10 Lessons From the Local Food Experiment

In June, I began an experiment where I had the goal of eating only foods purchased from area farms or that which I could grow myself in our small space. In these months, I have learned some valuable lessons.

#1 – Beginning this challenge in June was a horrible idea. Had I asked real people instead of looking online, I would have realised that nothing is ready in June. Even the grow houses looked at me like I was stupid when I asked about it. Seems that even the sun is shining brightly, really the only thing growing in our climate in the month of June is butter flowers and rhubarb…

#2 – You cannot eat rhubarb every day. Rhubarb contains a certain chemical which can be bad for the kidneys. As rhubarb can be very tart, it is always best eaten with some kind of cream or custard (which can also work to balance out this bad chemical).

#3 – While it’s a freeing feeling to forage butter flowers for food, they can also be quite bitter. Do not take the largest leaves. Those are the worst tasting and it doesn’t matter how much spice you put on it, it will not improve the taste. I learned that those small leaves, the beginning ones in the spring are the best tasting. Also, the flowers can be fried. Those first flowers in the spring are the best ones though.

#4 – If I had to trust my own grown food to feed myself, I would starve. I was excited to put lots of seeds to pots and watch them grow. They grew. And grew. And grew more. But nothing came beyond being a flower. We got about 2 small cucumber and a few mint-sized tomato. The squashes and aubergine made many flowers only. Kale is growing, for the first time. I have been able to take a few leafs for mixing with salads. It makes me happy 🙂 Chilis are the one plant that grow nicely. I have heard that the weather has been unpredictable all over the world, so I am trying to not dislike myself too much about it.

#5 – Farmers need sales this year. Something I had not considered, is the affect that the Covid-19 pandemic would have on small farms. I quickly learnt that many small farms have contracts with restaurants or their distribution. I always had in my mind that it would only be the large corporate agriculture which would carry these types of contracts, but I was mistaken. A side issue of the pandemic restrictions and closings of restaurants worldwide is that these farms do not have the sales they had planned for when planting. What this means is that farmers find themselves with an excess amount of food items ready for harvesting with nowhere to go and no pay for them + limited access to workers to help in harvesting. In this circumstance, many farmers are happy to sell their harvested items to customers visiting the farm.

#6 – In the middle of a global health crises, is the worst time to restrict one’s food sourcing ability. I re-launched the experiment this year because I wanted to stay out of the food shops as much as was possible. I did and purchasing larger amounts from farms in surrounding areas helped me to eat healthier and to stay away from the food shops for longer. However…. when I did visit the food shops I did not restrict myself. I tried, the first few times. But then I realised how stupid it was to not take home affordable food items like pastas, rice and porridge. Okei…. and maybe a few snickers bars for mental happiness 😉 (I have a snickers addiction. If anyone works with the Snickers business, please remember my appetite for the treats) So I purchased those.

#7 – Learn foraging from a person who has spent their life foraging foods. Going into the forest for searching berries, mushrooms and other wild edibles is really nice in theory until you realise that you aren’t certain if that plant is poisonous or no and then the whole thing goes to compost. Berries look very similar and if one is not well educated in natures plants, the result of eating these toxic beasts can really give you a night to remember. Best to learn from someone who knows it, and to doubt yourself until you are certain.

#8 – People will remember you. Visit a farm many times for purchasing food items and explain that you are trying to eat more sustainably – and people will remember it. Some looked at me as a crazy person But others began to try to help me. Example; one farm began to offer me possibility to purchase the second or third class vegetables. Those are which cannot be sold in the shops because … its that ugly fruit thing. That nobody wants to just buy ugly looking foods. So, I got them for discount and they taste just as nice. + I got to give myself a sustainable award (in my mind) for reducing food waste and for saving money.

#9 – Fresh food is seasonal. We all know this. But I more like mean very short season because no refrigerated trucks or those things. Want fresh strawberries? Okei, but you have 2 weeks when can take those. All berries seem to be the same. Some foods have longer times of constant harvest, others do not. So have plan with what you want to do with those and purchase them while it is possible.

#10 – Many people are planting this year! This is something I am very happy about, although it did frustrate my own plans. I am happy because I think quite often that if each of us – every person that has the capability to do so – could have at least one food producing plant on their terraces or windows, then it would increase our individual possibility for food sourcing by at least that much, that it could help with the current global food security issues. This is not a ‘let them cake’ moment, so don’t be angry. I do understand that in many places, growing anything is an impossibility. I am more meaning those of us who have the possibility to have some herbs growing or a tomato or child plant, even a salad plant, that overall it would help to lessen our dependence on food shops and online food orders – as well as the money spent on those. If there is any one lessen that I have learned in 2020, it is that disruptions happen and the way we usually do things in our lives may not always be that way.

Have you been planting? Do you have any wisdom for sharing? Please share with us in the comments!

Thank you for reading!

-Mliae

Back To Basics: Local Food / Own Grown Food Experiment Starts Now!

I am doing this experiment…again. I tried this 2 years ago, and did not last long with it.  I have been thinking it often due to the coronavirus restrictions, that we should try to have some food plants here for eating if there is another wave of cases and businesses close again, that we have something here. Then I thought that well, I am thinking foolishly, just do the experiment and look that can I even manage 2 days on the few things I am able to grow.

