Friday, 26 November 2010

Interview - Meet Wendren - from etsy shop The Wren

and kittie Pye!

I first noticed Wendren when I came across one of her bird pouches, in her etsy shop The Wren, which I thought was very novel, not to mention cute.

I really liked Wendren's take on this handy wrist pouch and I was intrigued to know more about her and saw that she had a blog, The Wren Design, so I stopped by and had a very interesting read! Wendren has a great enthusiasm for creativity in design and coupled with her very ethical business practices I knew she would go far.

I asked Wendren if she would take out from her busy schedule and answer a few questions for me. Gladly she obliged.

Wendren's cat Pye having 40 winks between tasks

As my whole life revolves around animals I asked Wendren about the animals in her life and she said

‘I have a great animal past. Up till the age of 10 I wanted to be a game ranger. Then I learnt they earn very little so I changed to become a Veterinarian but when I failed Biology in High School I realised this might not be my of all things, I turned to art and design.

In small ways this comes out though because my favourite subjects are animals and my favourite place to be is in the bush (which in Africa translates to being in the wild).'

Wendren's sketches of her cat Mischief

'I grew up in a very small town in Botswana and I was very lucky because my parents never said no to injured or unusual animals (although I always wanted a goat my mom put her foot down there because it would eat all the washing). We had hedgehogs (all called Miss Tiggywiggles), rabbits, chickens, an aviary full of birds, snakes, fish (that every time you moved the tank they multiplied), an injured eagle that had flown too far and was suffering from exhaustion (we helped it until he started biting us).... and more but none of the above ever at the same time.

Perhaps the most exotic animal we ever had was a baby ostrich named 'Ozzy'.'

My time in Botswana was very special and I still feel as though that country is my second home.’

A hippo painting by Wendren

I also lived in Zambia for 6 years and Africa is very dear to me so it was moving to hear Wendren’s thoughts on her country

‘Botswana is right next to Zimbabwe and as a child I remember going there and the roads were literally covered with gold coins that had melted in. It was a gorgeous country and 7 years ago when I went back it was a completely different experience. The border post was frightening (in ways I do not want to describe), the town was all barred up and it broke my heart. It is terrifying how this country has broken.
The stories are real and very frightening and one day movies will tell these horror stories. So many friends and friends-of-friends have lost their homes and cannot go back.
This is why for every Zimbabwean Coffee sling bag that is sold (which they are not many because the coffee farming, like almost all the farming, is very little), a percentage is donated back. I do the same for Ethiopia.’

A beautiful Jack Russel portrait

Wendren has a big heart! I read on her blog that one day she was driving behind a cement truck and she spotted the paper cement bags with the elephant logo and she was inspired to make a bag from them!

Isn’t that just great – inspiration comes at any time from the most unlikely places!

Wendren says ‘Another product that is very closely related to nature to the PPC Cement Bags. The elephant is Pretoria Portland Cement's logo because it represents loyalty and strength but there is more to this story because it is about giving back in the same way I believe in giving back. In the 1980's the Kruger National Park wanted to build it's infrastructure to be better and PPC donated all the cement needed for the roads. Thereafter the elephant became synonymous with the company and now supports many other parks such as Addo Elephant Park.'

I now live in a city far away from nature like I dreamt of, or grew up in, but what comforts me is that I am able to still give back and be a part of it even if this is not directly.’

PCC Laptop Bag with the PCC Cement elephant logo

Wendren has a cat called Pye who wasn’t named until 6 months later!

Pye was rescued by a family member, as she was on her way to being handed in to the SPCA, then given to me.

You had an ostrich when you were younger. Tell me about him.

A bushman had come to the school and in his bag he had several small ostriches. He said if we did not buy them he was going to eat them so my dad took one. Ozzy pecked at all our freckles and slept with the dogs. He ate milies and loved chasing the dogs and pecking their freckles! We had 4 dogs. 3 Bull terriers and 1 fox terrier whose fast running ability was his saving grace. Eventually when he was too big the nature conservation took him away.

PCC Cement Laptop bag with elephant in black

When did you first start drawing animals?

When I was about 10. I was sick and drew my siamese cat that sat on the end of the bed.
This pencil drawing is still one of my favourites.

Elephant Organic Coffee shoulder bag.

Did you ever consider following a ‘drawing’ career instead of a designer?

No. I never felt I was good and besides the best part of drawing was how I enjoyed it.

Why did you design your first bag and what inspired you to start your business?

The first bag I designed out of necessity and then because I hated my job, I saw it as an opportunity to create a business.

Ethopian Carry-all Bag made with coffee sack from Ethopia

Had you sold your work before?

No but I have always been very entrepreneurial.
At school I was terrible because as I soon learnt, the only thing that sells is fudge and not other 'creative' things.
At tech I printed t-shirts and did other small jobs that were design related.

one of Wendren's old designs, the Ashleigh Bag

Did you attend any small business courses?

No...and I was really bad at business at tech. I have made it work because I have 'created' accounts/books that work for me and that I understand.

Keyrings of Wrens made by a local craftsperson for Wendren - now aren't they super cute!!

What motivated you to involve local people in your business and how do you see this evolving?

My granny is an amazing people person (as is my sister). I'm not so great but I enjoy helping and my life-long goal is to inspire others.

Working with my seamstresses I have been able to give them a different life – they work from home and have their own machines now.

I lecture and thus, inspire the youth. However, I am learning all the time. Education is a big factor and I cannot expect everybody to have entrepreneurial blood. This is hard because although I give so much, they often then take more than I can give and/or are not appreciative of where we have come together. I am finding this a very difficult lesson to learn.

Organic Coffee Sling Bag combining a Fair Trade recycled jute coffee sack with an organic hemp canvas

How do you see Wren growing in the future?

I'm not sure. It's about discovering new materials and new ways to use them. This is the inspiration for a new bag design.
Wendren's box of treasures! natural colour dyes!

And what projects would you like to start / be involved in (without giving away any secrets)?

I am working with an amazing designer in London collaborating on some bag designs that use African fabrics combined with the coffee sacks.
They are amazing and should be out soon. :)

I would love to be more involved in Africa with regards to the fabrics. The dyes, colours .... this makes me go all dreamy eyed.

Wendren's natural dye collection

How many of your dreams have you achieved?

Oh so many. Reflecting on this makes me smile because just yesterday I replaced (almost sadly) my 24 year old car with a new one.
This is a huge goal achieved because the old toyota corolla was not safe to drive in the areas I was taking it (especially when the petrol attendant, man selling odds and ends at the traffic light and car guard ask you if you want to sell your car and if so, if you would sell it to them).
I also have had the toyota corolla since I started driving almost 10 years ago.

What do you collect? and why?

I collect natural dyes.

I love the mystery and the secrets that each natural powder or nut holds. I have no idea how to use them properly or even what colour they make .... but they are very special to me.

Wendren is indeed an inspiration! I wish her the very best with her London collaboration, it sounds very exciting! and I shall be following her blog to see her progress with her coffee sacks and the latest design innovations.

Pye has had her 40 winks and is now checking Wendren's etsy shop for sales and enquiries!
I'm sure she will be making a treasury as well!

Thank you Wendren! it was great getting to know more about you and seeing your love for animals and Africa shine thru in your very talented work. I am sure Pye will keep you on your toes!
Many thanks.

ps. only 19 days left for the rescue rabbit raffles!


  1. Very interesting interview. Lovely to learn more about Wendren & her work.

  2. thanks Jane! I'm very impressed by Wendren and have followed her progress since I first started on etsy.
    a very talented lady!


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