Charlotte French has always been an artistic person, using her creative talents wherever possible. But she also has a strong passion for sustainability and using eco-friendly products. We find out more about Charlotte’s work and how she implements her eco-friendly philosophies in her business.
Charlotte, you’ve always been a creative person and spent 8 years designing and manufacturing teddy bears. Tell us about that part of your life.
I started sewing as a young teenager and wanted to be a designer. I finished the tertiary course and planned to enter the designer college in Stockholm. During holidays, I went travelling to Australia – and of course, I fell in love.
Once the kids were at school, I had to do something with myself, so I decided to make little calico dolls and get a bit crafty. Then I saw calico bears in a shop and thought I could make those, so I did. I discovered a magazine with proper bears, fully jointed in the old style, and I thought that’s what I should do.
So I registered a business, bought a heap of fur, and dived in head first. I sold the bears worldwide … hundreds and hundreds of them! I’ve got koalas in Alaska, brown bears in Russia … I’ve got bears all over the world. Two and a half years ago, I got a big order for 100 koalas for a company in America called Abercrombie & Fitch. That was a huge job.
All the bears are hand made, and each koala has 13 body pieces. I design them myself, so they’ve got to be drawn up, cut out, trimmed, stitched, turned, stuffed and fully jointed. Then I did polymer hand sculpted noses on every single one of them. After 8 years of making teddy bears, my knuckles were aching a little bit and my eyes were tired, so I decided to have a break.
By this point, my husband, Wayne’s, art was going so well, that he wanted an art gallery. So that was the next adventure …
Tell us about Greenroom Gallery – how it began and the ethos behind the store.
It’s been roughly 18 months since we opened Greenroom Gallery at The Promenade. We wanted to have a store that would display Wayne’s art and also house sustainable clothing, because that was something I was passionate about.
And I guess that was the challenge – to unite the two.
I wanted the name Greenroom – that was just a word I liked. We used to joke, because Wayne has surfed all his life and I haven’t, and the greenroom is obviously when you’re in the wave. So Wayne always used to say, “I’ll see you in the Greenroom … me looking out, you looking in.”
So I always wanted Greenroom, and the word Greenroom is really tying in thinking more about sustainability and making better choices, along with the waves that Wayne loves and paints.
The shop only stocks eco-friendly and ethical products. Why is this important to you?
I was on the net one day looking up beeswax candles, and suddenly I discovered a heap of information about commercial cotton … and that was it. I was completely convinced that we needed to buy organic cotton and fibres. Out of everything that gets harvested in the world, only 3% is cotton, and that 3% uses 25% of all the pesticides in the world, so it’s very bad. So I only have organic cotton in my shop, along with renewable and eco-friendly fibres like bamboo, silk, linen and hemp.
When you grow a fibre, there are really two main things to think about – growing and harvesting and then manufacturing the fibre. When it comes to growing, hemp and bamboo are possibly the best. Bamboo and hemp grow really fast, and you don’t actually have to spray or water them.
We don’t realise how many chemicals go into fibres. The worst part is when you grow it, because the chemicals go out into the waterways. Then when you manufacture all fibres, there is a chemical process … linen and hemp are probably the best, because the fibre is IN the stalk. When it comes to manufacturing, I’ve learnt so much in the last two years.
When I buy clothing for the store, it has to fit in with the concept of fair labour and be eco-friendly. No fibre is perfect, but it’s a better way of doing fibres. So I go worldwide and find little obscure labels that are trying to do something better.
I stock Australian labels as well, among others exclusive to Coffs Harbour, like ‘Bodypeace’, a new label by a designer in Byron Bay. One of my favourites is hempage from Germany – natural hemp in eco friendly dyes. In Europe and the US, eco friendly fashion is big and ever growing.
You also paint some of the garments you have in store and sell them with your designs on them. Tell us about these.
I have a little work room where I used to make my teddy bears, and I paint in there on a Sunday. It’s therapeutic for me; I never really know what the garment is going to look like until it’s finished. I do mainly paint, including singlets, scarves, T-shirts, babywear etc. It just adds a nice bit of colour to the garments. For the babywear, I’ve done something different, including painting some owls and simple designs. It’s getting to the stage where anything that’s plain I’ll pick up and paint!
If you visit Greenroom Gallery you’ll realise that from art to gifts and clothing we are all about colour, creativity and making waves for change.