My goal in this experiment, is to reconnect with the source of my food. 100 years ago, people lived in a way that they knew how to grow and produce, preserve their own foods. There was a basic connection to food, a respect for it and a need to master the process oneself. In our current society, we have everything we could possibly want. We can access summer harvested foods from the other side of the globe, in winter, in the food shops. Not only is this very unnatural, but the fragility of logistics and supply chains in order to make such luxury possible is something that must be considered. As the coronavirus restrictions have exhibited; manufacturing, logistics and supply is not always reliable. This is when I had my ‘eureka!’ moment and that knew if I am ever going to make this local food and growing food work, I needed to do this experiment again. I want to share with you the possibilities for someone who is quite helpless with growing, cooking, baking – basically all things food-related (I’m quite nightmarish) – to learn and see that is it even possible to do. I have 2 goals in this experiment. Goal #1 is for me to learn & to be able in the future to not be so dependent on the shops for my food. Goal #2 is to motivate you to think about these things. For you to hopefully, even with small changes, to also feel a sense of independent ability and a closeness to your food as well.

So here we are, launching this experiment…again. If this is the first you have read about this, I will share the basic things:

  • If I can grow it, forage it or purchase it from local farms, I can eat it.
  • If it is produced locally by small producers/individuals, I can eat it.
  • If it is gifted to me, I can eat it. 

Aside from these, I have 2 circumstances which could be variable.  #1 – Although I am trying to avoid visiting the food shops, I will have to go. Some of the things I will need to purchase are items for food preservation such as: sugar, jam sugar, oils, vinegars, spices and salt.  I will also purchase dog food (of course. For the dog, not I) and I am allowing myself purchases of both fish and cheeses, wheat powder & eggs (for baking) and salad sauce – as my luxury purchases.  But that is when I do go to the food shops, which I am trying to avoid. So probably not making those purchases for some time.  Circumstance #2 – food & my husband. Doing an experiment like this can be complicated when the person doing it, does not live alone. Last time I did this, meal times were difficult. We adjusted to eating seperate foods, which was not difficult. The problem came when my husband wanted to surprise me with a nice meal and I was unable to accept. It was not a regular happening, but it did happen. As my goal is to make use of what we have, I do not wish to waste a good meal or a thoughtful gift from my husband. So I have decided that this time, if he makes a nice meal for the both of us, I will eat it. Before you get the idea that he will be cooking for me every evening, he will not. I am quite certain that he will make good use of the opportunity to eat all the delicious foods that I don’t like.

I do have some things I am uncertain about. I am hoping that you will share your thoughts about it, so that we can together decide that are these acceptable or no:

  • Navigating costs
  • ! Food items, example; late season grown food items that I purchased from farms outside the city, but still locally and had frozen or preserved in some way. myself for it to last longer. These are the foods I can purchase when they are available, so it does fit the experiment. These were purchased months prior to this experiment though, so I am unsure that is it ‘breaking the rules’  or not if I eat these vegetables?
  • Ice-cream auto: small local business, but not grown or locally produced food. How does it fit into the experiment, or does it?

I have little doubt that I will lose some weight during this experiment. My weight at the beginning of  this experiment, 31 May 2020: 74,4 kg / 164 pounds.

I am nervous and feel ill prepared. Local food experiment a go-go!

Luck needed!

-Mliae

I am Beginning The Local Food Experiment Starting 1 June!

This challenge/experiment is something I have created for myself. I tried it 2 years ago as a back-to-basics sustainable challenge.  I spent much time thinking about how different our relationship with food is, than it was example, 50 – 100 years ago.

As the economy is suffering greatly, and I try to avoid visiting the shops during Covid-19  as much as I just can, it seems to be that this could be an ideal opportunity to again challenge my relationship with food. I have been thinking quite often about trying my back-to-basics sustainable eating series that I challenged myself to two years ago.  I challenged myself to eat only those items which I was able to grow myself, purchase from local farms or buy locally made or produced items only. Aside from that, I did have set limits for myself of what I was ‘permitted’ to purchase at the food shops. As I was also trying to learn how to bake more in so to limit my need for prepackaged, mass produced, chemical laden ready food.  I learned how to bake 2 items: Flat bread and current muffins. It got me through, but 2 options is not enough for any extended time.

When I did the challenge last time, I was ill prepared and I was not able to keep with the challenge for long. This time, I am a bit more familiar with some of the challenges I will be facing and I hope that I can use this knowledge to better prepare myself. I understand now that locally made items will cost more, that just because you plant something does not mean it will grow food for you, that most recipes need too many ingredients (where are the simple recipes?!), that actually a lot more plants are needed to feed a person than one would think, and that eating berries instead of cakes makes me cranky.

I am waiting until the 1st June to start this challenge. That allows for a few days time that I can look up and contact some farms in the rural areas outside of the city and ask that are they even selling to people with the current Covid-19 restrictions. If I am unable to purchase grown food items from the farms, this challenge will be impossible. Rhubarb is growing, and I also can find dandelion easily.  However, a diet of rhubarb and dandelion sounds quite awful. I will order also few hanging planters of small tomato and strawberry plants. Also, as it takes time for the food to grow, it will take time that I can purchase the items from the farms also even if they are using grow house.

I will be setting limitations on my food shopping, same as the last time. This time though, I really need to think more about it because last time, it was only about the challenge. This time, its about pandemic, bad economy and the challenge. So makes those purchasing decisions a bit more important this time.  I will announce the food shop limitations on the first day of the challenge. I will be purchasing fish though. As much fish as I just can. Cheese & coffee also, for certain.

