Anne and Gary Moore run a brand Wagtail Design that creates vegan everyday products for everyday people who care about cultural, ecological, ethical and economic sustainability, products that will last a lifetime. They reflect, among other things, on what were the reasons establishing the brand, what does sustainability and thoughtful living mean to them, and how to stay alive as a sustainable brand in the post-covid world.
Anne and Gary, how do you define yourselves?
We, together, are just a very normal and loving married couple, who through our shared values and knowledge developed a deep desire to live and educate ourselves toward a more sustainable and cruelty free lifestyle. Maybe in some degree we are knowledgist’s, in that we are constantly seeking to expand, understand, and help others to see and appreciate the opportunities, possibilities and options of a sustainable way of living.
What is veganism for you?
One of us is a vegan, and one accidently mostly vegan. Veganism is a choice that comes with a sustainable and health conscious way of living, and respect for the equality of everything that shares this planet with us.
What were your reasons being establishing the brand Wagtail Design?
Wagtail Design, was to be honest, a happy accident. Gary’s family had a long history in the leather industry, with shoe and leather repair shops in very run down and poor areas of Liverpool, England before and after the World War 2. Gary started working there at the age of four years old, at weekends and school holidays, as a floor sweeper. The traditional hand making processes and repair techniques to get the longest possible use out of everything has stuck with him until this day. But leather was just not our thing, even though we know all the points and arguments of the leather making industry and have many makers as contacts and friends. So one day while walking through the forest that surrounds our home, and is where we often find our best inspiration, the idea was born to find the most sustainable option, and the search for this knowledge began. There are now many options, but cork stood out to us as the best choice for where we wanted to go, and also the totally hand made (no machines, no waste, no carbon production) methods we use.
Cork oak trees are not damaged or cut down to harvest cork. The trees have a typical life span of over 250 to 350 years. Regular harvesting of the bark of the cork oak tree about every 9 years actually contributes to the health and long life of the tree. Like other trees, cork trees convert CO2 into oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. However, they also sequester, or capture and store, additional CO2 each time bark is harvested and regrown. This is referred to as “carbon fixing”, as more CO2 is captured than an average tree, and can help combat high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Harvested cork trees are estimated to absorb 3 to 5 times more than un-harvested trees. This happens due to the extraction of the bark, which simulates growth of a new layer for protection, thus capturing more CO2 with each harvest. It is estimated that from the 2.3 million hectares of cork forests around the globe, 14.4 million tons CO2 per year are retained.
Each and every product is made completely by hand, by Gary in our workshop in Kangasala, Finland, with basic hand tools, all stitching is traditional hand saddle stitching, with two needle’s and a thread, no machines are used.
The most challenging part at the beginning of Wagtail design was the knowledge of how to work with the cork material; even there is evidence of cork being used by the people of Ancient Egypt and in Roman civilization, techniques for cork used as a vegan replacement of leather for everyday items was not that common knowledge. But learning from mistakes is often the best way. The organic, and vegan wax mix that smoothens, shines and seals the edges of most of our products took 8 months and many failures to get exactly what we wanted.
But this has been also one of the most empowering things, as our line and techniques were perfected, many other crafters from all over the world, including many leather crafters have requested information, and education through videos on our techniques so they also can offer vegan alternatives. Love that, and this knowledge we share freely for the good of all and promotion of vegan products.
What does sustainability, thoughtful living and beauty mean to you, also in your daily life?
Sustainability and thoughtful living in most ways is one and the same thing, the two are so intertwined. For us, both mean that in every stage of what we do, we follow our principles with a passion and design everything around that, from the supply of our raw materials, PETA approved vegan cork, which is a hand harvested sustainable naturel resource, from FSC® certified cork oak forests, to the design and hand crafting process which produce an item that will last and last while giving joy to the user, but can also be recycled at the end of its very long lifecycle.
Beauty, well that’s a question, to me I see beauty in everything around me, sometimes I will find myself just staring at the patterns in the natural and rustic cork and marveling at what nature can do, this is also why a lot of our designs are maybe called ‘simple’, they are that way for a reason, to accentuate the ways of nature, as nothing I will ever design will be as beautiful and diverse as that. Every time you look at the cork you will see different shapes, different contours, and different charm. Another key to beauty is that you will never find it in the screen of any device because you are looking I the wrong place, don’t let google tell you where to see it, it is everywhere else just look up and see it.
What makes you buy? What are your both buying and consuming principles?
Only necessity makes us buy. But then there are choices to be made, durability, minimal waste and packaging, is it recyclable, compostable, and cruelty-free? What is the best alternative for sustainability be that human, cultural, social, economic, and mostly ecological. In a way it’s not so easy, but its getting better as more companies introduce more options and I totally understand people who just cant be bothered with all that, they are consumed with many other pressures, this is why brands like ours have to make sustainable living more accessible and convenient. As we are both ‘quite handy’ repair is a big plus, but if item is no longer repairable, then it will be recycled.
What are the main ways both producers like brand makers and designers, and consumers can contribute to positive environmental and social impact?
It’s more down to the consumer, money talks, if they want more choices to contribute to change, most producers will inevitably follow. But until then there will be, and are pioneers who will open the market, and educated, but it is a very costly, slow and long road. Fast ‘fashion’ will still dominate and continue its non sustainable way for many years to come, every now and again they will throw out a ‘woke’ idea from their marketing departments to look like they ‘care’ but until their shareholders hurt, it will be just a PR stunt to ‘please those kind of people’. But every little helps to touch more people.
The Covid-19 has redefined the economic, political and social landscape. How to stay alive as a sustainable brand in the post-covid world? Also, how to pursue sustainability in the post-covid world?
I am sure we are all looking forward to a post-covid world, and we wish everyone out there a safe and healthy time until then. Obviously we hope that any post-covid re-set will bring a greater mindfulness of the fragility of our species and its supposed dominance of this planet, and drive awareness of more healthy practices and sustainable ways. But really, I would maybe like to answer this question when we are finally through it, as I just don’t have the knowledge of where we will be, and if or when it will end. The Ebers Papyrus the most extensive and best-preserved record of Ancient Egyptian medicine known was written in about 1500 BC and describes flu and the common cold, both of which have no cure, yet, so Covid, well…?
What creative activists, sustainable designers, sustainable entrepreneurs, etc would you say have influenced you the most, and why?
To be perfectly honest, none, we have not had and have no need for a TV for a very, very long time, we only use our devices for communication, brand and personal, so in a way we are quite separated, concentrate and follow our own path, not what someone else is doing, wrongly or correctly? Most of our education, knowledge and maybe influence comes from traditional hand making, and a time when things were made to last, that is more important to us as individuals and a brand. But that certainly doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate every brand that is out there forging a sustainable and better future path, we do, and wish them a successful future.
What’s next up for you?
We are really still at the beginning of our journey, so building our well educated and knowledgeable customer base is of course key, but my hope would be to have the time to help and educate other small dedicated makers around the world of the possibilities of using the traditional hand crafting skills to produce more sustainable material options for their products and help spread the knowledge.
We are in the process of introducing a series of ‘design it yourself’ products too, this is the great benefit of a smaller, hand making business, the customer can choose any colour or pattern to the outside and the lining of their item, or the two side to their earrings, and I will make exactly what they want.
Our big dream is to open a destination store where we can show the creation of each product right in front of the customer, to educate the differences, and advantages of a fully hand made, sustainable design, sustainable material, no waste, local production, and carbon free construction process, with enough space to offer other skilled true hand crafters a place to be and do the same.