Early work inspiration from the creative sister duo

The Joinery

Words: Lindsay Samson | Images: Nick Gordon

Founded and run by sisters Natalie and Kim Ellis, The Joinery is a Cape Town-based sustainable fashion label. Through their brand, the creative pair are committed to developing eco-friendly lifestyle products that leave behind a minimal carbon footprint and maintaining ethical production practices. One look around their Zonnebloem office space and it’s clear that the duo live their brand. The Joinery’s laptop sleeves, tote bags and desk blotters line every wall of the peaceful and light-filled studio, allowing it to double as a showroom for their fast-growing brand. Ever wondered where they make their socially conscious magic happen? The innovative and ambitious siblings gave us a peek of their workspace, their desks – and themselves – to discover more.

The Joinery

How did The Joinery begin?

Kim: We started The Joinery in 2012 and it was really born from a desire to create something beautiful while doing our part for the environment. It’s all of our responsibilities and the idea of creating something out of what would otherwise become waste was really appealing to us.

Natalie: We were also very interested in the idea of community growth, so all of our products are made by women’s sewing operatives in various informal settlements in the Cape Flats, Hout Bay and Khayelitsha. It’s wonderful, because the more products we create, the more women we can employ, so it’s a model that we can upscale.

Tell us a bit about the special fabric, Future Felt, that you developed and use for many of your products?

Natalie: We’ve always been concerned about the issue of plastic waste so when we learned that polyethylene terephthalate chips from plastic bottles could be turned into polyester fibre, we knew we wanted to develop our own fabric using the material.

Kim: It also helped us realise that the materials necessary for sustainable textile production were all around us. If we all commit to making use of these, we won’t need to remain dependent on imports from other countries.

The Joinery

What would you say have been career highlights so far?

Kim: Right now, we’re on our way to having saved one million plastic bottles from ending up in landfills. We’re at half a million right now, so I’d say that’s been a definite highlight and milestone.

How would you describe your office space?

Natalie: We’re huge minimalists. We like a light, bright space and for things to be clean and unisex.

Kim: And white [colour scheme], because we do a lot of shooting in our office.

Natalie: We like a bit of monochrome – blacks, greys, whites – and greenery. I think we like calm as well. Both of our homes have got a white, clean, minimalist edge to them and we wanted to bring that through in our office.

Do you think your desks are a reflection of your personalities?

Kim: Perhaps our desks are the antithesis of our personalities. We can be a little chaotic and have very busy days, which is why we need our space to be calm. It’s kind of our haven.

Natalie: We can appreciate an aesthetic that is more out there, but I think we’d probably get anxiety if we had to bring a lot of colour or eclecticness into our space. We love it and it does inspire us a lot, but we always come back to clean lines.

The Joinery

What are your favourite items on your desk?

Kim: Can I tell you what I couldn't live without, being the CFO? My calculator. I’m old school. I never use the calculator on my phone.

Natalie: I think mine would be my desk organiser, because I’ve got everything right here. And the felt that it’s made from is amazing, because it doubles up as a mousepad.

And your dream desk additions?

Kim: Mine would be a 3D printer, just to play around with and see what we could do with it. We’ve got so many different ideas, so to be able to create something with just a push of a button would be cool.

Natalie: I’m so keen to try one of those standing desks. In 2020, it’s time to get the blood flowing.

Lastly, what’s it like working with your sister?

Kim: It’s great, because we can’t divorce each other. We think similarly but have very different skill sets.

Natalie: We kind of preempt each other's thoughts, especially in situations like meetings. It’s also just a lovely thing: we’re sisters, we’re business owners and we’re mothers. We want to leave a legacy behind for our kids so there’s a real family drive to keep going. But we’re very different as well – something we only discovered when we started working together.

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