Kim Broadhurst is the creative talent behind Incorknito Designs, hand made earrings made out of sustainable cork. Here the Costume with Textiles graduate explains how lockdown, during her placement year at university, led her to starting her small, Suffolk-based business
Life truly is a journey full of goals you plan for and the experiences you don’t. Trying to find the balance between tactically planning and living in serendipity is a constant battle and one I’m still learning to live with. Going to university and starting my small business – I never planned to do either but I’m so glad I did.
I recently graduated from studying BA (Hons) Costume with Textiles for four years and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed my time at university. I never planned on going to university throughout my time at high school and it ended up being quite a spontaneous choice. However, it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve always been into arts and crafts from a young age and came across a course that I thought could progress my creative skills. I wasn’t wrong! It truly opened my eyes into various career paths and progressed skills I wasn’t even aware I had. Being away from home really helped me develop into the individual I am today. It not only improved my confidence and independence but allowed me to see life from a completely different perspective.
Covid-19 hit midway through my placement year in my third year at university. And, like many, it put a spanner in the works for me. For that year I had to move back home, and a lot of uncertainty was shadowing over me in terms of my last year at uni. My ongoing placements, and ones I had lined up in theatres and with costumiers/designers, were all cancelled. This led me to feel at a loss and anxiety became overwhelming for me. Things were looking bleak, and I felt I was losing the independence I had gained. In a bid to distract myself and to fuel my creative needs, I began to explore different materials and the possibilities of what could be made from them. Being a textile student, I was always on the lookout for unusual fabrics, and I discovered cork fabric in this time. I just fell in love with it. I’ve always been one for large statement earrings and I made a few pairs for myself out of cork and the feedback I got from family and friends was amazing.
I threw myself into designing and making different shapes and colourways and even incorporated embroidery into my first few pairs. This was great for me as while I was at university, I specialised in embroidery in my second year, and this was a way to use some of the skills I’d gained.
Still amidst Coronavirus times, I was able to return to my student accommodation and complete my final year at university. However, this was completely different to my other years with everything being online and no leaving the flat apart for the weekly shop. This made things extremely challenging and isolating but I threw myself fully into my university work, meaning my earring making was put on hold. Due to the university campus being closed and all teaching being done online, tuition in terms of learning how to pattern cut, sew and make alterations to costumes through fittings was tough. I decided the physical making wasn’t for me and I decided within my final year to specialise more in design. I fell in love with digitally designing my own patterns and costumes and drawing characters really opened a whole new world for me. Since finishing university, trying to find a job locally in digital design has been hard, especially with the pandemic. In the meantime, it led me to put my all into starting my small business of making sustainable cork earrings, which, in fairness, if Covid hadn’t have happened my business probably would never have started.
I’ve always been an earring lover and it was only when I started reading articles on what a lot of modern-day jewellery is made up of, did I think there must be a better way of doing this. Two of the top modern materials now used in jewellery making are polymer clay and resin. It’s only when you break down the meaning of those words do you realise plastic is involved in both. I felt there must be a more renewable and sustainable source for jewellery and when I came across cork, I thought this must be the way to go.
When one thinks of cork, one usually pictures a material which easily crumbles or tears, but this isn’t the case with cork fabric. The material is flexible, lightweight, thin and behaves like leather and therefore durable and long-lasting.
It should be said that the cork I use is sustainably sourced and does not harm the tree. Often called vegan leather, as no animal or plant is harmed in harvesting the product. No trees are cut down to obtain the material – the outer layer of bark is removed from the tree, and it is said to be beneficial to its growth with the bark regenerating. This creates a completely renewable and sustainable material.
I knew I wanted to make my business as eco-friendly as I could to work in harmony with my main material. My packaging is all recyclable and is comprised of recycled acid free tissue paper, paper tape, shredded paper packaging and biodegradable/compostable vegetable starch bags. Also, any wood I use in making my earrings is FSC® certified and I’m always on the lookout for improving my eco-friendliness and reducing my impact on the world.
The cork I use is all sustainably sourced from south-western Europe, predominantly Portugal which is home to the largest collection of cork oak trees and is also the world leader in cork production.
It is my understanding that another plus to the sourcing of cork, is that it has a positive reputation for fair labour. It is carried out by teams of specialised skilled workers and cannot be done by machines or unskilled workers like most exploitable agricultural processes. Skills are passed down from elders and it is in the cork forest landowners’ best interest to preserve the trees, as it takes roughly 40 years for a tree to yield good cork and make it profitable for a long time. This encourages preservation of the trees and maintains sustainable practices.
I feel it’s important to have more environmentally friendly options available to consumers. Also, by being handmade they’re completely unique – no two are the same and I feel that also appeals to people. Besides being hand painted, the actual make-up of the cork itself is different and creates interesting patterns and textures.
My first market was in November last year and I absolutely enjoyed it. Meeting fellow makers and small business owners alike and of course meeting the public and getting feedback on products is all very rewarding. I’ve now got some events booked throughout 2022 locally in Norfolk and Suffolk and I’m still on the lookout for new events to attend throughout the year to get my name out there and spread awareness.
Also, as mentioned before, I’m keen to ever improve my environmental impact and I’ve already earmarked taking simple steps. For example, switching my business card manufacturer from a large company that prints on glossy finished paper, to one made locally from recycled card. I really feel that small changes can have a big impact and I feel the more people see others trying the more they themselves will.
When looking to start my business I always knew I wanted to ensure my products were as sustainable as possible. Beyond this year, or depending on how it grows, I’m keen to switch the dyes and glues I use to more eco-friendly ones to make my business as eco as I can. I still have a long way to go to make my products and my whole business ethos as eco as I can, but I believe this is an ongoing process and you have to start somewhere. Every small alteration and consideration into improving my practices to make them more environmentally friendly is a step in the right direction and I have so many ideas moving forward.