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Interview: Joanne Crocker | Trash Garden

Joanne Crocker of upcycled homewares Trash Garden

Joanne Crocker of upcycled homewares studio Trash Garden in a market in Dubai

Who wouldn’t love to incorporate travel as part of their job? Now I’m not talking ditching one’s day job for a life in the air as cabin crew. I’m talking creating your own line of cushions, rugs and ottomans using beautiful upcycled textiles and getting to visit India, Europe and the Middle East in the process.

Sydney-based Joanne Crocker of Trash Garden is getting to do all this and more since she took the leap and started her own business a few years ago. With a background in interior design and the homewares industry, Joanne had the perfect credentials to fashion her own brand based upon her own passions: the hatred of waste and a love of upcycling.

I managed to nab Joanne in-between her global travels to find out more about her and the business behind Trash Garden.

Upcycled cushions by Trash Garden

Selection of cushions made from upcycled denim and leather

Please introduce yourself – what’s your background and how have you ended up where you are today?

I began in the homewares industry very young, straight out of school. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to an amazing Design College in North Sydney and by the age of 20 I had completed my Diploma in Interior Design. By 21 I was working with a large homewares retailer and became the Buyer and Product Developer.

It was there that I spent the following 13 years travelling the globe sourcing, designing and developing products to suit the Australian market. I witnessed a lot of waste and watched many designers and manufacturers create things with no regard to the effect it had on our planet and I knew there had to be a better way!

It’s been a really enjoyable and adventurous journey that has bought me to where I am today. We are still a very young and small business but we have big plans. A number of like-minded and passionate people have helped make this project happen and while we’re not all extremist greenies we do care enough to make enough small changes that will make a significant difference!

Ottomans from Trash Garden

Tell us about the materials used in your cushions and rugs i.e. where do you source them from, where do you get them made in India, how eco-friendly are they?

The Trash Garden Homewares collection uses reclaimed materials like denim, leather, sari silk, hemp and fabric remnants. Every product is unique and tells a story and every piece has a character like no other conventional product. Thankfully we have a group of really great artisans in Bhadohi, India who source all of the materials that go into making our products. The region is famous for rug making and is about a one hour drive from Varanasi.

Joanne Crocker of Trash Garden in India

Joanne in India

The reclaimed materials we use have had a long first life before they are laundered, cut up and sewn or tufted into a rug or a cushion. The majority of our rugs, cushions and ottomans are about 90 per cent upcycled or recycled. Occasionally we need to use a canvas backing on our rugs or on a cushion or we may need jute or thread for stitching so in order to get consistency we use new materials but when this is essential we make a point of using natural or sustainable materials.

We sea-freight the cushion covers flat to avoid excessive airfreight emissions  and we fill them here in Sydney with a recycled PET bottle cushion fill that is manufactured here. It’s a relatively lengthy process that takes four to five months from the moment the materials are sourced in India until the time they are ready for sale here in Australia.

We’re always trying to grow the Trash Garden collection and want to introduce new things at every opportunity we get. At the moment we’re in the process of launching our first handbag collection which we’re making in Mexico with ring pulls from cans. We’ve also been on the hunt for new materials for the homewares collection, such as men’s ties, corduroy, old sweaters and coloured denim so we should have some new rugs and cushions to launch later in the year too!

Joanne Crocker of Trash Garden

Joanne on a work trip to India

Why are you passionate about upcycling?

It’s the perfect way for us as consumers to get what we want while giving our planet a little push in the right direction! We can save things from heading to landfill, we don’t need to create excessive greenhouse gas emissions in the production phase, we don’t need to exhaust our planet of its already dwindling resources and we can support designers, artisans and craftsman all round the world rather than plastic products coming off the production line in their millions. It’s a win-win for everyone! We can have something that is designed and made with a little more heart and is considerably more interesting and unique than the norm.

Trash Garden cushions

What have been some of the challenges you faced in setting up your own business? What’s one piece of advice you would give to others wanting to do the same?

Time – there’s never enough of it! When you start out you try and do everything yourself and it can be incredibly consuming. You have to live and breathe your little creation, but the satisfaction in doing something that you’re passionate about and you truly believe in is immensely rewarding.

If I had one piece of advice it would be to remember to enjoy the journey! Running your own business can be an enormous amount of work and success doesn’t always come quickly, we’re often striving to hit a benchmark or reach a goal and it’s easy to get lost in it all while you’re trying to get there. Try and enjoy each and every day; the journey is just as important as the destination.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Well, I don’t have a lot of it these days. If I can squeeze in a 20-minute pedicure I’m usually pretty happy … haha! I run or train for about 45 minutes every day and absolutely love to travel and discover new places. I’m fortunate enough that my career has taken me to some really amazing little pockets of the world. My partner is an artist so when we’re in sunny Sydney we love to spend our Sundays visiting our local art galleries and if I can squeeze in a really good coffee while soaking up some sunshine, I’m a pretty happy girl!

What was the last thing you upcycled?

Ummm … it probably sounds a little weird but I found some disposable plastic sandwich trays from Subway that were destined for the bin and painted them with chalkboard paint to display products on at the markets. They look great and we can write pricing and little tips on the front of them with chalk and change it up each week. I’ve also been experimenting with wine bottles, beer bottles and jam jars lately. The possibilities are endless … glassware, candles, succulent planters, lighting! Hopefully we can work towards something else for Trash Garden later in the year.

Trash Garden upcycled rug collection

Upcycled rug collection

Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?

I have lots of them! Too many to count. I love being part of the upcycling world and discovering other amazing things that people have made or are working on. It’s truly inspiring and nice to know that there are so many other like-minded people out there trying to do their little bit. Our trip to Germany last month to see the ‘Young Creations Upcycling Design Exhibition’ was full of little moments like: “Really? You mean that was a fire extinguisher? Wow … Who’d have thought?”

Love Joanne’s Subway lunch tray upcycling idea – might have to try that myself! 

Thanks Joanne for your time and inspiration! And we’ve got some of her cushions in the store so pop on over to have a browse …

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