Paper Renaissance

The Artful Repurposing of Found Materials
The Wren Design, based in a studio in Mulzenberg, Cape Town, South Africa, reinvents the form and function of recycling with artful paper play. The brand’s product line combines creative sensibility with urban chic. Melany Hodgson, Creative and Studio Assistant for The Wren Design, took the time to answer a few questions, sharing more with HAND/EYE Online about the process and vision behind their line of handbags, laptop sleeves, and more.
HAND/EYE Online: What inspired your company to work with future artisans?
Melany Hodgson: When the company was founded, Wendren (the owner of Wren) performed all of the production tasks herself. In October 2009, the company had grown to the point where a few extra pairs of hands were needed. She sourced the services of two seamstresses to work part-time over weekends to meet demand.
This was the start of a close collaboration between kindred spirits who shared a passion for their craft. When the women found themselves retrenched from their day jobs at the clothing factory for the second time in a year, they decided to work from home and sew bags full time for Wren.
Wren promotes an ethic of fairness, trust and sustainability that has allowed each member of the production team to become a proud entrepreneur in their own right. The team has flourished and achieved their personal growth goals: earning higher wages, owning their own sewing machines and to producing quality products that they can be proud of. The team is highly skilled and produce work of the highest workmanship in close collaboration with Wendren.
H/E: What kind of materials, tools, and machinery are used?
MH: Wren is an eco-friendly company. Almost all of the products are made from recycled or found materials. For example, the paper we use for our Sleeves are roll-ends from the print and packaging factories in South Africa. This is the company’s main competitive edge: that our primary material is essentially a waste product. Further, the company’s material waste is reused for smaller products, and that which cannot be reused, is recycled. For example, in the process of making the PPC Cement Laptop Bags only two of the three layers of paper are needed. The third layer is not discarded but used to make our Sleeves.
Our production process is lengthy because we cannot automate it due to the recycled nature of the paper. We have two seamstress teams who make our products from their homes. Our products are very difficult to make because, once stitched, we cannot unpick as each needle prick makes a hole that, unlike when you stitch fabric, cannot heal. Once the products are back at our studio we check the quality and coat them with Nano Liquid Glass so that they are water resistant and able to withstand nature’s elements. The final touches are the punching of branded press-studs – because details matter – to make sure that the bag closes securely, the attaching of tip ends and finally attaching the tag. This process takes a while and each bag is handled by at least five people who take great care to ensure that at each stage quality standards are adhered to. No seam can be unpicked and re-stitched! There is only one opportunity to get a bag right so it must be done correctly from the beginning. This makes each product a handmade work of artistry.
H/E:  What kind of long-term changes do you hope your project has on the community?
MH: Wren was born from a desire to return to basics and to rethink the conventional approach to product development. Wendren, wanted to take on a new challenge after becoming dissatisfied with the routine of working in a clothing factory.
We have been deeply inspired by other like-minded businesses who are also dreaming up creative ways to use waste products. We love being an example of a company which produces high quality, long-lasting products and we would love to see more businesses returning to these production standards. We have shown off South African Design, South African tenacity and South African quality we are really proud of all of this. We all need to change the way we see waste, and a physical example of what can be achieved is often the most effective voice.
H/E: What do you envision for your brand's future?
MH: Wren continues to expand and develop its uniquely innovative design ideas and there are exciting plans in the works for the coming year. We have really enjoyed the international platform our online store has created, and we would love to grow our reach and create a stronger presence abroad in physical brick and mortar stores. We have such positive feedback from clients from all over the world and it's really inspiring! This encourages us to grow our in-studio team as we have so many new product ideas that we are excited to experiment with and launch for the customers who support our company.
The Wren Design’s beautifully deconstructed line of accessories will be exhibited for potential buyers at NY NOW’s Artisan Resource August 12-15 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. 
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