There are two exceptions I am making for myself. #1 – Last time, I ate meals separately and it seemed a waste. My husband is liking the thought of eating locally, but I am not asking him to do this strict challenge with me. I have decided, due to trying not to spend money, if my husband makes a meal enough for both of us, I will eat what he makes.  This was not something I allowed for myself last time and it seemed like unnecessary money was being spent to eat those meals separately on the occasions there was enough extra food for me. #2 Food gifts are allowed. If I find myself opening a package of food items or husband buys me an ice cream on a day out (Hah! He will remind me of this post instead), I am probably going to eat it. And enjoy it 🙂

I am not confident in my ability to do this. This will be incredibly difficult, more so than last time, and I can’t cheat with food shopping because well, what’s the purpose of doing this if I don’t do it? (Besides, I have some friends who found their way to this blog & I know that I will hear about it with quite loud voice.) I will, of course, be blogging about it. I will also share any new recipes (the simple ones that don’t ask for 30 ingredients), info about what kinds of food items I’m eating (no worries, I will not be sharing a list of meals), I will also share if it has helped me in losing the extra weight and probably a bit (more) of complaining also.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you will gain some interest about this journey.

Mliae

Let’s Discuss!

I have been reading much about the sudden improvements in the environment, due to the coronavirus restrictions. The air is cleaner than anyone could have imagined would be possible in the time of a 4 months, marine life is returning to places long-thought to be absent from, and many good happenings are taking place. The world will most certainly not return to all of the daily habits we had pre-covid19. Keeping physical distance will certainly become more important than before.

There is one aspect (from many) to our lives though, which is currently facing the opportunity to change entirely, and that is the tourism sector. Tourism has stopped. Completely and simultaneously. This creates a never before seen opportunity for the global travel & tourism businesses to adapt better policies and create a system wide improvement.  This is what I want to discuss with you today. Do you think that the industry has an opportunity for change, or no? What changes would you like to see implemented if it were possible?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss this!

-Mliae

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6 Reasons Why You Should Eat Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables

As autumn has arrived, I thought it a good time to go on a bit of a nag about food choices.

With globalisation comes convenience. We can now eat avocado and strawberry throughout the year and have access to exotic fruits which only grow in areas half the world away. As easy as it is for us to add these to our shopping bags (it’s only a few €), we should really take a moment to consider what we are contributing to.

The Bad:

  1. Your fruits and vegetables are not ‘fresh’. They have been refrigerated for long times (sometimes months), shipped, trucked, sorted and treated with wax and preservatives, then put as display. Doesn’t sound grandly appealing….
  2. Conflict. It is said that the drive for avocado has created the atmosphere for violence in Mexico, and in a Chile community, water use has actually taken away the water from its residents and instead provided that water for avocado growing. (Learning much watching Rotten on Netflix) There are many more stories of farming conflict because of increasing demand for food items. Just google.
  3. Your food has travelled more than you. Take a moment and process … I can wait. 🙂

The Good:

  1. Supports local farms. I am quite certain that you are not looking the country of origin when buying potato. When you are purchasing fruits and vegetables in the harvest season, there is high % that you are purchasing the food items from a local farm. Local farms are the markets most affordable option of sourcing foodstuffs. So you are contributing to your community, your own country’s economy and not having to take 2 hours reading packages in the market. 😉
  2. Cost.  This is simply supply / demand. When the supply is limited because your lychee is only available in one geographic area for a short time, you are paying gold prices from it. When its autumn, and root vegetables are being harvested widely, you will pay a much lower price for those.
  3. The environment. Speaking the truth, making the shift to purchase seasonal foods is one of the simplest tasks you can do to contribute to the reduction of actions causing climate change. (It took me 5 minutes of thought to write that phrase correctly….there has to be a simpler way to say that.) That mandarin you are purchasing in February, travelled a long trip to get there. If you are wanting to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’, making a considered purchasing decision with these items will help you to lower it. Or maybe it doesn’t (in some situations). Think then, that you are contributing to the ‘demand’ of these items, which continues to increase the production of them.

Why should we eat seasonally when we have access to a world of options? Food items which have been harvested in the current season are more plentiful and there is a larger possibility that you are purchasing locally / sustainable. Traditionally, people only had access to the locally available, harvestable items in that season. Specialty refrigeration was not available to extend the ripeness of the plant nor were special waxes that could make fruit look like something from a animated movie. Mis-shapen fruits and vegetables of varying sizes were the norm and ruler-regulated items like cucumbers would have been considered as an absurdity. Then, you did not put food as waste only because it was not pretty. It was grown, and you ate it. It’s food.

Autumn seasonal fruits and vegetables vary by geography, of course.  But some of the general autumnal harvest foods are potato, varying squashes, apples, carrot, onion, beetroot, turnip and cabbage.

jam-4521022_960_720

I do understand that eating seasonally could feel quite restrictive. It has been a long process to eating foods unavailable to us, and it will be a long process back to basics. In my mind, it does seem that we still have a small bit of ourselves that does connect to seasonal eating. In the summers, we crave fruit, berries, light foods. In the cold months, our bodies tell us that thick soups and dips are what we need. Most of these are based with seasonal harvest foods. We just don’t seem to think so much about it.

As with all consumer-driven changes, you must remember that we, as consumers, have the power. The power of purchase, which to companies = the power of money. Simply not purchasing these items will send a message in a very loud voice, that it is time to slow our food down again.

