simplemattersmedia on Instagram.

Now, over to the interview and Georgina…

 

As the seasons change, with the fresh energy of spring, we’re sharing a love story inspired by a deep relationship with the natural world.

Superfolk is a lifestyle brand created by Jo Anne Butler, an artist and architect and her husband Gearoid Muldowney - a designer and maker.

Their lives are rooted in the wildly beautiful landscape of the west coast of Ireland. The rich, raw colours, textures and patterns of each season are woven into everything they do and create. This connection and respect for the environment inspires and informs how they live, raise their family and work.

Everything is created slowly and thoughtfully with an understanding that we are nature, not separate from it.

We’re delighted to be able to bring you our conversation with Jo Anne as she shares the ways she and Gearoid are working to inspire us all to find a way to connect more deeply with ourselves and the natural world we’re part of.

Q First, to start at the beginning, tell us your story…

Gearoid and I are both designers from the west of Ireland. We met when we were both in art college in Dublin. After several years, mainly in Dublin but also in Finland and Denmark, we decided to move back to the west of Ireland. I had finished my studies in architecture, and Gearoid had started a small design business called Superfolk. Once in the west of Ireland, we decided that we would both work at Superfolk full-time and see where we could bring it. Three children, a pandemic and many years later - we are still here. We design and make homeware products, which we primarily sell directly to our customers through our online shop. 

 

 

Q You share a beautiful narrative of ever-changing landscapes, wildlife and seasons through your business and products. It feels so natural and true to you - was it as easy to find and shape your story as it comes across?

I think it felt easy in that it felt obvious and natural to us. We have both always had a strong sense of home and pride of place. We also both feel a strong sense of responsibility to speak out for our natural environment and to bear witness to the destruction we are all causing to our home planet. 

The key thing was for us to recognise that we are not scientists or statisticians. We are artists, designers and craftspeople. And so we thought deeply about what our role could be in helping to guide people towards more sustainable and activist behaviour.

We talked a lot about the idea that “No one will protect what they don't care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced”. So now we use “to know, to love, to protect” as a guiding principle in all that we do. 

We use our skills as designers to share the beauty and cleverness of our natural world. We do this in a bid to push others to get outdoors and ultimately to be moved to protect our natural environment. 

 

 

Q Is the natural world something that has always inspired you? 

Yes. I grew up in a small town in the countryside, and I have always loved being outdoors and being in nature - it is where I feel most at ease and feels most natural. It was also the time I most enjoyed spending with my father - just going up the fields, swimming in the lake or picking blackberries. I knew that it was where he was happiest, too. I love the changing colours of the sky, the seasons and the weather. I can remember times when I was cut off from nature and how that felt - when I went to university in Dublin city centre and later to Arhus in Denmark - I struggled a bit with being surrounded by concrete and buildings all the time. In Denmark, I missed the absolute drama of Irish skies - the ever-changing clouds. It felt like being cut off from the energy source - I found it confusing and harder to make creative work. 

 

Q Why is it important to you to share the story of the things you create, the inspiration, materials and process? Do you think it matters to your customers, and how do they respond? 

Just as we believe time spent in nature is good for you, we also believe that making is good for us. We are so lucky that we get to spend time in the studio and workshop making. I come from a long line of teachers, and I love showing people how things are made. 

For example, the printmaking we do in the studio is very simple - I love that people can watch and understand it. I love it when people comment and say - oh, I remember I did that in school.  We want to inspire other people to get making also. 

Most of our products are sold directly to our customers online. In some ways, the experience of browsing an object in a physical shop is replaced with the experience of connecting with the maker and the creative process. Our customers are often makers, artists and designers themselves and really connect to these stories of making.

 

 

Q Makers and artists often find it hard to ‘sell’ their work. Do you feel a tension or resistance to weaving together the creative and commercial parts of running a business, and how do you overcome it?

No, honestly, we don’t feel that tension. 

Speaking just for myself, I think it took me some time to take myself seriously as a maker - I enjoyed it so much but didn’t think I deserved the titles of printmaker or craftmaker. 

While we enjoy the things we are good at, we can sometimes take it for granted and not recognise our skills, or we think of it as “nothing”. Like your friend who bakes an elaborate cake and then dismisses it as just something they threw together at the last minute. 

