Today we are talking with Cris Bucknall,one half of Eco Chic. Cris, and her co-founder Paula Breckman, are the owners of Echo Chic. They started this fabulous business after doing an Eco display for a developer and finding that it was incredibly difficult to find eco friendly and sustainable products. They had to do a lot of hunting and asked a lot of questions to pull together the whole apartment. When it was finished, I thought, “Why doesn’t anyone open a shop and just put all these things in one place?!” says Cris. When the GFC hit, the interior design work slowed down…a perfect time to start a new business, and so Eco Chic was born!
How did the two of you start working together? Was there a history between you prior to Eco Chic?
We worked for a property developer doing their interior design . We instantly gravitated to each other as we had the same sense of humour and passion for design. I think the fact that both of us were ex pats helped.
You both love home furnishings (we are with you!), but feel bad about the impact they can have on the environment (with you again!). That is the same focus here at Recycled Interiors and part of this is being able to show people that you don’t have to sacrifice style – when did you become interested in sustainable practices and what inspired you to take this step?
I’ve been concerned about environmental issues long before there was even the phrase “global warming”. Back in the 80-‘s I was in high school and we were worried about the Ozone layer and the rainforests! I’ve always tried to engineer in a bit of sustainability into my work, but Eco Chic gave me the opportunity to really explore this passion. Paula, is my latest convert! She loves design and has an amazing eye and I wanted her to be a part of it. We often joke that I am the tree hugger and she is the style police. Together we make a great pair.
How do you know that a product meets the criteria of being “green furniture and an earth friendly product” – what standards do you look for and can you tell us about the “cradle to cradle” approach?
Our Philosophy is that we want products that are as sustainable as possible. By that we mean that we want them to be better than what the big chain stores are selling, but we accept that is we were to limit ourselves to only items that meet all of our criteria, we would end up with a very small offering. Better to have hundreds of people make a purchase that is a little bit better than, just one person by the ultimate green product. The criteria we look for in products is the following:
- Renewable resources: A resource that can be replenished at a rate equal to or greater than its rate of depletion. A great example of this is hemp products which are also grown without pesticides and using very little water.
- Recycled and recyclable materials: Recycled products contain reused, reconditioned or re-manufactured materials, as well as recycled raw material. Recyclable products include the reuse, reconditioning, and re-manufacturing of furniture or parts of furniture into a new product.
- Non-toxic & non allergenic materials: Furniture made with and from materials that are not poisonous, harmful, or otherwise destructive to an organism upon exposure.
- Made in Australia: By buying furniture and homewares made in Australia, you are benefiting the local community and the economy as well as reducing the energy consumed and carbon put into the atmosphere through transportation across the ocean, aka the carbon footprint.
- Fair Trade: FINE aptly defines this as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade”. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Fair Trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade”. Eco Chic features many homewares and eco gifts that are handmade by artisans and craftsmen, which provides the dual benefit of creating jobs for people (not machines) and promotes historical and cultural handicraft techniques.
- GECA Certified: Many of our green products are either wholly or partly made from materials that are GECA certified: “The Australian ‘Good Environmental Choice’ program provides to the community an environmental mark of recognition for a wide range of products and services. The Australian ‘Ecolabel Program’ is managed by a not-for-profit organisation utilising a national network of registered assessors. The program awards a mark of recognition for products and services that meet standards of high environmental, quality and social performance.”
You carry this approach across your business – can you tell us about the steps you take to “practice what you preach” at Eco Chic and do you then carry this into your personal lives?
- We recycle all glass, plastic, metal, cardboard and paper.
- We use recycled paper and print on both sides as well as trying to be as paperless as possible
- Thanks to abundant windows, we don’t need any lights (unless we work late).
- Thanks to a nice ocean breeze we do not use air conditioning
- We have solar panels, a water tank hooked up to the garden and toilets, and a compost bin.
- We reuse all of the boxes and, bubble wrap and packing material that we get from suppliers and any new bubble wrap required is biodegradable.
You have a vintage line (which I love!) – where and how do you source for this range?
Our favorite source is curbside cleanups! Yes that is us picking through the trash in your front yard. Otherwise it is opshops, Gumtree, etc.
Do you have any particular connections with artisans in your fair trade approach?
No, we wish we did, but at the moment we rely on the importers who connect with the artisans overseas. They do all the hard work and we try to support and promote their good deeds.
You both have very interesting backgrounds such as you designing Hollywood movie sets and Paula travelling the world as a music promoter! Would you both be happy to share a little story about these parts of your lives?
As an American, I started out as a set designer in Hollywood working on films and television series, before travelling to Fiji and then Australia designing hotels and resorts. I created Eco Chic as on offshoot of my interior design company MEI Mannigan Edwards International. My partner, Paula Breckman, originally from the UK, travelled around the world as a music promoter with the biggest bands and artists of their time, before settling in Australia and turning her hand to interior design for a Gold Coast based company where we met. After leaving the company, she continued to work with me at my new company before setting up our new joint venture, EcoChic.com.au.
Do you have any favourite people or sources of inspiration in furniture design and interior décor?
What is a favourite product you are selling right now and how do you see your products fitting into contemporary interiors with the trend towards a more eclectic approach in decorating?
We are both mad for our lumberjack side tables (pictured above). They are so eco and so cute. They are made from trees that have been felled locally for building projects and we rescue them and turn them into little accent tables. I also love turning vintage kilims in to new things like ottomans or rugs. Contemporary interiors are no longer minimalist soulless spaces. They have to have an eclectic mix to have soul. Vintage mixes with modern, organic with streamlined. It is the ultimate way to express ones creativity
What is your own decorating styles?
I love bohemian eclectic – vintage leather with ethnic prints, and tropical accents like pineapples and parrots. Paula loves a good black and white story, where softer antiques mix in with some decadent gothic touches.
Are you still working in interior design or does Eco Chic take up all of your time?
I spend about 20% of my time doing interior design and luckily now I get to work with the nicest people and do smaller projects which is so rewarding.