Have we lost the connection to our food?

-Mliae

World Tourism Day

Starting in 1980, the United Nations began hosting the International World Tourism Day! World Tourism Day is celebrated on 27 September every year.

Tourism is important as it creates social, economic, cultural and even political value.  This year, I would think that sustainability is also a high value on this, World Tourism Day.

For some people, the word tourism conjures images of obnoxious, tank top clad tourists, talking loudly and stomping over the meticulously planned gardens. Or corporate tourism giants counting their piles of money. These are the very few. Tourism is actually very important to communities globally.

In many countries, tourism is one of the main incomes into the community. Meaning, their ability to make a living depends upon your desire to go there. Can you imagine? What would your life look like, if you only got income when your friends spent the day with you? Challenging.

In my mind, on this day – especially this year – we should take some time to think about the impact our tourism decisions have on communities. What do we desire to accomplish? Is it a priority to make sure that our money goes into the communities that need it? Or is it our goal to go see those sights we’ve long since read about in the leafs? Whatever the goal is, we should recognise it, understand it and plan accordingly. If we want to see those places, we should go there. If we want to contribute to these areas, we should go there. If we want to jump into a tropical lake and swim under a waterfall, then we should pack our swimming suits & hiking boots and just go!

Some ideas for celebrating World Tourism Day:

Use it as an excuse to plan that long desired trip!

Been dreaming about that spontaneous romantic getaway, but haven’t quite gotten around to actually doing it? Today is the day. What more do you need?

See some local sights

Always going away for holiday? (Same here) Why not take some time and check out your local sights? You may be surprised at what is offered in your local community. Search engines will always tell you what’s happening.

Make this weekend a holiday at home:

Shut the phone and go for a walk. Or make a nice dinner and a special beverage by candlelight. Avoid the screens and appreciate your time like you would if you were travelling.

If you’re feeling particularly feisty, learn to make some exotic food. Just add sand, fruity drinks and some tropical mood tunes. Put on those sunglasses and dance!

Where does World Tourism Day take you?

-Mliae

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The Desire for a Sustainable Lifestyle

I talk about many things. One topic that I am quite fond of, is that of sustainability. Food sustainability, sustainability in production, making better purchasing decisions, sustainable fashion…..sustainable living.

Obviously, the reason I write about this topic so often is because it is of high importance to me. (That sounded quite selfish….)  I very much enjoy introducing companies I have found that are doing good things, I like having open conversation with you, my readers, about the challenges in achieving sustainability in its different forms. I think that I also write quite often about this, because I am learning about it myself all the time. Also, maybe somewhere in my head, I do desire to help create change – even if it is only by having a dialogue.

The Cambridge dictionary defines Sustainability (environment) as ‘The quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.’ The way we (those of us not dictionaries) see sustainability encompasses more than the basis for causing no harm and making it last.  Sustainability outside of this definition, can be anything from sustainable food practices (buying organic, eating locally, reducing meat intake…), sustainable travel & tourism (minimising the negative effects of tourism, create benefit to the areas…), Sustainable gifts, even sustainable business practices (considering affect on society, treating employees better, long term strategy). In my mind, this makes sustainability more a way of making better decisions. The short-term immediate gratification of the 1980’s introduced a ‘winner take all’ mindset in which people seemed to somehow lose the importance of long-term thinking. After 30+ years of this kind of ‘now now now’ immediate-gratification thinking (like a world of infants), we find ourselves at this moment. A time where we must slow it down. All of it. We need to think about what we are doing, the effects it will have and what options we may have to the obvious questions.

No matter how you see the boundaries of the word ‘sustainability’, it is a very important word for us to keep not only in our vocabulary, but also in our decision making process. Now more than ever, it seems. Especially since the UN Climate Change Summit this year has left the world with little doubt that something MUST be done. Now, not 15th day.

I would like to make better, more sustainable decisions in my every day life. It seems like it would be easy, but it is not. You see, I have a problem…I am spoiled. I’m spoiled by the easy access to foods that shouldn’t be available outside of season. I’m spoiled by how I feel in soft fabrics from high-end stores. I’m spoiled by cheap and trendy clothing options – I can have an entire new look for 20€. I’m spoiled by never having to consider the labour behind my purchases. I’m spoiled because I live in a time where the only thing we have to think about, is ourselves. And SO ARE YOU! We all are, no? So the question is then, how do we bring ourselves off our clouds of cotton and realise that it is up to us to make the change to sustainability?  That WE have to do the work. Especially if we expect corporations to make big changes. After all, businesses follow the money. Our money. As consumers, this is our power.

There have been efforts here.

Remember the sustainable food experiment? Eating only local or what I could cook myself (actual food making with only actual ingredients). That did not last so long as I hoped for. What resulted was me learning to make tortillas (easiest bread possible), muffins with fresh berries I picked and eating buckets full of berries, summer squash and mushrooms. I was not well prepared for that experiment. However, since that experiment, I have found myself eating more local produce, eating in season fruit/veg  and not craving so much the ready food at the food store.  I have not been baking. I don’t love baking… But I should be baking.  The challenge with eating more sustainably is that its difficult. We like easy. I will inform you if I discover the secret to success with this.

