Continuing our series of interviews with organisations in Wales which share our core values of waste reduction, skill sharing and community cohesion, it was great to catch up with our very own Sylvia Davies of etoeto at The Sustainable Studio in Butetown. I already knew Sylvia from volunteering at our Repair Café in Cathays and her textile repairs have inspired me to work on some of my own clothes at home.
Sylvia has a background in public affairs and PR, but now spends her time repurposing bicycle inner tubes, paddling pool, umbrellas, tents and air mattresses into unique, practical items including washbags, wallets and pouches in her aptly named enterprise – etoeto (Welsh for again-again). I was interested in finding out what inspired her to make this career change:
“My change in career came about through a combination of factors. I’ve been interested in the environment and also a member of local environmental organisations for many years. When my mother was terminally ill with cancer, I gave up work to care for her. When she passed away, I didn’t feel that I could just go back to work and continue as before. I wanted to bring her with me to share my future in some way. My parents were a great influence on me – my Dad fixed cars and my mother taught me how to sew and repair clothes from a young age. I knew I wanted to do something practical that mattered and through a conversation with Jonathan at “I want to ride my bike” café, I started experimenting with inner tubes and tried to repurpose them using my Mum’s old sewing machine”.
One of our commitments at Repair Café Wales is to reduce waste, which Sylvia is doing in a remarkable way. I was eager to find out more:
“I’m not a fashion designer, but hate waste, so I’ve been working on practical products which can be made from waste. This has been by trial and error – for example, trying to sew inner tubes from my kitchen table using my mother’s machine was very difficult and demoralising. When I joined the Sustainable Studio, I felt encouraged. I bought a specialist industrial sewing machine and that was a game changer. I now make bags, pouches and wallets from inner tubes and line them with broken umbrellas, tents and air mattresses. To an upcyclist, the waste products come first. The designs are inspired by the materials. It’s the opposite way to the traditional way of designing.”
This is such an amazing idea. I went on to ask Sylvia about the ways she shares skills apart from at the Repair Café, where along with other fixers, she inspires our visitors by showing them how their repair is done, so that they may have the confidence to try this themselves:
“I’m pleased to be able to offer short work placements to fashion students from the University of South Wales. They get to experience some of the challenges and opportunities of running a business that creates from waste. I also open my doors to journalism students from Cardiff University. For example, one student practised their radio interview skills and documentary film students have documented the repurposing process from waste collection to the finished product.”
I could see how interaction with students in this important way also promotes community cohesion which RCW’s pop up sessions aim to do by inspiring and connecting local residents from different backgrounds. I wondered in what other ways Sylvia’s enterprise interacts with the local community:
“I’ve been a member of The Sustainable Studio since summer 2019, which is a space I share with over 20 other makers. I’m also working with an increasing number of local charities, businesses and environmental organisations. For example, Keep Wales Tidy and Cardiff Rivers Group are collection points for etoeto, where members of the public can drop off suitable waste materials such as umbrellas and tents. I don’t repurpose metal, so I donate back to Cardiff Rivers Group any metal tent poles and metal umbrella frames. They can recycle the metal, which helps fund the charity. I also wish to support community cycling initiatives like Pedal Power, which I adore. I’m delighted that Pedal Power wishes to exhibit etoeto products in its cafe/shop in the run up to Christmas, and I will be donating a proportion of the sales revenue to them”.
Wow! So, if you’ve been inspired, and perhaps like me, would like some ideas for Christmas presents, why not take a look at the etoeto website: https://etoeto.uk/ or follow on https://instagram.com/etoeto.uk.
Sylvia will also be at the Christmas market in Cardiff City Centre from 13th – 21st December which I definitely intend to pop along to – maybe see you there!
Join us in the New Year when we focus on another Welsh organisation which shares our core values. Kath Jenkins