It took me a while to take seriously the thing that I enjoy and comes so naturally and easily to me. To anyone struggling with this, it is ok to charge money for the thing that you love to do. It could be that you love to do it because you are naturally good at it.

Today, I believe so much in the quality of our work, and I’m proud to represent it and share it with people. We get such lovely feedback from our customers; I know that our work has meaning and value to them. 

 

Q You have such strong values as people and in your business. How does knowing your story help you stay committed to your purpose? Do you ever feel a temptation to compromise, and how do you resist that?

We all have a responsibility to do as we say, whether as a parent, an employer or as a brand. 

On a housekeeping level, every January, we revisit our longer-term vision and check back in with our brand values. We have a series of workshops to identify any areas we need to work on and create our goals and milestones for the year ahead. If ever there is a gap emerging between what we are saying and what we are doing our customers can sense it. 

 

Q Superfolk is so atmospheric; there’s a real sense of place and the wild landscape of the west coast of Ireland in everything you share. How do you achieve that so well and so consistently? 

This is a very hard question to answer. Reflecting the weather and atmosphere of the west of Ireland is something we do instinctively - it seems to be the obvious and natural thing to do. For us, the beauty of the west of Ireland is the star of the show, and we are catching up. It leads, we follow. 

We were both raised with a strong sense of pride of place. When that sense of place is baked into you at an early age, it shapes you and the things you make. It never leaves you. Rick Rubin talks about creativity as something we allow to come “through us” - I really identify with this.

On a practical brand level, there are some things that we do to help create consistency. We put our customers at the centre of what we do - when we create something new - we try to speak warmly and directly to our customers. We have brand colours that we try to stick to, use primarily natural daylight in photography, use natural materials, bring our camera with us when we head out for a walk, and have a “house style” in how we post-process images. 

 

 

Q How do you adapt your storytelling to the seasons? In terms of written and visual storytelling?

We use social media, newsletters and blog posts to share the world around us. And so naturally - as the seasons change, so our stories shift and change. In Spring, we might talk about how to forage for seaweed or collect wild garlic. In Winter, we might share how to identify trees without their leaves. 

 

 

Q Why do you think people respond so well to stories from creatives and makers? Is it becoming more important?

Every night at bedtime, I read stories to our three children. Sometimes, our three-year-old asks me to read the same story I have read to her maybe 50 times before. From an early age, we all learn to love stories. Through stories, we learn about worlds that are very different to ours, we learn to see things through another perspective, and, of course, we learn about ourselves through the stories of others. 

Creatives and makers are lucky in that we are naturally good at creating visuals and images that help us to share and tell our stories with others. But I believe every person (and business) has a good story to tell. I think it is important that we use our skills as storytellers to help others to tell their stories too.

 

 

Q Which other brand stories do you love and admire?

From the outset with Superfolk, we have loved Yvon Chouinard’s book “Let My People Go Surfing”. We have a quote from him stuck on the wall in the studio - it reads - “the more you know, the less you need”. Recently, Gearoid had the opportunity to interview Yvon and wrote about it on our blog. Then, recently, the leadership that Yvon and his family have shown in giving away their ownership of Patagonia, dedicating all profits from the company to projects and organisations that will protect wild land and biodiversity and fight the climate crisis, is remarkable.

Closer to home, we really admire Mungo Murphy Seaweed Company. They are a mother and daughter farming abalone in a land-based re-circulated aquaculture system in south Connemara. It is remarkable what they are doing. We need more people and businesses like them who are brave enough to do business differently.

 

Q What’s the next chapter for Superfolk?

Next up this year, we are working on a new website and a new line of wallpaper, and as always, we are working towards our three-year vision for the company and with an eye on the longer-term picture, too. We hope to become more active in our membership of “1 per cent for the Planet”

In our personal lives - we have three amazing children, two of whom are under 3. And we are slowly renovating an old stone house to make it our family home. We want to enjoy our time with our children when they are so young - so they will always come first. Our family is what we value most of all.

 

Want to discover more interviews like this? Visit the Simple Matters Media blog. Or follow @simplemattersmedia on instagram.

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