I have also tried saving my money to invest in more sustainable, higher quality, possible hand made options. (Pro tip: Saving money is much easier if you actually have money. So, saving was a fail.) I did stop shopping. My new plan for this (because a lady has to have something nice sometimes) is to find a couple best options in my colour (if its a handmade leather bag) or in my size (if its clothing) or my favourite design (if its something else) and save those items and when people ask what I want for my birthday, or holidays. I can suggest that people put what money they would have spent towards one of those items (or a gift card for that store – if they offer gift cards). Holidays are quite often and I have found that my loved ones are usually happier if I give them an idea instead of them spending forever searching for the ‘perfect gift’.  But only if they ask. Otherwise, I love personal selected gifts! *If you do this, please don’t go weird with it. I’ve had people insist I only give some or another thing and it really takes the fun out of gift giving.

Also, when you find yourself with only a few new items in a year, you appreciate that item so much more. I don’t quite understand how that works, but it does seem like the more often new things come to us – the less we appreciate them. Sustainable items do come with a higher price than we have been paying (average). Of course it does! That price displays that the workers are being paid a living wage, perhaps the logistic transport was also a green/slow method, and the items are made by craftsmen and sold by a company that pays attention to the details across the growth – production – logistical – labour – business processes. Quality items cost money. Quality items also last soooooooo much longer than the rubbish we are buying now. This is why QUALITY BASICS are a thing. Basics never go out of style (now that I’ve said that, all of my basics will be out of style next week) and quality lasts. Win-win. The challenge here, I would say, is that we must relearn how to shop as conscious consumers. Our current processes will not work with the new sustainable system.

As a luxury-loving convenience monster myself, I know that the change into a more sustainable lifestyle will be slow. But slow is a sustainability keyword, so maybe its a good thing.

How is sustainability changing your decisions?

-Mliae

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Leather From….Fish? Sustainable Business Feature on Atlantic Leather

Hello all 🙂

I have an interesting post for you today and I hope you enjoy reading about this as much as I have enjoyed learning about it!

Located in the beautiful town of Saudárkrókur, Iceland, Atlantic Leather seems to be a bit of a hidden gem.

Atlantic Leather Iceland.jpg

When I discovered that Atlantic Leather was making leather from fish skins, for a consumer market, it got my attention. To be quite honest, I was not expecting this to be on the scale that it actually is. I was incorrect. There are some amazing things happening in Iceland.

Making leather from fish skins. It’s one of those things that makes you pause, for just a moment, when one first hears of it. And then comes the Eureka moment. When you realize how very logical it is, but somehow amazing that it’s happening – at the same time. At least, that was my reaction.

Atlantic Leather uses four types of fish skins for their leather production: Salmon, Cod, Wolf fish and Perch. I was quite curious as to why these types of fish skins were selected. Was it their larger size? Were the skins thick enough to maintain their durability throughout the tanning process? Was there a magical equation? No. I was informed that it was availability of raw materials. Atlantic Leather only uses the fish skins as a by-product of the food industry. Basically, they are making beautiful leathers by using our food rubbish. I have never actually considered how much waste of items like fish skin, or vegetable cuttings are left

behind by the food that we purchase. Think of how much disposal space is being saved by utilizing these skins and transforming them into items of beauty!

The entire tanning process takes a total of 3-4 weeks time.

fish leather

I was fortunate to be able to communicate with a friendly representative from Atlantic Leather to gain more information about this new leather, as well as a brief Q & A session.

Q – What made Atlantic leather want to try making fish skins into craftable leather?

A – In the beginning we only tanned sheepskin, but when the market took a huge dive we explored other options.

Q – How does fish leather compare with more traditional leathers, such as cow or sheep leather?

A – Fish leather is so much more stronger then lamb and cow and that is mostly because of fibers in the fish leather.

Q – Atlantic Leather has succeeded in setting itself apart from the competition by not only being the only tannery in the world to make wolffish leather, but also as the only producer of washable salmon leather. A feat, to be sure! Can you tell us, are there any new innovations in the pipeline?

A – We are always working on something new and always trying to find ways to be even more sustainable, also we are working on a project in the horizon 2020 EU with other country’s and that will be very exiting.

Q – How does washable salmon leather happen? How is it washed/cared for?

A – There is a special tanning method which we came up with, it can be washed in a machine to 30 C.

Q – Why would you recommend people to use fish leather?

A – Mostly because its a byproduct and a sustainable solution and off course the quality

Q – What is the most popular type / colour used?

A – Black salmon is always the top seller.

Q – I love that Atlantic leather only uses fish skins as a by product of the food industry and that no animals are slaughtered strictly for their skins. I wish that more leather companies would do this. How would you encourage this action to take place more often in your industry?

A – Social responsibility !

Q – Your website also states that the ‘production process makes use of renewable hydro and geothermal energy’. Is there a simple way to explain this statement? It sounds very cool!

A – Here in Iceland we have plenty of hot and cold water so the heating of the tannery and the house are all in the hands of mother nature. These are renewable resources and also our electricity comes from this hot water.

Q – If someone wished to purchase these fish leathers from you, how does the international purchasing process work? Or is Atlantic Leather a strictly B2B company?

A – It is no problem to buy, we sell to everybody, but there is an order minimum for the production, we do though have a small visitor center where we offer single skins for sale and guided tours through the factory.

Q – I have heard that some high-end designers are beginning to use fish leather in their products. Can you drop any names?

A – The high fashion industry is one of our biggest market, and there is a wakening in the fashion world for more sustainable solutions but we don’t kiss and tell 😉

I can tell from the ones that have used it, Nike – Jimmy Choo – Fendi – Ecco – Kenzo – Prada….

