Meet the Maker: Elizabeth Ballon
After a career working for a fast fashion company, Bristol-based maker Elizabeth Ballon launched her own creative business E.Ballon Design with the aim of creating pieces that look beautiful but are also doing good. Her intention is to create handwoven, sustainable bags and accessories that are as low-waste as possible, weaving the outer fabrics on a small loom using natural and waste fibres and stitching the linings from offcuts and fabric pieces destined for landfill. Elizabeth talks to fellow Folksy designer Laura Brown from Elby Brown Jewellery about slow fashion, the process of weaving by hand and why she believes it’s so important that every business, no matter how small, does what they can to reduce their impact on the environment…
Use the code SlowFashion for 15% off all purchases from Elizabeth’s shop before Monday 19 August 2019, and free postage and packaging within the UK. Shop E.Ballon Design on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/EBallonDesign
I’m not perfect by any means, and there are lots of ways I would like to improve but for small businesses in the current climate I think it is vital to do the best we can.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
Hi Elizabeth. Your bags are gorgeous and it’s incredible that they’re made from material that would otherwise be wasted. I find it really interesting that you switched over from working in the fast fashion industry to creating your own sustainable business. Can you tell us a bit more about what led you to that decision and how you made the switch?
Thank you so much! All of my bags are a labour of love, so it’s always lovely to hear nice things. At university I was always mindful of sustainable issues to do with the fashion industry but it wasn’t until I started designing fast fashion that I saw the true impact. On such a big scale it’s often hard to infuse these values in the business, so when I started my own, I could choose every single material and practice. I loved being able to turn something destined for landfill into something desirable and useful. I’m not perfect by any means, and there are lots of ways I would like to improve but for small businesses in the current climate I think it is vital to do the best we can.
I was always mindful of sustainable issues to do with the fashion industry but it wasn’t until I started designing fast fashion that I saw the true impact.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
Weaving always looks very mysterious and complex to me. Can you briefly describe the process?
It’s quite funny, I am not a naturally patient person and hand-weaving can be a pretty slow and difficult process, especially when you first start out. I learned at university where I had a great technician! There are lots of kinds of weaving – tapestry, jacquard, inkle, backstrap – but they all start the same with a choice of what kind of yarn you’d like to use as they each have different properties that can give you different outcomes. Next is deciding how wide and long your piece will be and then winding the yarn around a warping mill or frame. This will create a warp, essentially the canvas for what you will weave. Winding the warp on to the beam of the loom, you then have to thread every single yarn through little hanging loops called heddles. This process will allow you to make patterns, but it’s also where, if you get it wrong, you’ll get faults in the fabric. Finally, you pull all of the yarn through the reed – a big metal comb – tie off and you’re ready to go. By moving the heddles of the loom using levers or peddles, you can then put yarn through – this being your weft – beat down with the reed and continue creating your patterns and seeing your fabric grow. That’s a very brief description of weaving!
Craft to me, is both our history and our future and we must look back while moving forwards.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
What does weaving mean to you?
Weaving is an incredibly old craft. Five hundred years ago we would all have had looms in our houses, and all over the world there are different techniques and traditions, which I find fascinating. But it’s also ever evolving and changing. I love that from a single strand of yarn I can create fabric from practically anything. That’s really exciting and keeps me constantly inspired. Also, as the creative industry continues to innovate, weaving is one of the best practices that is pushing these changes. It’s the perfect balance of old and new.
I design each bag based on something that I need. The inspiration for my shapes is all about filling a practical need.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
Do you have a favourite bag to make and pattern so far?
I design each bag based on something that I need, and I figure other people probably need something like that too. But my favourite is pretty much whichever one I’m working on at the moment. Recently I travelled to Greece, and while I don’t wear a lot of make-up, I seem to have so many make-up brushes! So I created a new collection of make-up brush rolls, that are practical, sustainable and washable.
Can you take us through a typical day in the life of E.Ballon Designs?
I don’t particularly have a ‘typical’ day but my work room is in my house, so although I don’t have to be up too early, I try to stick to a routine by being downstairs by 9am. I usually have a list in my diary of what I need to do for the week, what’s pressing and what can wait. Often it’s a quick social media lookover, email check, and then weaving, sewing or cutting for new pieces. This can be interspersed with photography days for new products and blog writing. I like to mix it up quite frequently to keep motivated, which can be a problem when you work on your own.
Inspiration can come from almost anywhere but often it’s from my travels – my most recent colour palette came from a roadtrip I took down the California coast with my best friend.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
Who or what are you most inspired by?
I start every design with what fabric I want to use. Whether it is handwoven, recycled or hand-painted – sometimes it’s all of them. Inspiration can come from almost anywhere but often it’s from my travels – my most recent colour palette came from a roadtrip I took down the California coast with my best friend. I read pretty extensively, I love art and design books, and they often provide me with ample inspiration. But for my shapes, it’s all about filling a practical need. Often the design comes from my own life, and I hope others find them useful too.
Working on your own can be isolating, unless you make the effort to reach out… however it means I can make all my own decisions and take my business in whatever direction I want.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
What’s the most difficult thing and what’s the best thing about running your own creative business?
The most difficult has to be working on my own. It can be isolating without constant effort to engage with others and reach out. As a result, it’s also really important to have people in my life who I can use as sounding boards and for advice. However, working on my own means I can make all my own decisions and take my business in whatever direction I want. I only create in small capsule collections and that allows me to run with ideas as I have them.
My one piece of advice would be to treat the parts of running your creative business that you don’t particularly enjoy (eg SEO, social media) like a student and dedicate yourself to learning more about it.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
If you could go back and give yourself just one piece of advice when starting your business what would it be?
I think my one piece of advice would be to treat the parts I don’t particularly enjoy like a student. For instance, dedicating myself to learning about SEO and social media as I would research a topic for my blog. It’s a really interesting part of running your own business but because I lacked confidence in this area, it became something to stress about. Instead, I should have bitten the bullet and read up more about it, and it would have helped me much sooner.
Being active is super important, especially when I’ve had to do lots of boring finance stuff or social media scheduling. Yoga in the mornings and a run outside to get the blood flowing is an absolute must.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I really love being outdoors, so I try to go hiking or for a walk with friends as often as possible. I really like reading, so to relax I will usually have at least one book on the go. Being active is super important, especially when I’ve had to do lots of boring finance stuff or social media scheduling. Yoga in the mornings and a run outside to get the blood flowing is an absolute must.
I’ve always enjoyed making useable everyday items that can be loved for a long time.Elizabeth Ballon, E.Ballon Design
What’s on your wish list to create or do next?
I would really love to create some designs for interiors. I’ve always enjoyed making useable everyday items that can be loved for a long time. By using handwoven fabrics, it makes each piece special and unique. I’d also really like to continue and improve my sustainability practices, utilising different materials and methods, such as biodegradable or compostable fabrics.
What does craft mean to you?
An old tutor of mine used to quote Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac: “If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.” Craft to me, is both our history and our future and we must look back while moving forwards.
Use the code SlowFashion for 15% off all purchases from Elizabeth’s shop before Monday 19 August 2019, and free postage and packaging within the UK.