Equipped with a spinning wheel and a loom in her Cardiff studio, Emma Swinburne of Woolly Mammoth has a hand in the entire process of bringing her woven cushions, blankets and accessories from design to finish. As a new business, sustainability is a high priority, and Emma is testing new ways to promote local manufacturing, reach zero waste and create contemporary fabrics rooted in Welsh heritage.
What does your business offer?
We offer high quality, 100% wool, natural fibre fabrics, soft furnishings and fashion accessories.
All our designs start off by hand in my studio. The weaving is done locally – I know all the weavers personally.
I’ll be offering workshops soon. I want to get people weaving and at demonstrations. That’s the dream.
Who’s behind the business and what are your values?
Pretty much me and some family members who pitch in to help.
I want to create something sustainable and protect the environment. That's why Woolly Mammoth is working towards becoming a zero waste business.
We use local manufacturers to reduce our carbon emissions and help promote and sustain other local businesses.
Wool is biodegradable, compostable and good for the environment. It’s durable. You know when you buy a product from us that it’s going to last a long time.
Sustainability goes hand in hand with everything at Woolly Mammoth. We’re trying to work around zips and eliminate fastenings that aren’t made from renewable materials.
The wool comes from Yorkshire and Uppingham in England. There’s a bit of Welsh wool in there too.
I’m interested in Welsh wool. It tends to be a bit coarse, so a lot of farms just burn their wool because there isn’t a big market for it anymore.
I have a spinning wheel in the corner that I picked up from Yorkshire. I’m looking to make a completely hand-spun range and tap into Welsh wool for rugs.
I’ll get time in the summer to start spinning. It needs to happen. Spinning feels therapeutic.
Tell me about a project you’re proud of.
Probably setting up the business and passing my degree. It was challenging! I like not having to worry about marks anymore.
The first time I went to a market and sold something was a great moment. It was the recognition that I was making something a person would invest in and spend their hard-earned money on.
I love it when people buy an item as a present for another person. I like the thought of a cushion in someone’s house.
How has your business changed and learnt over time?
It’s definitely grown a lot. I’m getting a lot more local, repeat customers. We only launched in the summer on the website, but we’re branching into shops and galleries locally.
We’re going to get involved in some upcoming events. You'll find us at the The Contemporary Craft Festival at Bovey Tracey from 8th - 10th June and Made by Hand in City Hall, Cardiff in November 2018.
In the beginning, the website was very amateur – I’m upgrading it. Now the whole of it is running smoother. It’s becoming less of a hobby and more of a business as I’ve been able to reduce my part-time hours.
I realised that I had to stick to a theme. Before I would make anything. Now I’m tapping into traditional Welsh culture, this is influenced by my childhood and moving back to Cardiff and creating a studio here.
All designs are made on the weaving loom and some are taken to local mills to be manufactured. These are the designs that will stand the test of time and stay around. They hold the brand together.
Our handwoven items will be different and will create variety in what we offer. For now, these are just cushions, but later I’ll be making handwoven scarves and blanket scarves.
What’s your local tip for the home?
If you want to make a sustainable home, you need to consider so many things.
There’s a sustainable kids clothing company Jake + Maya in Wiltshire. Children grow so fast, and normally outgrown clothing gets thrown away or donated. She’s created designs that grow with children.
They have a sustainable mailing list with a theme for every month – wardrobe, food waste, making food last longer… Stuff I hadn’t even thought about!
Do you have any advice for someone choosing your weavings for their home?
If you’d like to try our products in your home, I’d suggest starting with the ones made in the mill – Cardigan and Pembroke - which are slightly cheaper than the handwoven ones. They’re our staple, traditional designs with simple checks and patterns. They come in three colour themes which easily blend into a room.
Then you can choose from our handmade items for a statement piece. They can alter the look of a space. If you have a neutral room, you only need a couple of these and they can change over time.
What customers say:
"We are really happy with the draft excluder Emma made for our front door - the door is a little wider than most interior size doors but Emma was able to make one that fits our door perfectly."
"I saw Emma at the Cardiff Christmas Market where I bought one of her small cushions. I suffer with bad backs and needed a supportive cushion for my office chair. This cushion has made work much more comfortable and it is so soft."