*Wow! Those are reputable designers known for using amazing materials! I really want to see the items that this fish leather is making. Atlantic Leather was friendly enough to include a statement of their sustainable business practices. I am including here, below. Please read through it. I have learned much that I did not know about tanning processes and how they work within sustainability goals at Atlantic Leather.

Atlantic leathers sustainability statement:

‘We are really fortune living in Iceland since we have plenty of hot water in our ground from geothermal sources-renewable resource, also our electricity all comes from a hydroelectric power station. So you can see that our production really relies on our nature, that is also why we have waste water treatment that takes away the chemicals that we don‘t want to have in the nature, and then it is disposed in a correct way.

Atlantic Leather has the goal to keep the natural characteristic of the skins in first place as well making all the skins in environmental friendly way chrome free tanning and using the natural sources of hot spring water and hydroelectric power for our production. The tannery is very close to the source of the raw material so transport will be as light as possible to limit the carbon footprint of the production and distribution to minimal.

The production

‘We have from the beginning had the goal to use not hazardous chemicals in the production and all development have been worked from that point.

We use soap, the soap has similar ingredients as dish washing liquid, we use lime to remove the scales with crucial help of enzymes, and tanning is play of PH and to control that we use baking soda and formic acid in the tanning. In the process we have to remove all natural fat from the skin, but to have soft leather we need fat. So the natural one is replaced with special fat created from vegetables oil and fish oil. For the tanning (conservation for the collagen) we use chrome as basic supported by aluminium and synthetic tanning agents. Chrome is available in several forms (chrome 6 is the poison one with bad reputation) we use chrome 3 that is not dangerous in that form, in the tanning it’s possible that the chrome changes into other forms of chrome. Tests have shown that it doesn’t happen in our process. We also offers other tanning methods where we use tree bark to make the tanning, we use Mimosa tree bark (other type can be used). When it comes to dyeing the skins, we always use AZO free dyes. For the finishing we use water-based acrylic and urethane-based compounds (similar to the paint we use in our homes).

All tests have shown that we are well under the chemical regulation of European Union as well we treat our waste water before it goes out to from the factory with very simple technique that calls for very small investment to install.

We have lot of projects going on in development, one is chrome free tanning (due to the bad reputation of chrome the market is calling for it) and many other projects that is asked for or will be called for in the future.´

*I am excited to watch this company and will like to see their good projects make positive change in the industry.

It has been a pleasure writing this post and I would like to thank Atlantic Leather for all of their cooperation in writing this. I thank everyone for reading and I hope that you have enjoyed learning about this innovation in leather tanning as much as I have! If you are interested in viewing more photos of their creations, please visit their website, instagram or Facebook pages!

It’s so interesting!

-Mliae

 

Sustainable Feature: Stella Soomlais Studio

I am so excited to share this post today. As many of you know, I spend a lot of time researching my topics. One of which is sustainability in the fashion industry. Sometimes, I manage to find a business that is doing some really cool things! When that happens, I always do my best to make contact and get the info so that I can share it with my awesome readers.  This is not a sponsored post. This is a feature post created because I found a company that is doing great things and I wanted to share it with you.

Not surprisingly, most of the businesses that are making change and doing good things, are small businesses. Those of you who have been long-time readers already know what I am about to say. As much as it may seem like corporations and marketers dictate to consumers what we would like to purchase, the truth of it is that we, the consumer, hold all of the decision making power. We hold the power of purchase.  A belief that I hold close to my heart is that of supporting small businesses.  Especially small businesses that given the chance, could become fore-runners in their field, like Estonia-based  Stella Soomlais studio, the business I have chosen to feature here today. I understand that these are big statements that I am making. But this is why I want to feature these efforts. Because all too often, we are not even aware of these businesses, the strides that they are making in sustainability and the options that are out there. Not only is Stella Soomlais a sustainable company, but all of their items are made-to-order in their studio, and they believe in pricing transparency!

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If you look closely at this, you will see that their profit percentage is actually less than their tax percentage.  I cannot complain about the pricing of a good when it is explained to me like this. Respect!

I have been very fortunate, in that I was able to speak directly to Stella about her company. She has been very generous with her time and information. I must admit that I have learned so much in the process of writing this feature and for that, I am very grateful!

This interview with Stella was one of the best interviews I’ve had in my several years of blogging.  She is just the type of person you want to be friends with. She is very friendly, confident in her ability, has a solid vision and answered every one of my questions as honestly and thoroughly as was just possible.  It was the type of conversation you leave feeling excited about. It was quite refreshing to speak to someone in this industry who is on the same page as myself. Stella loves natural materials such as wools, leather, etc. She appreciates the touch and feel of them, as well as the fact that these materials gain character as they age.

Why Leather crafting?  Stella studied leather design in University. While she was studying, she realized the sustainability issues. During her masters degree and the practical work, she learned more about the economics and environmental side of things. She understands how good of a material leather is and it is plentiful because as she says ‘As long as people eat meat, there will always be leather.’ (I love this quote because it simplifies the issue, as well as confirming that the leather used is a by-product of the meat industry and is not, as many people assume, the product for which any animal is killed.) The sustainability factor goes even further than making use of by-products, but also because leather is biodegradable so it goes back into the natural cycle. She says that ‘In a way, using leather is this circular economy’.

