Meet the Maker: Talk of the Town Parties
When zoologist Jennifer Combes from Talk of the Town Parties organised a birthday party for her son she was shocked by all the waste created from the invitations, paper plates and decorations. In her day job at Edinburgh Zoo she had heard about paper made from dung, so she decided to combine her love of conservation and design to create a range of eco-friendly stationery and prints made from elephant, rhino and reindeer poo (as well as more palatable papers made with wildflower seeds). We caught up with Jennifer to find out more…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
My name is Jennifer Combes, and I run a new business specialising in luxury recycled stationery and gifts, called Talk of the Town Parties. I am also a wife, mum of two lovely boys and a qualified zoologist. (I also have a slight love affair, some might call obsession, with Jurassic Park…)
Being a zoologist I had heard about some very eco-friendly paper made partly from dung, so I did some investigating and took it from there.
First things first. Your stationery is made from poo. Please tell us more…
Being a zoologist I had heard about some very eco-friendly paper made partly from dung, so I did some investigating and took it from there. So yes, as well as seeded cards and the more traditional eco white and ivory card, I also offer stationery that contains elephant, rhino and even reindeer dung (especially for Christmas!).
How does the dung get turned into paper?
Elephants and rhinos are both rather large herbivores that eat rather large amounts of trees or parts of them anyway… and, well, paper is normally made from trees anyway. Their digestive systems don’t break down all the plant fibres and so they, err, poo them out for us to use. The plant fibres are extracted, cleaned and combined with waste paper from offices and schools in the UK to make the 100% recycled card that I use.
Where does the dung you use in your stationery come from?
The elephant dung comes from rescued or retired working elephants that are being cared for in Sri Lanka, and the rhino dung comes from the critically endangered black African rhinos housed in Paignton Zoo.
The seeds in my cards are chosen to attract garden wildlife. Even if these accidentally get dropped or end up in landfill, the wildflowers will still grow, which is a nice thought.
Paper made from dung isn’t the only eco-friendly stationery in your range. You also make stationery from flower seeds. Can you tell us more about that?
I have a range of stationery made from seeded card, which is also 100% recycled and contains wildflower seeds, and I also do Christmas Tree Seeded Cards (made with reindeer poo) for the festive season. You can plant the wildflower seeded cards when you’ve finished with them, and they will grow into a mini British wildflower meadow. The seeds in the cards I make are especially chosen to attract garden wildlife. Even if these accidentally get dropped or end up in landfill, the wildflowers will still grow, which is a nice thought.
The situation for rhinos in the wild is really critical as they are being hunted to extinction for their horns. We actually had to stop using rhino horn in our lessons at the zoo because it’s so valuable now
You support Save the Rhino and donate 10% of all your rhino cards and print sales to their charity. When and how did your interest in conservation start?
It started when I was very little. I’ve always loved animals and taken great interest in their lives and behaviour. I used to make lists on childhood holidays of which animals I had spotted. I carried this on into my adult life by studying wildlife conservation and volunteering in different conservation projects – from orangutans in the rainforest to counting bats in Scotland.
After a lot of hard work, I finally landed an amazing job teaching with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, based in Edinburgh Zoo. The education building there is attached to the rhino house, and two new male Indian rhinos arrived at the zoo at roughly the same time I did – I fell in love with them immediately! The situation for rhinos in the wild is really critical as they are being hunted to extinction for their horns. We actually had to stop using rhino horn in our lessons at the zoo because it’s so valuable now – even though it’s really just a big finger nail, it’s worth more per gram than gold. That really brought it home to me how serious it is, so I’m very happy to be helping in even just a small way to help protect these beautiful animals and their habitat. After all, rhinos are our real life-unicorns! Save the Rhino is an amazing charity tackling a very difficult issue.
The idea for Talk of the Town Parties, came after my eldest son’s second birthday. There was so much waste from the paper invites, plates decorations and it really got me thinking about how I could offer people a more eco-friendly alternative.
Can you tell us a bit more about your journey from a BSc in biology to becoming designer and maker?
It’s been quite a transition from science to designer/maker! It’s funny how you categorise yourself into certain boxes. Being a scientist, the world of arts and crafts was very foreign to me at first, but I quickly found my feet. Everyone is so welcoming and supportive, so it’s been lovely!
