Here at Who’d Have Thought we love it when a material is discovered to have a second life long after its first has passed. And who knew that sails had such a short first life – some only a few years, some a few races and then others, only one race. The worst thing is they all end up in landfill unless someone like German-born Sydney-based designer Gabriele Jordan gets her hands on them.
Although she has never sailed before (until recently) and knew nothing about sails, Gabriele’s extensive experience in textiles and design, as a costume maker then as an interior and furniture designer, has been invaluable in helping her design and produce unique bags and homewares out of discarded sails.
‘The spirit of directing a boat through the ocean shouldn’t be buried in the soil if it has a chance to get a second wind on land,’ says Gabriele who is not only passionate about saving sails but creating long-lasting, durable and stylish products under the name Nanu. And we loved her work so much, we are stocking some of her wares on the store!
Here, Gabriele talks about what it means to resurrect a sail and being committed to sustainability.
You’ve never sailed before but now you are making products from sailcloth! Tell us a bit about your background and how have you ended up where you are today.
My move from the Swiss mountains into the sailing-dominated city of Sydney gave me the opportunity to meet people in the sailing community. There, I learnt that sails are frequently exchanged in order to perfect a boat’s performance and those sails are then simply dumped into landfill. As sails are basically high-quality plastic, it takes up to 600 years for them to break down, meaning every sail that was ever produced since 1950 when synthetic was introduced is still on this planet!
With my background as a tailor and interior designer, I was interested in the material and tried experimenting with it. I started making beach and shopping bags for myself but as word travels fast, I soon had to expand my production. After only two years, we have grown to be a manufacturer, distributor and wholesaler with countless happy customers. The feedback so far has been absolutely amazing.
Sustainability and respecting the natural environment is clearly important to you. Tell us how you ensure you follow these principles in your work, work practices and home life?
Our philosophy at home has always been: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. When we go shopping, we avoid packaged things and try to buy local and fresh produce. We use our own sailcloth shopping bags to avoid the plastic bags. Recycling is important but actually we need to stop producing products that are not biodegradable. At home we use kitchen biological waste to grow fertile soil for the garden and recycle paper, cardboard, glass and plastic or aluminum products.
Leather from a fifth-generation Sydney tannery
Regarding work practices and the philosophy of the business, we firstly ensure that all materials are sourced from Australia. The leather comes from a five-generation family-owned tannery in Sydney and for the little leather details on the bags we use offcuts, which are perfectly fine in terms of quality but they would have simply been thrown away. If it is just you trying to make a difference, it may seem as if nothing is happening. It’s like being one little fragile snowflake. But by spreading the idea and growing, the snowflake can turn into an avalanche of changes. It just takes time.
Tell us about the sails you use and where you source them from.
All the sails that are used are recycled. They have been sailing the Sydney harbour and have been replaced by new ones due to a few outworn or stressed patches on the sail. Every sail has a point where the wind stresses the sail the hardest and it is this point that wears out faster than the rest of the sail. It can be torn apart, ripped and broken in the middle but around it the rest of the sail is almost new.
As I meet a lot of people who sail casually or competitively, I am spreading the word about not dumping old sails but giving us a call for collection. Various sail makers, boat owners and yacht clubs are now calling regularly and supplying us with material.
Tell us a bit about the creative process that goes into designing your products?
Our products are all based on the characteristics of the sailcloth. The strong, light material is perfect for creating strong, light products such as bags or soft furniture. I personally like the tactile experience of leather, hence it is used as handles of a bag or other places that are touched frequently. Additionally, the pattern and features of a sail such as tell-tails (a piece of yarn attached to the sail), numbers and letters define whether the sail turns into a bag, a coffee table or laptop cover.
What I always ask myself when creating a product is how I can simplify the form and produce a practical and functional product with an appealing and sophisticated design.
You’ve not only set up a new business in a new country but are working in an industry in which you have never worked before. What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
It is not entirely correct to say that I have never worked in this industry before. Over the time of my career, I have worked as a tailor and costume designer [for the National State Opera in Munich] as well as an interior and product designer. Creating an atmosphere in an architectural space as well as designing products that influence our everyday life in a positive way has always been a passion of mine and part of my work.
NANU has given me the opportunity to join my life experiences and combine all my skills into one project. Moving across the world is a massive challenge but it also gives you the chance to press the refresh button.
What advice would you give others wanting to embark on a similar journey?
You simply have to love what you do.
Is there something you would like to make from sailcloth that you haven’t made yet?
Of course! There are a lot of products in my head but running a business requires a lot of administrative work which doesn’t leave much time for designing. The fun part of designing is only the tip of the iceberg.
The best part of living in Sydney is …
The combination of its urban flair and stunning nature.
It’s not very cool, but I really like…
The worm farm in my garden.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Always! That’s the beauty of life and what keeps me going. It keeps me flexible and curious, gives me energy for next projects and makes me aware of how life is a river that changes.
Thanks so much Gabriele!