‘Consumers seem to want very shiny, non-marked leather that looks the same in 2 years as it did when they bought it. And what people don’t understand is that it is no longer biodegradable. The base is, but the cover is coated in a plastic-like material, so it isn’t. But of course, when you don’t know the differences in the leathers, how the leather is made, then you don’t know how to select the leather. That’s why she uses natural finish leathers. And that’s why one of her communication challenges is that when there are scars, its ok. Every leather is different. Leather changes in time and it’s cool.’

 

There is much discussion about animals being harmful for nature…the tanning process itself being harmful for nature. Which is true. But at the same time, it’s also important to compare the lifecycles of other items.  How long you can use the textiles, and how harmful those are to dispose of? This is actually something they are researching to understand the parallels between them.  This has its own challenges, as she uses water consumption as an example. I have myself never considered the after effects with water.  But she raises a good point in regards to water consumption. Water consumption is usually measured throughout the manufacturing process, but stops once the item is sold. One measure we do not take into account is the amount of water used in washing. Textile bags are usually washed quite often which uses a lot of water. And leather, well its leather, I have never washed a leather bag. So it’s not a black and white issue.  There are many unanswered questions in this regard. Stella continues to learn about sustainability by reading endless amounts of research and attending workshops. Varying and conflicting information makes this continuous research challenging.

Can you describe your creative process? Stella describes her creative process as ‘…an assignment in mathematics’.  She takes into account the function that people say they need, then the topography of the leather. The shape of leather is always unique so you can never truly tell what kind of material you will get from the producer. So there is a lot of taking account the shape, in what direction the leather stretches, how many bags you can get out of 1 leather, etc. All those things must be taken into account when you produce while designing. Her production is in-house so that means that she also must consider the level of the crafters. One crafter may not be able to produce the same as another. When the new crafters are learning and creating new bags, there is a risk of faulty items and she must reduce that risk with design. So these are things that must be included into the calculation of the designs. An important factor to take into consideration is to make the items with the possibility of repair. As expensive and long lasting items, Stella feels that she has a responsibility to make it possible to repair the items.  Many of the details wear out quicker than the bag. So, the zipper, handles and metal details need to be made in a way that they can be replaced. Also, in the design, she needs to consider how many items she can make from the leather and how to minimize as much as possible any material left-overs. For example, the blueprint can me made that if a large cut needs to made for an item then the smaller space remaining can be used for a key ring or something in order to avoid material waste.

Once all of these calculations have been made, the design begins to make itself clear. The size comes from the function. Then you need to consider the technology needed to make it and add the details – in a way that they can be repaired, and then finally you go over all the details again to make some changes like creating a better shape. Then you see ‘how does it look?’ and that’s the design. Usually when you add all these things, the look is already there.

She has the vision in her head alone and then she takes the details and works together with her assistants to make the prototypes. Then it is ready. But the design doesn’t end there, she says. Because they offer the aftercare for free within 1 year (after that it has a small fee), they get many bags back for the spa aftercare treatment and with that they can see clearly how people actually use the bags. They can see if they need to change some bits or make it easier to repair. They also get feedback from some clients. So actually, the bag is never ready. The habits of the customers change also so even their most popular bags they have done them in the 100’s, but they are still improving them. The workload is tons. It’s a constantly evolving process.

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Do your designs lean toward trend or classic?: Classic. Classic and function that is in balance with the circular economy and aesthetics. Function speaks to her more than anything else. Amazing because her designs are so beautiful. Take the  Go to the library backpack which has a clean look.

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People love the clean look. Which is possible due to the decision that nothing else is added there. Which would be more functional, but not the clean aesthetics and not possible to re-use the material. As a creator, she will not look at trends or the works of her colleagues in order to make sure that she is not even subconsciously influenced. She understands that we are so influenced on the daily by just seeing other people that she does not want to influence herself or her designs even further by following the other options available. I admire this and think I will borrow her theory in my own daily life.

What has been your biggest challenge?: ‘It has been difficult to achieve the things that we have achieved. Like running a marathon. You succeed in this area when you are durable and resistant because there are many daily challenges. In time, you learn not to take them so emotionally anymore which makes it easier to work towards your goals. And when you have the goals, and when you are working slowly towards that, then you achieve it.’  When she was applying at University, she had to write about her dream goals. Stella has not only achieved those goals, but surpassed them! Stella describes herself as a person who is never satisfied. She continually sets news goals for herself once she has achieved her former goals.  Hilariously, she realizes how annoying this habit can be for those around her. As an obstacle, she wants everything to be the best, now. She gets quickly excited about new ideas. Stella’s biggest obstacle seems to be that she makes so many plans for herself that she loses focus.

Zero waste goal: The technology is there for Stella to reach her goal to create zero material waste. She explained several of the options to me such as; adding adhesive to scraps and make it into new material to strengthen soft leather. This would require shipping the small amount of scraps to Slovakia. The shipping would make this a less sustainable option. Not to mention, the current adhesive used is not 100% natural. Option 2 would be to sell the scraps back to leather production to add to the tannery. Due to the varying chemical processes, it’s difficult if the leathers are not all with the same original tanning process. Another option is to go in with a local start-up to make a new material. This has already been tested, but the material is not proving durable at this time. So this requires continuing testing.

Currently, Stella Soomlais is sending their scraps to hobby classes so that children can use them. Many cool things have come out of there, she says. She does admit that some material waste does go in the bin, regardless of how hard they are working to prevent this. Fortunately, it is biodegradable.

