Live like you’re on an island

When you live on an island, stuff matters. The sky seems bigger somehow; the sea horizon more intriguing; the elements more powerful. Islands bring out the poet, the artist, the philosopher, the inventor.

They are creative places inspired in no small part by the distance that everyone and everything must travel to get there. Limitations of climate and geography must be considered in almost everything from building homes to running a business to educating a small and scattered population. When you live on an island, you are always aware of it.

Self-sufficiency takes on a new importance when high shipping costs are added to every purchase. Whatever is brought in – from cars to washing machines to mail order clothes to groceries – has to have some sort of exit strategy attached for when their usefulness is spent. Better, then, to think up ways of reusing junk and cutting down on waste. Or buy less stuff.

Islanders the world over have had to become experts at upcycling, recycling, and reimagining all kinds of articles that in bigger places are often shoved in the bin or left on a street corner for collection. The old boat becomes a shed roof; the fish boxes are vegetable planters; salmon cages are turned into greenhouses; old enamel baths are water troughs; seaglass becomes jewellery.

I live in an archipelago which is quite good at recycling and self-sufficiency but not yet brilliant. The charity shops are plentiful. The art, the music, the poetry thrives. The hills support sheep and cows, the sea gives fish and many people grow a few vegetables.

Most food, though, is shipped in by supermarket chains, its journey and its packaging adding significantly to the costs.There is still an over-burdened landfill, although a waste-to-energy furnace provides some power, and one of the UK’s biggest district heating schemes pumps hot water throughout the main town.

Beaches vary between stunning shards of silvery sand and mad tangles of rope and plastic and old junk, depending on the tides. Some of the rubbish is seaborne from further afield than these islands, but too much we generate ourselves. There’s a community-wide spring clean of shores and roadsides, but a few windy days and a tide-mark of debris is left once more. Careless consumerism has a visible impact here.

Even so, when your home is on an island living lightly seems to come a little more easily, nudged as it is by need and neighbourliness as well as environmental concerns. There’s a shared sense of responsibility that can be lost in the noise of urban life.

Since moving here from a flat in Berlin, I no longer buy clothes on impulse, drink coffee from disposable cups or work in a place where I don’t know everyone by name. Instead, I grow a few veggies, plant a few trees, use the same mug all day and teach in a small, two-classroom school.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s no idyll. The weather can be harsh and the winters long and dark and there are days when I desperately miss city living. But here, everything just seems a bit closer to home; cause and effect of modern life more obvious.  If I drop a plastic bag in a ditch near my house, it will sit there for a dozen years or more unless the wind gets to it first. No-one cleans up after you on an island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s silk, and then there’s organic silk

Mountains and cloudsRice fieldsSunlight on the rice terrace

Susurrus silk is environmentally-friendly, of superb quality, and chemical and pesticide free. The silk farm has created stable jobs for the local community and has led to improved and protected natural habitats for wildlife.

Panda Country. Our silk is created in Sichuan Province, in Western China,  an area of  diverse and beautiful natural landscapes from bamboo forests, home to the world’s only wild pandas, watery rice terraces and mountainous Himalayan terrain.

  • Pandas in Sichuan ProvinceAll organic. All aspects of the silk production, from the organic mulberry farm, through the harvesting, preparation, weaving and dyeing of the silk,  to the finished silk articles, have been rigorously inspected and awarded the Global Organic Textile Standard. GOTS Certificate.

Bamboo, Sichuan

 

 

 

 

 

Organic does mean best quality. There is a direct relationship between the quality of the mulberry leaves that silkworms are fed and the quality of the finished silk filament. Our silk is created from the best quality, organic mulberry leaves. This means the cocoons grow big and strong, leading to extra-long silk filaments that can be unreeled in almost endless threads and spun into silk that is even in texture and colour.

Socially responsible. The GOTS certificate is the world’s leading textile processing standard for organic fibres.  It is backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain and includes social criteria as well as ecological criteria. http://www.global-standard.org/the-standard.html

Green rice fields

The company which runs the organic farm, the silk production, the dyeing and the product manufacturing, Alkena,  provides stable employment for local people, from farmers to skilled tailors. They have also planted many trees other than mulberry to create nesting sites for birds and to encourage wildlife diversity. 

Cherry blossom

Human connections. We try to make connections with  the people who are involved in producing our gorgeous fabric and turning our designs into products: sharing photos; asking questions and finding out what we can about each other’s lives.

This organic approach is unusual in China’s silk industry. But at Susurrus we believe it is the only way to make sure luxury products like ours feel great for everyone.

Silk with Soul. That’s the spirit!

Let’s go to the silk shop

In a mad world, love the moments

Sometimes nothing much makes sense. But taking time to notice the little, joyful moments in life can only give us strength.  From a cup of coffee that makes you smile to a field of fragrant flowers, Susurrus loves these moments of calm amidst life’s chaos.

Here’s one I filmed recently…there’s something surprisingly mesmerising about a line of gorgeous silk washing, wafting wildly in a Shetland breeze! I shot this while lying on the grass, gazing up at the sky…I think of these as my susurrus moments, and I’m always searching for them.

Feel free to share your own…and here’s to those many, many people who are unjustly struggling today to find moments of joy or calm of their own.

