FK chats to the lovely Jen from her ethical online shop, Bluecaravan
Tell us a bit about Bluecaravan, and the concept behind the online store.
Bluecaravan is Australia’s first (possibly the world’s first?) online ethical design marketplace that showcases a super-lovely curated range of contemporary products. We support direct trade with young and emerging designers, we insist on ethical production practices both locally and overseas, and we love sweat-free and fairtrade certification. The idea behind Bluecaravan is to repackage ‘ethical’ as an edgy, contemporary, quirky and beautiful concept, and show people that making good choices in the way they buy is much easier than they think. By creating a community of ethical designers, we hope to make that totally easy! Style, and ethics don’t have to be distant cousins… Bluecaravan is so very much not about guilt tripping into buying things that ‘you should…”, it’s about buying great products because you love them, and walking away with a big fat ethical bonus!
You describe the shop as an ethical design market. What are the requirements of designers being stocked on Bluecaravan, and why do you think this is important?
For a designer to be accepted to sell on Bluecaravan, firstly their design aesthetic needs to meet ours. If their style suits, then we step through the ethical criteria. The term ‘ethical’ is broad and overused, so we have drawn a very clear line in the sand. On Bluecaravan ‘ethical’ refers first and foremost to production practice. In other words… is a 100% organic hemp piece of clothing made in a chinese sweat-shop ‘ethical’ ? No! It may be is ‘eco’, but it’s not ‘ethical’. (Yes, there are many products on BC that are both ‘eco’ and ‘ethical’). We love handmade (of course), and we consider a direct relationship between an employee and a designer creating small runs ethical. Beyond that, any factories used would need to be certified ‘sweat-free’. We love fairtrade, and are totally inspired by designers who have been able to create co-ops, or engage communities in creating their products – but only when it is direct. As soon as there is a ‘middle man’ creaming off all the profits, you simply end up with (or create great potential for) a remote series of ‘sweat-shops’ – whether that is in a western country or a developing country (NB Australian sweat-shops are a huge problem – see Ethical Clothing Australia).
What were you doing before Bluecaravan and what lead you to get started?
Before starting Bluecaravan I was studying sustainable design, after having finished a degree in politics and community development – while being ‘home’ with the kidlets. We have lived in the Byron hinterland for about 13 years, and back in Sydney I did in-house graphic design and desktop publishing for a company in Surry Hills… I’ve always had an interest in design, and very much believe in the transformative potential of alternative economies. The handmade movement is a case in point. It really was a culmination of all the different interests and education in my life that led me to start Bluecaravan. Absolutely a love job that I totally believe in.
When did you launch your online store and what was the motivation?
Bluecaravan celebrated it’s official first birthday (of the online store) last July, but we were ‘live’ for 6 months before that. The motivation of creating the online store was to create a backbone for an active community. We have a number of new features on the site to further build that community, but are holding tight till the new year for a wee little ‘re-launch’ (Shhh).
What makes your store unique?
Bluecaravan is unique in lots of ways. We are the first large scale Australian online ‘marketplace’ that is curated and design based. We are also the only Australian (possibly international) marketplace that is based on ethical design. That is, all our products have been MADE ethically and are motivated by good design. There is enough ‘loose hemp fashion’ out there, so we’ve made a particular point of being ethical… in a different way.
What do you look for in the products you stock at Bluecaravan?
When choosing designers to be a part of Bluecaravan, we look for all the ethical criteria as described above, but we are also looking for unique, beautiful, well made products that haven’t saturated the market. Even the wonderful world of handmade can get a bit ‘tired’ or repetitive (until the next pioneers strut their stuff), so we really want to keep it… fresh. Also, by introducing products and “slow” fashion that is made on a larger scale (ie not always exclusively by the designer alone) we’ve discovered a whole other world of amazing limited edition sustainable design.
What is the hardest part about running a business, and what do you love the most?
The hardest part about running Bluecaravan is easily the issue of TIME. The weeks are so damn short! We have a little team on the job, but it’s just about time to start expanding (yikes). The part I like best is seeing nervous designers coming in to ‘test’ their product and getting great results with both sales and the press. Immensely satisfying seeing the process at work. I have to admit, I love all the positive feedback too!