Interview with Sarah Spackman and Harriett Watts of The Fortynine Studio

When Eastern Weft decided to start a new production line we had to think about the reasons why we wanted to create another bag to put out on the market. Enter The Fortynine Studio, a talented design collective... who share the same values when it comes to design and production.

To work with local emerging artists is always great The Fortynine Studio are full of incredible idea’s and are open to new possibilities in all aspects of production and design.

Eastern Weft and The Fortynine Studio share a zero waste policy that formed the underlying value of producing the Harriet clutch together.Collaborating with an emerging Australian Design Team symbolised a harmonious union between West (Australia) East (Laos) Eastern Weft and The Fortynine Studio share a complete holistic approach to design.

Harriet clutches are made using leather off cuts sources from local tanneries in Australia. The internal silk lining is Eastern Weft Silk – hand woven in Laos by young artisans of Ethnic Hill Tribes.

We caught up with two of the designers from The Fortynine Studio, SS - Sarah Spackman and HW – Harriet Watts EW, after their launch globally, here’s what they had to say.

EW - Can you tell us what you do?
SS + HW - We are two of five members of The Fortynine Studio, a collaborative design studio based in Sydney. We design and make object based work across textiles, ceramics, furniture and jewellery from our studio in Darlinghurst. We use local and recycled resources wherever possible, developing work for small production runs, exhibition and research, with the aim to explore design and the handmade in an Australian context.

EW - What is the latest project you’re working on?
SS + HW - Our most recent work together is a collection of objects called The Bushfire, which we launched at Ventura Lambrate during Milan Design Week earlier in the year. The collection is an exploration and expression of Australia’s unique understanding of the regenerative aspects of bushfire. Drawing from the Australian landscape, the studio designed five objects that relate to one another through materiality, finish and colour, with each piece designed to function both individually and as part of the suite. Alongside this collection we collaborated with The Other Hemisphere to design and make The Other Hemisphere espresso cup. They traveled to Milan and were used during the exhibition. They’re now available for sale from our online store We’ve also just launched a beautiful new range of Flip Flop Slip called Mountain range, which uses the forms as a surface to create unique patterns, textured patterns.

EW - How did you feel about exhibiting in Milan?
SS + HW - We were completely thrilled to exhibit in Milan! It was wonderful to be a part of such a significant and established design event. We feel very proud to be a part of The Other Hemisphere, representing Australian design to the rest of the world. Milan Design Week is immense with satellite exhibitions and events spread out across the entire city. To experience so much design in such a short space of time is overwhelming and inspiring. It was great to see where our work sits in an international design context.

EW - 3 people that inspire/excite you?
SS – I am always excited by and inspired by the extraordinary designers, artists, jewellers and filmmakers I work with including my incredible friends who are also my colleagues at The Fortynine Studio, and my partner Keaton. I am most inspired by those who are able to develop a successful and diverse practice while maintaining a sense of integrity with their ideas and output.
HW – For me The Fortynine Studio is the most fantastic group of people to explore designs with. When we talk about potential ideas a sense of excitement and energy builds and I wish I didn’t have to sleep so I could spend all my time on it. People that really inspire me are usually artists or textile designers (although recently ceramicists and object designers), and tend to be people whose practices are intrinsic to their life. I have a deep admiration for people who are strongly connected to their local environment through their work.

EW - What is your favourite item that you have ever designed?
SS - When I was 12 I drew a picture for a family friend’s logo. I was ecstatic at the time as I loved drawing and they paid me $25 for it. After studying biology before finding my way to design, I look back at that drawing and see it perhaps as a sign of what I was meant to be doing all along.
HW – My favourite work is a series of paper objects that I developed as part of a research project that was accompanied by a theoretical component. They are still in development.

EW - Why is the handmade important to you?
SS - Handmade to me represents the continuation and survival of traditional craft skills. In a society where the economics of mass production rule, this is significant and important. Handmade objects show the knowledge and care of the maker, the intimate understanding of materials and processes that took many years to learn and a lifetime to master. They reflect the unique approach and identity of the maker, which changes the way the object is perceived and valued.
HW – Me too. The Indigenous and colonial histories of Australia have cultivated an interesting culture of craft, design and the handmade. There’s a rich knowledge of local and natural materials here that isn’t evident in much of contemporary Australian life.

EW - Why is collaboration important to you?
SS + HW - Collaboration pushes us to explore further and work harder than we might as individuals. Throwing ideas around with other people offers new perspectives and brings together different experiences, knowledge and skills that, more often than not, bring better, more considered and more resolved design outcomes. In The Fortynine Studio, collaboration enables us to take on bigger ideas and opportunities as a collective as we each bring something different to the group.

EW - Tell us about your ongoing collaboration with us, why Eastern Weft?
SS – Samorn and I are great friends, having met while I was studying textiles at the College of Fine Arts. We have worked together on and off over the years, supporting and encouraging one another in our developing practices and lives. Our ongoing collaboration is the result of a shared passion for the handmade, traditional textiles, a mutual respect for each others’ approach, and an earnest desire to explore what Australian design is together. Because of our shared interest in textile design and working with natural fibres, Harriet joined us last year to collaborate on the new range.
SS + HW - It’s rare, grounding and incredibly rewarding to work with someone who has an intimate understanding of the materials they’re working with, and also approaches the environmental implications of producing their work holistically.

EW - What experience have you gained that you would like to share with our audience?
SS + HW - We have been lucky enough to: - hold silkworm cocoons in our hands - learn where the best dye plants are around Sydney and Canberra (and how to get people to help you pick them) - collaborate with clever and talented designers - work with the most incredible handwoven silks and antique textiles - create work together that is considered, simple and beautiful.

EW - What do you hope 2014 brings?
SS + HW - From developing new work with Eastern Weft and The Other Hemisphere, exhibiting at Ventura Lambrate in Milan and DesignEx in Sydney, to stocking our Flip Flop Slip ceramic tableware, and continuing our ceramic collaboration with Melbourne-based furniture company Jardan, we have a full and exciting year ahead. SS - I also hope to further my metal working skills through a residency with a jewellery and object designer in Scandinavia, Japan or South Korea… maybe next year.
HW – I hope to have weekends.

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