Silk with Strength. That’s the Spirit!

yangshuo with the cousins 047
Great coffee in Yangshuo, China
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Making flower chains, Yunnan, China

Silk with Soul. Pure luxury

At Susurrus we love to take a little bit of luxury wherever we find it… from the warmth of woolly socks straight off the woodburner, to the unhampered view of the Aurora Borealis dancing above us in the evening sky. And, of course, slipping into bed each night with our soft, smooth and soporific organic silk pillowcases. That is most definitely a feeling of luxury.

But what exactly is this elusive concept that changes through time and place and from person to person? What seems like luxury to one can be everyday or even vulgar to another. Our notion of luxury rises and falls with changes in society. It finds roots in culture, economics and symbolism. It follows fashions and tailgates trends. Nowadays, as so many struggle to meet even the basic needs of life, Susurrus asks, why do we love luxury, and how can we justify it?

For many, luxury is synonymous with wellbeing and comfort, with a little bit of guilty pleasure thrown in; that moment when you slow down, breathe deeply, sigh contentedly and feel acutely aware of how good – how luxurious – this feels. It’s the unexpected long-lie when you have small children;  a log fire and a glass of fine red wine on a stormy night,  or the spontaneous picnic by the sea when you should be working. These are luxuries of time and opportunity.

For others, luxury is more about those rare and exclusive experiences  and possessions – the most expensive, most beautiful, biggest, fastest…the glitz and glamour of a 5 star hotel;  the excited buzz of an art opening; the glint of a diamond or the tick of a perfect timepiece.

At Susurrus we too love turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. We too love to feel pampered and special. But not at any cost. Without mindfulness, or compassion and understanding for those whose lives are less easy, our luxury moments are meaningless.

Are our silk pillowcases a luxury product? Of course they are. But they are also carefully sourced from an organic silk maker who cares about the lives of the people who work there and the land they live on. We try to run our business with thought for others. We’re not perfect, and its not much, we know, but it is something. Can we justify our luxury? We can, but only if we keep in mind how fortunate we are and make sure our joy doesn’t come at someone else’s cost.

At Susurrus we will continue to do our bit to support other people where we can, whilst also appreciating those moments in life  – from finding the time to sit and watch the waves on the shore at dawn, to sinking into our soft silk at night. We might even enjoy the odd glass of wine by the fire – toasty in our warm woolly socks, of course.

Silk with Soul. Pure luxury.

Be happy; we’re organic

Judging the success of your country using a happiness scale is already inspiring. But Bhutan, a tiny nation tucked into the Himalayas,  has taken their lofty thinking higher still and is trying to become the world’s first organic country. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/10/11/3710618/bhutan-organic-united-states-transition/

It is a land of exquisite natural beauty and quite right they should want to protect what is there. Happy soil leads to happy farmers, food and animals, which leads to happy people… and up, hopefully, goes Gross Domestic Happiness, an index they’ve used since the 1970s. The link between the health of a country’s soil and natural ecosystems, with the happiness of the people who live there seems obvious. It represents sustainability, care and appreciation for much more than just agricultural produce. Like so much in life, it’s a classic reap-what-you-sow situation.

Bhutan hasn’t achieved this goal yet, and who knows if it can or will work, but at least it is trying. It makes Susurrus wonder what’s stopping other places where organic agricuture has been proven to work. Our silk is grown, organically, on the other side of the mountains from Bhutan. And although we are a rarity in our field, it is wonderful to know the neighbours care as much as we do.

Susurrus knows an employer who claimed, often, that the happiness of those in their employ was nothing to do with them. In a way they were right…our emotions are our own to manage.  And yet, how narrow a view of the responsibilities we have for others’ lives.  Bhutan, clearly, gets the bigger picture. And that’s enough to make a nation smile…gots-logo_rgb

We name ourselves

Susurrus organic silk pillowcases on the lineThis is the very first blog by Susurrus Organic Silk Pillowcases. So let’s start with an apology. Our name is hard to say and harder to spell. The meaning is a bit obscure too. Sorry about that.

Su-sur -rus.  Say it like this: soo – sir – riss.

It means a low murmur, or whisper, like the sound of the sea brushing across the sand or the wind rustling through the trees. Or the hushed sigh of soft silk as you lie down to sleep.

Shetland beach

Can you hear it? It is that most calming of sounds; that slowing of the heartbeat, that deep breath of relaxation. Stick a shell to your ear and that blood-rushing sea sound is susurrus. Lie down in the long grass and that humming and thrumming of insect wings is susurrus. Sit in a city cafe and let the gushing, pulsing noises of the other customers wash over you. Susurration.

No other name would  convey the totally relaxed, natural luxury of our silk. We were advised not to use it. It will put people off, we were told. But at Susurrus we are not always great at following perceived wisdom. You will find we can be a little rebellious that way. Uncompromising, if you like.

That’s why we choose to run our business slowly and sustainably; it’s why we choose to support other companies who are trying their best to be socially and environmentally responsible. We could buy cheap silk and churn out pillowcases. It would certainly be simpleHammock in Shetlandr. But we choose to use the best quality organic silk we can source, with the highest standards for protecting land and people.

And for this we make no apology.