I made my own wedding stationery back in 2008 and I always enjoyed the design aspect of working at the zoo. Learning about zoo interpretation has helped quite a lot – how to catch people’s attention (and keep it) can be challenging. Most visitors only spend minutes, if not seconds in some cases, at each enclosure, so our challenge is always to engage people and try to highlight conservation in a fun way.
The idea for Talk of the Town Parties, came after my eldest son’s second birthday. There was so much waste from the paper invites, plates decorations and it really got me thinking about how I could offer people a more eco-friendly alternative. So I decided to create an eco-friendly stationery range and show that you don’t have to sacrifice style or luxury to be eco-friendly! Conservation is really not so much about animals, but everything about people and how we live and use the planet. Recycling is definitely not just for hippies!
There’s definitely a growing feeling that it’s good to be even just a little eco for your big day.
We’ve noticed a rise in eco-friendly wedding stationery lately. Do you think more people are aware of the environmental impact of weddings and looking for more eco-friendly products?
I think everyone is more conscious of environmental issues these days, and there’s definitely a growing feeling that it’s good to be even just a little eco for your big day. Weddings are often based around natural themes and reflect the beauty of the natural world, whether that’s a rustic woodland, the beach, a tropical, floral or vintage theme, so it makes sense to want to be more considerate of nature in the products you use too. Plus there’s such a wonderful variety of eco-friendly affordable alternatives now, so it’s much more accessible for all brides and grooms.
It’s World Wildlife Day this week (on 3 March). Will you be doing anything to celebrate?
To help promote British wildlife, I’ll be giving away a beautiful free packet of wild flowers seeds with every order this week.
Many of my designs come from my own little wildlife adventures. I spend many weekends having adventures with my boys – we see so much wildlife and I love bringing these memories into my stationery.
Where do your ideas come from?
Many of my designs come from my own little wildlife adventures. For example, I loved seeing wild humpback whales in the Atlantic, and I spend many weekends having woodland adventures with my boys – we see so much wildlife and I love bringing these memories into my stationery. I also love playing with the funny side of animals, and the fact that the card contains dung. Why not have a Christmas Rhino or an Easter Elephant? If you think about it, they could deliver a lot more chocolate than any bunny…
It’s always hard to separate being a mum from being a professional, no matter what job you hold down. I do my work around nursery schedules and work in the evening as well as at weekends.
What’s your studio like?
I work from my home which overlooks the sea on the east coast of Scotland. I have my own space, a big fancy printer and most importantly lots of fairy lights! It’s beautiful to look out the window and see Bass Rock and the Isle of May – both very important islands for wildlife, particularly for birds. I love watching the ships go by and seeing how the sea changes its mood from day to day. I’ve even seen a pod of dolphins a couple of times, so I’m very lucky!
I work from my home which overlooks the sea on the east coast of Scotland. I have my own space, and most importantly lots of fairy lights! It’s beautiful to look out the window and see Bass Rock and the Isle of May.
How do you combine being a mum with running a small business?
It’s always hard to separate being a mum from being a professional, no matter what job you hold down. I do my work around nursery schedules and work in the evening as well as at weekends. My boys love the fact that I use card made from poo and that they’re actually holding something that’s come from a real life elephant or rhino. I do have to watch out though, as they keep using all my little elephant business stickers for their own artwork…
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
I get to share my own passion for wildlife in a beautiful and fun way, and hopefully inspire others to develop their own love of the natural world. It’s a very personal thing creating something inspired by your own life, and it’s amazing to be able to have a creative outlet to share this with others. When someone purchases your work its always a huge compliment.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Be brave and go for it! Think about what really inspires you personally, as this is what people will really connect with. It can be hard to put yourself out there but there’s a lovely creative community waiting to welcome you. Be prepared to wear lots of different hats. From designer to accountant to press manager, you have wear them all at some point, but no one said they have to be boring hats – decorate them how you want and enjoy each different style they bring you!
To celebrate being our featured maker Jennifer will be giving away a free pack of wildflower seeds with every order this week
*offer applies to orders placed before midnight on Sunday 6th March 2016.