FK chats to artist Ruth Allen about her wonderful sustainable glass venture, Sustainable Stubbies
What a great label! Where did the idea come from and what were you doing before Sustainable Stubbies?
Sustainable Stubbies was born from a financial freak-out. My partner and I bought a warehouse in Coburg, Melbourne in August 2010. Since my art school days it has been a dream of mine to one day have my own studio from which to create work. Hot glass is an expensive endeavour requiring specialized equipment, lots of gas, raw materials and wages for assistance. Primarily being self-employed I needed to create a clever business quickly to cope with the new overheads.
I have been working with glass for more than 23 years, over this time my focus has been mastering Venetian techniques and finding my own expressive language. I created limited edition designs, executed commissions and large scaled installation works that often involved kinetics, light and sensory stimulants. I have travelled, participated in workshops, undertaken residencies, taught and exhibited nationally and internationally.
Who are the team behind Sustainable Stubbies and what are their roles?
The stubbies were launched at the Brunswick Music Festival Street Party March last year, so it is a relatively new venture. Not knowing how they would be received I began by asking friends to help me for several hours on their days off. We brazenly launched into processes, I taught them the basics about glass and proto-typed forms, functions, systems and methodologies. In return they would have a go, spin their own stubby, this was great fun as well as helping to feed their understanding and enthusiasm for more. At some point the stubbies were selling consistently enough for me to pay them. After experiencing the Christmas frenzy I have recently extended the team to include a bottle washer/cutter and my partner who is building systems of efficiency and new equipment to enable the business to expand.
What do you love about working with glass? And what are some of the challenges?
I’ve loved hot glass from the moment I saw it. The potential of the material is infinite, the fact that the material is liquid gives it insurmountable versatility, anything is possible making the scope for creativity thrilling and challenging.
Access to equipment and space has always been the restriction; it is costly to hire time in an equipped hot glass studio, which of course bumps up retail value on everything made. This is why we decided to buy a large space and make the studio in house and permanent, the security of this is vital to developing a strong business. The equipment is all specialised, we have custom built everything, and this process is extremely challenging as well as being extremely rewarding.
What has been some rewarding moments since you started Sustainable Stubbies?
One of the most rewarding elements of the business is that the community are in the spirit. The builder came over to repair our roof and with him he brought a box of empties, last meeting with my promotional designer I walked away with a box of empties, the local café, pub & bar diligently collect for me, our neighbours, friends, clients do drop offs each week, it’s truly beautiful.
And in this way I have enjoyed developing the business with the people around me. In many instances the public/friends have directed the creation of new designs ‘Do you make …..?’ ‘Can you make…? ‘Yes’ would most likely be the answer ‘be ready by next week’. The process itself has also indicated new possibilities, I am currently developing a jewellery range, which uses the top of the bottle; the screw section is cut off to form a bead and those beads strung to create neckpieces and earrings. I am excited by the possibilities and potential of the business, I strangely continue to be delighted by bottles and fall asleep dreaming of grand designs.
What advice can you offer to other labels trying to be more sustainable?
There is great blessing in being humble. If I was not pushed I would never have become as resourceful as I have. After investing 23 dedicated years into learning specialized techniques and discovering a personal expression, it is a very humbling decision to dumpster dive and transform the manufactured bottle into something new. There is such wealth in re-cycling, re-using, reclaiming and I believe this is what ‘we’ as public want. We have had our new designer goods, slick and off the rack, it is now time for people to live with objects that reflect our consciousness. I know that I feel great when drinking from a stubby, it is not just a glass, or a recycled bottle it is a concept. A concept that I believe contributes to transforming the culture and conversation of our time.
What aspirations do you have for Sustainable Stubbies in the future?
We have grand plans. We are currently building new equipment to cater for larger items such as long necks and wine & spirit bottles, these I would like to transform into vases and jugs to make sets with the stubbies. I am also visualising lighting, the larger scale will make the lamp and sconces a possibility and open up an entire new portal for the chandelier range. It has always been high on the list, to create lighting, glass loves light and successful works have the capacity to manipulate the mood of spaces, it is a very powerful tool.
I also aspire to making Sustainable Stubbies run smoothly on it’s own. There are so many things to create and be involved with in this world, I would like to set up the systems, manage the business and employ people to do the work. That reality is a long way from now but I think it is a healthy destination.