Sustainable. Responsible. Ethical. Those are pretty much the perfect words to describe sustainable South African lifestyle brand The Joinery, in a nutshell. However, just three words simply will not do as the brand is so much more than that. Founded and run by sisters Natalie and Kim Ellis, The Joinery places ethical consciousness at the core of everything they do, stating “We believe in being kind to the planet and fair to our people”.

I first discovered The Joinery whilst shopping in a local boutique in Durban where I stumbled upon their gorgeous tote bags that boldly proclaim “Do something. Anything.”, a statement I later discovered to be the brand’s manifesto. It was this resounding call to action that initially caught my attention, however as I did more research into the brand later that day I quickly became obsessed.

The Joinery pride themselves in designing and creating tailored sustainable products and ethical fashion items whilst striving for a luxury design aesthetic with an African conscience. Consumers are more empowered than ever before, but with this power comes the responsibility of making a difference through purchasing choices and the decision to support the slow fashion industry which believes purchases should be impactful, rather than harmful to people and the environment. In this way, The Joinery provide an alternative to fast fashion and throw away products. Both the brand’s products and fashion collections are produced by sewing cooperatives and artisans situated in and around the townships of Cape Town, with the brand focused on using eco-friendly fabrics such as tencel, linen, rayon and hemp. Furthermore, The Joinery use fibres that are grown without the use of toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that pose a threat to the natural environment.

A week after discovering this brand with a passion for sustainability and conscious consumption I was delighted to discover that same gorgeous grey tote bag I had discovered in the boutique amongst my birthday gifts. If I remember correctly I literally squealed with delight, examining every inch of the bag with great appreciation. Lifting the tag attached to the handle I read how The Joinery had conceptualized the fabric used to create the tote themselves and that it was made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. I was amazed that the sturdy grey felt-like fabric could feel so soft yet be made entirely from recycled plastic. The brand had by this stage officially won my heart.

Not only do The Joinery save plastic from landfills to create their stunning, upcycled products and apparel, but the brand also works with suppliers that share their commitment to the planet by using practices that reduce their carbon footprint, using carbon-neutral or carbon-negative materials where possible. The Joinery are truly forerunners within the sustainable product and fashion realm, winning the 2017 PETCO award for ‘Best Product using recycled PET’ as well as winning the award for ‘Eco Innovation’ at the recent Eco Logic Awards. As if these weren’t enough, The Joinery is on the board of Fashion Revolution, South Africa, a global movement in over 80 countries worldwide dedicated to educating consumers on asking the questions “Who made my clothes?” and “What are my clothes made of?”.

As I’m sure many of you are wondering, the name The Joinery stems from Natalie and Kim’s belief in collaboration and community. They believe in working together with artists, designers and artisans to create durable, environmentally conscious fashion items and products, whilst empowering local communities by creating employment. The Joinery is about uniting like-minded individuals who share their passion for creating, experimenting and finding solutions for sustainable fashion and products.

Of course, running a business as innovative as The Joinery isn’t without it’s challenges. As Kim explains, “The route we have chosen to be sustainable is the road less travelled and we are often faced with numerous challenges. Sourcing organic, natural and recycled fabrics is challenging here in South Africa. Our planet has reached a tipping point, and there is now no alternative but to move towards sustainable fashion”. Another major challenge the brand faces is the intense gang warfare and crime in the areas where it’s sewing co-operatives are located. As the sisters explain, it is something that they must work around and have always found a way to do so, often organizing transport for their ladies to visit them in studio for meetings or reverting to FaceTime.

Despite these challenges, The Joinery firmly believe that the partnerships they forge with the people that produce their products are an important element of their approach. For The Joinery, working with local artisans is not only about creating economic empowerment but also about preserving the legacy of craftsmanship that is continuously threatened by the proliferation of fast fashion. Thus, ‘handmade’ and ‘local’ is what The Joinery pride themselves in having mastered. The brand’s vision is one of social and economic empowerment whilst maintaining centuries of traditions, knowing that by creating local products by local artisans, they are investing in a legacy.

Speaking about where they consider South Africa to be on the ‘slow fashion map’, the sisters speak about how in South Africa we are blessed with an industry that allows one to play and experiment while embracing the journey, allowing them access to collaborate with raw, original talent. As Kim states, “South Africa is inspired, it’s real and raw and designers are making it happen. There is a bubble up movement from street to studio. It’s unapologetic, refreshing and authentic and very focused on sustainable eco design”. In terms of the South African consumer, Natalie goes on to explain, “South Africans, we feel, have realized that we have reached the tipping point; consumers, producers and retailers are all realizing that there is no alternative but to start thinking sustainably, we cannot ignore it any longer”. Natalie also makes mention of how consumers are realizing how much better they feel purchasing items that have a positive retraceable story and how they have the power to ask the right questions to get large retailers to sit up and take notice. Today, the power truly lies with the consumer.

So, where does one even begin to choose when it comes to The Joinery’s extensive fashion and product offering? I truly believe that this is a brand that has a piece that will uniquely speak to every individual, just like my tote bag stood out to me. In terms of products, the brand offers everything from bags, laptop covers, and card holders to travel tags and slippers. The Joinery’s latest Resort Collection for 2018 is particularly special. With bespoke African prints created by renowned international illustrator Caroline Tomlinson, this has been a long-time dream for the brand come true. The result is a fun, contemporary, African-inspired print that captures the spirit of The Joinery, with a range of blossoms and animal prints in a variety of pastel hues. To print Tomlinson’s designs to create their very own bespoke fabric, The Joinery worked with Imaterial Printers to print eco digital prints onto their garments. To get your hands on these beautiful designs and more, make sure to visit The Joinery’s website and keep up to date with the brand on Instagram and Facebook.

Photography Credits

Resort Collection 2018 – Lyall Coburn of Aesthetic Consumer

Recycled Plastic Bottle Products – Matanna Katz of Ethereal Bound Journal