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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An Interview with Kathy Shenoy, Creative Director of Ethical Design Shop Shake the Dust

Forging links between up-and-coming British designers and ethical producers in Southern Africa, Shake the Dust merges sustainability with great design.

Written by Jessica Cook

Kathy Shenoy by Louise Smith
Kathy Shenoy by Louise Smith

Shake the Dust, is an online shop which sells everything from wooden heart-shaped pendants to fluoro vases. Creating relationships between emerging British designers and ethical producers, this green-minded boutique produces hand-made, luxury products perfect for shoppers with an environmental conscience.

We’ve mentioned Shake the Dust before and Amelia nods to them in her round-up of Christmas Gift Ideas 2012. If you like your furnishings to come with peace of mind and your placemats to come from ethical producers, then Shake the Dust is your new one-stop port of call for all for all your nesting instincts. Not only is it supporting the British creative industry in its time of need, but Shake the Dust is also supporting ethical production pathways. If you want furnishings and accessories with a squeaky-clean past and ethical styling, then these are the products for you. Having recently made appearances at East London Design Show, Pop Up Britain Xmas Shop and Southbank Designers Makers Christmas Market, the future is sure to have lots on store for this socially responsible businesses. Whether it’s an Aztec Snood or a Gone Rural Dining Set, you can rest safe in the knowledge that you’re getting a product from a contientious supply chain without breaking the bank.

I love a start-up with a good back-story and so I spoke to Kathy Shenoy about the tale that led to ethical brand Shake the Dust, and discovered how the seeds of the business were planted.

Alice Pattullo Harvest of the Sea
Rosecraft threads

How did you get the idea to start your own business?
The business was conceived following first-hand experience of living and working with those trapped in the poverty cycle and wanting to help grow a creative economy. I saw a connection forming when I moved back the UK and witnessed the struggles faced by emerging UK creatives faced with an over-saturated industry and the impact of the recession. As a creative graduate myself, I understand how hard is it to bridge a gap between independent creative practice and making a sustainable living.

Stemming from my textiles degree, passion for design and professional experience in the arts industry, I decided to build a business that linked my experiences and the people I had worked with there to new and adventurous opportunities in the UK that could connect people and ideas.

Alice Pattullo My Word

You spent three years living and working in Southern Africa, what did you learn from this experience?
I met so many people living in Swaziland, from rural artisans to top international designers and felt that there is a real need to connect all these talented people in some way. It took me a long time to figure out how that would manifest, and how I would fund it (!) but eventually Shake the Dust was born at the end of 2012. Living in a place with a relatively small creative industry gave me an opportunity to explore my creative direction to a degree that would be much harder to accomplish in the UK. But what I achieved and the inspiring people I met gave me a lot of confidence to branch out on my own over here.

Baobab Batik Protea Cushion

What made you decide to setup an ethical brand in particular?
The primary focus of Shake the Dust is to work with partners who share my philosophy for socially responsible business. I want to prove that investing in and developing creative economies can really impact on the lives of those living in poverty. This is particularly true in parts of the world where creativity has always been in abundance but which needs to move with the times to be sustainable. We have so much talent in the UK, but in an over-saturated creative industry, emerging designers struggle to find work and start producing without having to buy huge minimums from big factories. Shake the Dust creates opportunities for collaboration between designers and producers. Designers get to work with new and unique materials and processes; producers get new fresh and contemporary designs to grow a UK market.

The term ‘ethical’, to me, means transparency through the supply chain and clear communication about producer’s good working practices and fair prices. But there’s no reason why an ethical business can’t also compete with mainstream design trends and remain fresh- part of the reason I started the business was to prove that there’s no excuse for ethical products to be either naff or too expensive.

Dyed grass drying in the sun
Rainbow Mat

Do you design any of the pieces yourself?
The first stage of launching the business has been to work with producers and designers on their existing products. I have worked with them to either select and adapt or make new designs/colourways and prints which suit our market. I’m currently designing a new Shake the Dust collection in partnership with a new producer which will be unveiled in the summer.

Gone Rural Bonakele Block Weave Set Red
Gone Rural Fluoro Fabric Vases
Gone Rural Placemats

Which designers are you working with right now?
I have collaborative projects on the go with illustrator Alice Pattullo and textile designer Kangan Arora which I can’t wait to launch! My very talented sister [Josie Shenoy] is part of my ‘in-house’ creative team but is also “>launching some of her new products with me soon, including lampshades and new prints

GoneRural Patchwork Baskets

Grass on hat

Are you looking for future collaborators? What do you look for in a designer?
Absolutely! I’m really open to hearing from anyone from illustrators to jewellery/print/ceramic/textile/furniture designers who are interested in partnering with us. Shake the Dust sells designer’s own products as well as commissioning new collaborations- so people need to be open to new ideas and good at communicating and working with others. It’s an opportunity for designers to work potentially with completely new and unexpected materials which can be exciting but also potentially a challenging experience! Anyone who is interested can get in touch with us.

Josie Shenoy prints
Josie Shenoy Notebooks

You sell a range of products, is there anything you’d love to sell but don’t currently?
I’d love to have furniture and lighting. We’re launching a jewellery range very soon which is something that I’ve wanted to expand on for a long time.

Mongoose Cow Apron
Mongoose ladies toiletry bag cows

Are the products created uniquely for Shake the Dust?
Currently, most of the products are existing product lines that have been adapted and selected for our market. It was important at the start to make sure the business could be sustainable and also to help support our partners and establish a working relationship first. This has been done by helping them develop their existing lines before spending a lot of time and money on developing completely new products. We are launching the collaborative projects this year which is very exciting and is a very unique business model.

Mongoose Nordic Bag
Mongoose Wonderland Satchel Lime

What plans do you have for the brand in future?
We are launching a number of new products in May at Clerkenwell Design Week, where we will have a feature shop in the Farmiloe Building. There will also be a few pop-up events throughout the year, dates and venues to be announced! In terms of the long-term future I hope to be able to start development projects and an exchange programme for both designers and our artisan producers by the end of the year.

Tintsaba Heart Pendant Wood and sisal

Unless otherwise stated, images were provided by Kathy Shenoy.

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