Colour: I really wanted to know if there was a difference when working with or caring for coloured leather goods. I have an infatuation with their green leather items (I am happy to discover that Stella really likes the green leather also, as it ages beautifully) and was curious why it is rare to see green leather goods. Does it scar easily? Is it difficult to care for? Apparently, there is nothing different with it. Maybe it just has not been trendy. Maybe the big brands statistics show that it is not enough interest to put the money into the green leather items.

Stella told me that green is a well-loved colour among her clientele. It is vegetable tanned leather and vegetable tanned leather ages quite nicely so that it goes darker.  When they were testing their designs in Japan this past year, there was also the feedback from the people there that the vivid colours like the red and green were well liked. You should check out the Stella Soomlais IG feed if you have the time. Some of the custom order colour combinations are unbelievably gorgeous!

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This bag is already on my wish-list! I am loving their greens, and they have wine red and lemon yellowwhich are gorgeous!

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Leather care:  There are many things that customer can do to care for their leather items. Because Stella Soomlais offers after care service, they can see if customer has been really nice to the bag, because the bag looks really nice. Also when the bag has been thrown around or overstuffed and hasn’t had any cream, they can see that too. Example, when the bag is so stuffed that the zipper doesn’t easily close, in the long term that is a problem because it will eventually break the zipper. Also, leather is a bit stretchy, when you use items that have a very direct shape. So, if every day you have many books there, eventually the bag will start to take on a book shape. When putting things in the bag, there are some little tricks that you can do. For example the bookbag, when you pack your bag, consider the corners which need stuff also so that the shape will last longer. If it gets wet in the rain, do not dry it near heat. Vegetable tanned leather does not like water and heat so when you get water and heat together, it goes bad.  Marks from water drops will go away eventually.  Natural vegetable tanned leather also wants cream from time to time. The experts suggest you use it monthly, some say 2 times per annum. So lets say every few months you add cream and when you do add cream, then it’s good to have a little damp cloth to wipe the dust and dirt away before applying the cream, otherwise there is grit between the cream and the leather. Not all creams are good for all leathers. She recommends only natural creams. There’s really only one 100% natural cream in the world. But natural ones. Because many creams have this colour effect and water repellent which adds this coating which doesn’t really help the leather and some of them can dry the leather. Also the sprays – never put the spray directly on the leather without putting this natural cream with it, as the spray also dries the leather. If it’s stained, it’s always good to have a leather cleaning specialist that can help. Take it in as quickly as possible if it is stained. Some stains unfortunately don’t come out. In that case, with their bags it is then possible to add a pocket there or something in worst case scenario. In some cases they have done so that the bag was really clean and then there was something like a paint spot. They couldn’t get it out so then we put a pocket there and it looked really cool. But that’s not something that’s done as a first option. Its like the 2ndstage of one bag that you can put those things and then prolong the life. Never put the leather in wash machine. Certain leather types might survive it, but if you aren’t a specialist, then don’t experiment.

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If you have a vegetable tanned belt that gets a wine spot on it or something, do not use very hot water for cleaning it.  When  the leather comes in contact with water hotter than 70C then the leather shrinks.

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Beeswax is always good for leather. Almost always, but not for oil tanned leather. (So be sure to find out if your leather item is oil or vegetable tanned) When you put beeswax on oil tanned leather, the oil kind of pushes it away so it would be the same affect as if you put candle wax on it. You can get it out by putting it to refrigerator when it gets cold and then wipe it away. But it is not the same effect as when you use beeswax on vegetable tanned leather.

Renting bags to try before purchase. Has it increased sales?  They introduced this possibility when they launched the service. Stella says this is quite popular because it really helps to understand whether the function is the right thing. ‘Even if customers don’t use the rental service, they can still see that we are trying to understand whether the product is right for them. We would rather be sure if this is something that they really want. And its also with sustainability, an issue to buy one item in a longer period of time but buy something that you really love and then you also take better care of it and are more satisfied with it.’ That’s their logic behind it.  This idea originated with her Masters thesis where she wanted to launch a service that would be more like a subscription service where they would offer the bags, and then the customer could rent them and choose colours, and every 3 months a different bag would come. And then when the bag is in not good shape, that’s when they give it the 2ndlife. Clean it, cream it and make it into other products. The market was not ready for that at the time. But they will be doing a new testing for this again in 2020.

Why should people shop Stella Soomlais? ‘We are not going to disappear after the purchase. We offer the aftercare and will be there to support with care and advice. Of course, the initial decision comes with do you like the bag or not? If you do not like the design, then all our other efforts are not important. You should choose us because we do our best to work in a sustainable way. We really try to dig deep into supply chain and to rethink all those design decisions along the way when it comes to our production. And all of the circular economy possibilities. Old habits can be changed and we try to offer an alternative. ‘  This quote is a great way to wrap up this informative interview! I have to add to this that their worldwide shipping rates are incredibly reasonable. Yay! Throughout the process of learning about Stella Soomlais studio, they have gained me as a loyal customer. This is my first purchase and I cannot wait to receive it!

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This is my purchase, in green (of course!).  I think using them as a gift bag that can be used afterwards as a clutch, is a brilliant idea! As for my order however, the bag (Made by Stella’s own hands!) is the goody so I will be clutching-it from the time I open my post package!

Also, just for those who are interested but worry about shipping, Stella’s  EU and International shipping rates are beyond reasonable. (4-8 Euro!) Better rates than even domestic postage is sometimes. Really!

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you learned as much as I did!

-Mliae