Recently I had an opportunity to interview Maura Canavan, owner of GreenWorks and designer of hand-printed organic cotton and hemp shirts. Maura specializes in eco-friendly clothing with cool ancient-symbol designs. She also heads up the Etsy Organic Team, a group of Etsy sellers “dedicated to helping the earth, the environment, and our bodies through organic products.”
I love the colors and textures of her clothing. Plus I have a special affinity for her Celtic designs (my great-grandfather was from County Cork). Last Christmas, I bought one of her lovely hemp linen tops as a gift for a family member. It was well-received.
Here’s what Maura had to say about GreenWorks and her journey of sustainability.
How did you get started in your chosen craft?
I have an interest in living a natural lifestyle for many years. One of the problems I encountered this side of the pond was a lack of organic clothing or where it was available the high prices! The prices really put organic clothing out of the reach of most consumers and I felt it was doing a great dis-service to the whole organic campaign to have the clothing in what would be considered a niche market.
At the same time a friend had discovered screen printing and we had collectively come up with some great designs for our t-shirts. So we decided to source organic clothes to screen print on and sell them on at affordable prices to try and get organic mainstream.
We found Etsy in 2008 and opened up GreenWorks because one of our first designs was a play on the phrase that green does work with industrial cogs. At that time we didn’t think to see if anyone else was using the same name – and on reflection we would have chosen a different name for our shop.
Anyway the rest as they say is history. We’re still plugging away trying to make this a viable business. It is slow going and the recession hasn’t helped! :) But we’re committed to making this happen so fingers crossed!
What makes your product eco friendly?
Lots of things.
We make the screens ourselves using wood that would have been dumped and also old picture frames etc.
The inks we use are considered the most eco friendly around and give great results.
The clothing we screen print on is all either organic and/or hemp which is a great sustainable and eco friendly fabric. While we use organic hemp where possible even though some tops have not been certified as organic we love how hemp actually rejuvenates the earth and is mainly harvested without the use of any pesticides/herbicides etc.
Most of our clothing is also either fair trade or ethically traded. That was an important box for us to tick when sourcing the tops and one that wasn’t always considered.
And because we do all that ourselves it is fair trade – we’re not employing someone to do the work for us at a cut price.
One downside is that while we source as locally as possible living in Northern Ireland does mean that our inks/tops etc have to be bought in aka environmental costs of shipping/freight etc. Plus selling online entails shipping as well. We are hoping for the day when organic cotton and hemp are available on this wee spot of the earth!
What inspired you to lead a green lifestyle?
I really can’t say. From a child I had a dislike of medication but had migraines. So I learned early on the relationship between food and health. Also growing up in a village we were surrounded by farms etc. My great aunt had cows and an assortment of chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese etc so we always had a supply of free range eggs as well as homemade butter and buttermilk. I loved her pantry with all the churning equipment and patting butter and how it was always lovely and cool even when it was hot outside. It was like magic!
Growing older I started using essential oils and flower remedies and developed a self treatment/regime for migraine using those and a form of self hypnosis that made them manageable. Then I discovered Feverfew and after taking that for a couple of months my migraines practically disappeared and I would say I have been migraine free for at least 20 years now.
Most of my clothing when I was young was made by my mom and granny and I used to get hand-me-downs from cousins. So re-using and not wasting were part of everyday life.
Home cooking and baking were everyday occurrences and there is still nothing I like more than fresh baked bread straight off the griddle! Yeah my waist doesn’t thank me for that one :)
So I guess you can say that a green lifestyle has been pretty much part and parcel of everyday life for me growing up. The difference is that while I was young I took it for granted – nowadays it is a conscious decision.
Which piece in your shop is your current favorite?
Oh that is a tough question! From a printing perspective I love the Elegance design because it so versatile and I can play around with it. From an Irish perspective I love our Celtic designs and all the ancient symbolism dating back to our pagan days. From an activist point of view I love our organic message and some newer hemp designs. My favorites though are the tribal prints – the cosmic circles inspired by the Mayan calendar and the mushroom God with his magic mushrooms. The idea of that was actually some copper handles with the mushrooms on an old Irish oak sideboard. Unfortunately Ireland has few ancient oak forests left as most of them were plundered … but that’s another story!
What are you currently working on?
We have a new hemp print that I need to list but also a couple of plans for 2 ranges of designs … but they’re kinda secret for now :)
On the non-organic front, but recycling, I’ve been concentrating on sewing and making for my other shop lilgreenshop. I’m a wild hoarder and figured it was time to rebirth some fabric scraps etc plus for local craft fairs it is easier to take one suitcase of smaller eco items on a bus or train to a fair than try to take clothing (no car and no plans to get one if I can manage without)