Recycling waste may not be a new idea, but two savvy Sunshine Coast sisters with a collective social and environmental conscience have taken the closed loop concept to a whole new level.
Seljak Brand, founded by Karina and Sam Seljak in 2016, produces luxurious and unique wool blankets, woven from factory floor offcuts and textile waste.
With 50 stockists throughout Australia and New Zealand – including retailer giants David Jones and The Iconic – as well as a distributor in Japan and an expanding international market, Seljak Brand is fast becoming known for its ethically produced high-end designs.
In keeping with the brand’s social conscience, five dollars from the sale of each blanket is donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). This is a cause close to the sisters’ hearts, as their grandparents were refugees from Slovenia after the Second World War.
Waste is sourced from wool mills in Australia and Europe. At first, a 150-year-old mill in Tasmania alone supplied the offcuts, but the sisters had to go global when that waste started to run out. They discovered a factory in Lithuania that collects its own textile waste and that of other mills in Europe.
“Lithuania has a rich textiles history and industry,” Karina tells salt. “By working in Europe, we were able to work with textile waste that was pulled from 16 wool mills, so that kind of scale is what we needed.
“But also, the expertise in Europe with textiles and the equipment means that the range of design options also opened up to us, and we were able to start creating art works in our blankets, rather than just block colours or stripes. It’s such a lovely process designing the blankets; each of them speaks to an Australian landscape that inspires us.”
Each mill the sisters work with plays a unique role in the circular production process. At the Tasmanian mill, factory floor offcuts and old blankets – including Seljak blankets that can be returned at the end of their lives – are collected and ripped up in an industrial ragging machine into small fibres of consistent size and shape. A carding machine cleans and makes the fibres parallel, before they are spun into yarn, using a small amount of polyester so the recycled fibres have something to grab on to. The fibres are then dyed and the yarn woven into fabric, milled and dried, before the finishing touches such as fringing, whipstitching and labelling are added.
Another Australian mill in Geelong, Victoria, that specialises in commercial and domestic upholstery and apparel fabrics, weaves the brand’s Rugged range using deadstock yarn – yarn that has been over-ordered and that would otherwise go to landfill.
In Italy, Seljak Brand uses yarn made from post-consumer textiles waste – discarded clothing like old woollen jumpers. These are recycled into new yarn at mills in a textile region near Florence, where the garments are sorted into colours, material type and fibre quality, before being ragged, shredded and spun into new yarn.
The Lithuanian mill uses Italian machinery to produce high-quality textiles from the factory floor offcuts of 16 mills around Europe. The mill is also home to a specialty Jacquard loom, which means abstract patterns and intricate designs can be woven into the blankets.
Karina explains that the collaboration between her and her sister was based on a shared passion for the power of social enterprise, after their individual careers saw them gravitate to imagining a “closed loop” economy.
Karina’s double degree in fashion design and business, combined with Sam’s double degree in journalism and business, made the sisters well qualified for the task. With Karina’s love of natural fibres and a shared passion for more sustainable production, Seljak Brand evolved naturally.
“There’s a durability element, and people form emotional connections with their blankets, so it’s just a really great way to communicate that philosophy of thinking of more circular ways of how we’re treating the things in our lives,” Karina tells salt.
“And that is therefore having less impact on the world around us, in the way that we’re extracting less resources, polluting less and so on.”
Karina explains that they see the way forward as not just working with waste, but about considering more circular systems. They are currently researching regenerative wool farming, where they are focussing on more sustainable production of the raw material itself.
“It’s really interesting to think about the lineage of circular thinking,” she says. “It’s not new in a sense, because it’s so obvious, and it’s the way our grandparents were thinking.
“For our grandparents and great grandparents it was wartime that was pushing them; for us, it’s really a climate change situation.
“It really is the legacy of our grandparents and the values we watched them live by that inspired us and is a shared thing between my sister and I, even though we’ve got different skills and work in complementary ways.”