5 minutes with artist Heather Straka
Heather Straka is tickled by the irony of being isolated in Auckland and unable to attend her own Isolation Hotel exhibition in Christchurch. ...
No one mixes style and sustainability like Peri Drysdale of Untouched World, the only lifestyle fashion company to be recognised by the UN for sustainability.
You’ve had a strong sustainability focus for a long time. What does sustainability mean to you? In a nutshell, working to protect the future of our planet and its people while meeting the needs of today. This has to be a holistic focus – environmental, social, cultural issues are all interconnected and can’t be solved independently of each other.
What are the latest sustainable initiatives you’ve been working on? We have been on our sustainable journey for 20 years now, and over that time we’ve put a lot of work into finding and developing the most sustainable fabrics and fibres and walking the talk when it comes to best practice in terms of our design and manufacturing process.
One issue that is still a biggie for us is all the plastic in our environment. It bugs us that we can’t find a genuinely better alternative to poly bags that we use to protect the garments in our warehouse from moths et cetera. We’ve looked at a huge range of alternatives from bags made from sugar cane to bags made from corn starch and while these ‘compostable’ bags sound nice, in reality they’re still not very kind to the planet.
Last year we undertook a comprehensive three-month study into plastic bag alternatives. In order to make compostable packaging more flexible, stronger and water-resistant, a biodegradable binding agent such as PBAT is usually added. It is partially derived from a petrochemical, fossil-based agent that is still not fully renewable. The ‘compostable’ options currently available are not suitable to be placed in kerbside recycling. If they find their way into the recycling stream, then they contaminate all the other material, meaning nothing can be recycled and it will all end up in landfill.
Our study showed that there is no transparent, waterproof, insect-proof bag material that is better in our current environment with the available recycling and composting facilities than a poly bag, so it’s something we’ll continue to work on.
Untouched World started developing masks way back at the start of the year. How are people responding to the products? The response has been huge. We have done a lot of research into the efficacy of reusable face masks and reusables with disposable filters. Callaghan Innovation had a number of scientists firing information to us through lockdown and we had our own global research going on by then into the best protection against Covid.
When it comes to sustainability and socially-conscious products, how important is it to pair them with good aesthetic design? Good aesthetic design inspires and feeds the soul. The uptake of environmentally and socially-conscious products is much, much higher when a product is aesthetically pleasing, so this is really important to us. It’s always been our mantra that you shouldn’t have to give up luxury and great design to be good to the planet.
What is the cornerstone of Untouched World’s design philosophy? Less is more. We believe in timeless design and by using luxurious, quality fabrics and fibres that are easy to wear and easy on the earth, our pieces become those go-to styles in the wardrobe that you’ll want to wear because they make you feel good. We design our pieces to dress up or down effortlessly, so they can take you anywhere and you don’t need as much in your wardrobe.
One thing everyone should have in their wardrobe this season? For women I would say a floaty summer dress that can be dressed up for silly season festivities and down for lazy days at the beach. It’s been a pretty crazy year, a lot of it spent in our work at home wardrobe, so as the weather warms up it’s nice to be able to dress up a little in something that makes you feel great. For guys it would be a luxurious linen shirt. Pare it back with a pair of chinos or shorts for a smart yet relaxed look.
If you could give the world one fashion tip, what would it be? Buy less, but invest in quality pieces you really love.
Tell us about Untouched World Kitchen – what can people expect when they visit you? A light, airy, relaxed space where our friendly team serve simple yet nourishing and delicious dishes, catering for vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters, with plenty of options for those who are dairy or gluten intolerant. There’s also a cabinet full of irresistible treats to have with your coffee, like our Raw Vegan Raspberry Dark Chocolate Cups, Raw Vegan Salted Caramel Peanut Butter Slice and Vegan Banana Loaf with Coconut Whip.
The native garden is a great touch – do you see it as an important part of the café experience? We do. It is an invitation to unwind and soak up a bit of nature. We all live such busy lives these days that finding those little escapes and moments of relaxation really matter.
Outside of work, what are you passionate about? Family, friends and the work of our Untouched World Foundation – not completely outside of work, but a passion and they say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life!
What food will you never get tired of? Our wonderful chef Kerry’s Super Food Salad. As the name suggests, it’s full of everything that’s good for you, and it’s yummy to boot.
What’s your favourite guilty pleasure? I love a really good red wine. High on my list of favourites are the full-bodied reds from the Gimblett Gravels wine growing area in Hastings.
How do you relax? I am a reader! I’m in my happy place with a really good book.
Have you read any good books lately? I really enjoyed ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama, a frank and honest autobiography; Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, a fascinating behind the scenes story of Nike’s beginnings; Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda – inspiring, grounding and endlessly re-readable. I’m a fan of non-fiction.
What are your proudest moments? 'People moments' with the wonderful bunch of humans I am privileged to work alongside. I recently attended our Untouched World Foundation’s Advanced Leadership weekend in Kaikōura where a group of incredible young people, alumni from our UWF leadership programmes, got together to discuss a ‘moonshot’ for the group. These capable young people were tasked with coming up with a big lofty goal they could aspire to, to make the world a better place. There was a huge level of passion, the thinking was fresh and unlimited, but at the same time practical. I left there truly inspired.
Four essential things in your handbag? An Untouched World face mask, hand sanitiser, my mobile and a memobottle to keep me hydrated on the go.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What you think about, you get. If you are radiating out love and positivity, that is what you’ll get back. If things are a bit lumpy, check your thoughts. Ask yourself “what great things are going to come out of this?” There’s usually always a silver lining.