Anne Foster has studied everything from Environmental Science to Finance, and has an insatiable passion for beautiful design and products, sustainability and ethical contribution. She is the Founder and Owner of Elkie & Ark, a luxury homewares business that sources and supplies only organic, sustainable and ethical products. Anne prides her business on its vigorous research, which ensures all products meet their non-toxic, non-harm standards from farm to finish.
In this interview, Anne shares how she combined her many passions to create a social business that not only fuelled her creative streak, but mindfully supports all the people in the creation and supply chains they source their gorgeous products from.
Anne has worked and invested in the world’s smallest start-ups to the world’s biggest enterprises, advising on supply chains, sustainability, water, waste, pollution and renewable energy. She has spoken at leading global events on sustainability and social enterprise and the power of everyday consumers.
The best part of my job is…
I love creating a product that is tactile and beautiful and a business that revels in the important things in life. I love helping people reconnect with their own homes, themselves, their families and to slow down and indulge in the simplest pleasures in life. And I love helping people connect and care globally. For the environment, ecosystems and for people all around the world.
Most of all, I love seeing the impact we have on people’s lives too. Not as charity but in how we run business every day. I love seeing the happy vibe where we grow, weave, craft our goods. These people, not the just ‘makers,’ but far before this of the supply chain, are so often hidden away and live and work at risk of devastating toxicity, environmental pollution, toxic waste, unfair wages, unsafe jobs or even child labour, trafficking and worse.
Hearing our workers talk about job security, about knowing that they are looked after and importantly, hearing them say that they know they can support their whole families and that their children can go to school. I love knowing that I am part of a movement that is bringing incredible change to start to fix some massive problems in how our textiles industry is run and showing that business can be run in such a different, constructive, inclusive way.
I chose to enter this field of work because…
I think it was always an intrinsic drive I couldn’t ignore – not a conscious choice! So many steps across my life led to it all coming together.
I wanted to work in what we now call social enterprise since I was very young. It is funny to think that I dreamt of worlds without waste or pollution when I was a tiny little thing. I worked with groups fighting against trafficking or domestic violence and poverty overseas and at home. I studied Environmental Science and Finance. Business, sustainability and human rights are a trifecta that I just love doing! I endlessly studied models of aid or charity or business to figure out what could work best.
But, I have also always been that odd person who amongst my sustainability bent, is entrenched in being around beautiful things and having simple, minimalist and beautiful style. I wanted to solve problems in a positive, accessible and beautiful way, not shock people and scare them. I wanted to create something where I could bring all these things together in one. Oh, and having come from a background where my grandmother forged a living as a seamstress when she arrived in Australia to make ends meet, I have grown up with quality textiles and it is simply something I love.
The greatest challenge in my career has been…
Doubt. So many times I should have backed myself when I didn’t. But equally, times I took chances that I am so glad that I did. There are still times when I wonder, “Who am I to do this or to think that I can make a change or have a right to try to make a change?”. I still struggle with this after spending such a long time finding the most constructive and comprehensive solutions.
I started my career as a creative. I doubted my ability to run a business, so moved to work in finance to support other businesses. I then came back full circle as a creative and then to sustainability and ethical contribution.
People told me a creative girl couldn’t do well in finance. Then when I wanted to do something new, people told me someone in finance couldn’t be creative.
I dealt with prejudice and people telling me that you can’t do all these things. You can’t be creative, into beautiful things and social enterprise and science and finance… But I learnt first-hand that you can.
It is still sometimes so hard not to doubt “Who am I to think I can learn new things or do it all… or even stand up for the things I want to change?”. But then I say to myself, “Who are we not to?”
The funniest misconceptions about my industry/company/brand are….
That ethical, sustainable or fair trade should look a certain way! We make our goods to impeccable quality and style, but wanted to make it in only the way that makes sense to us: ethically and sustainably, in the strictest ways. That is what we are all about! I have been lucky too that people quickly change their mind when they look behind the scenes and realise the passion, the lengths we go to, research we have done and the experience we have.
As an example, I have taken over a year to source some new products because even though they are commonly labeled or claimed to be organic or ethical, when I dug deep enough, it just didn’t hold true. We won’t stock it until we find it done the right way.
A less funny and more serious misconception about the textile industry is our responsibility for goods ends where they are ‘made’. This doesn’t account for so many people working so hard further back in the supply – the growers, weavers, spinners. Goods today are made globally (99% of Australian cotton is shipped offshore for spinning and 95% of wool for cleaning), so we need to start asking questions as to what journey our products have been on, demand transparency and care right from farm to finish (and beyond).
The most influential person in my career has been…
Gosh there have been so many. Many have influenced from afar as I have explored to see what works and doesn’t. The big names like Livia Firth (sustainable fashion advocate) or Dame Anita Roddick (the Body Shop Founder), or Muhammad Yunus (microfinance) or Dr Charlotte di Vita (a Nelson Mandela ambassador) or even Jose Mujica (formerly the ‘world’s poorest president’ who speaks on the importance of simplicity in life and making the most of time – not wealth).
But the one who stands out is very different.
She was a friend of mine who I lived with during my time living in Northern Thailand. We lived in a village close to the border where girls were often targeted for trafficking. And it was an incredible moment when I saw how eloquent, educated, confident and willing to stand up for herself and her community she was. Even in the most remote place, she was so empowered by having had education and knowing the dangers of the false promises of trafficked jobs. Her stories of what happened to some of her friends who did end up being trafficked and in situations disowned by their families was such an influential point for me. Realising the extent of issues but also seeing the impact that something as simple as education and opportunity can have to start to solve them.
If I could give one piece of advice to my 18-year-old self, it would be….
Don’t waste your time on people who don’t give you as much priority as you do them, especially when it came to the wrong men. You have so much to give! Gosh I wasted years shrinking in order to seek approval and be who I thought people wanted me to be. But, the right people will surround you when the time is right.
My greatest achievement has been…
Getting through my daughter’s pregnancy with a positive mindset and every day not letting the people who told me she wouldn’t live ruin my belief and trust it would be OK.
Then turning this energy into a means of giving back to other mothers whose children may go through similar life-threatening issues – sadly at times due to toxicities and pesticides from agriculture or textile production that are in their environment and beyond their control (if you haven’t yet seen the True Cost, I can highly recommend you settle in with Netflix!), and finding a way to start to solve this problem. We can do this by providing basic things we take for granted like medical help, parental leave, living wages, clean water, clean food and education.
The greatest personal challenge I have over come is…
The same as the greatest achievement above! I used to think that by focusing on negative outcomes, I was somehow protecting myself from disappointment.
When I was faced with one of the worst outcomes of all, I realised that there is no point in wasting our lives focusing on what could go wrong. Even when the world’s leading doctors or other mothers around the world who have lived through it tell you it will! If things go wrong, imagining this outcome day in day out does no good.
Instead, it was a huge mental challenge (and achievement) for me to put the negativity aside and focus on the very best outcome. To focus on not what we were missing out on, but what we did have. Interestingly… it was far from perfect, but the most amazing outcome came true.
I don’t understand why…
We often are more inclined to help the plight of animals or the environment than we are for fellow humans at risk.
I try to relax by…
Wine. (Did I say that out aloud?)
My biggest fear is…
Hatred and fear taking over our ability to connect and love (that and the dark.)
I can’t live without…
Family, good coffee, sunshine, salt water, thinking time, bad pop music and trashy magazines.
I really wish I had…
The greatest lesson I have learnt is….
From my brother – “Remember you are perfect because you are perfect at being you – no one else can do that”.
If I had one super power, it would be….
If I could invite four people to a dinner party, they’d be…
Judi Dench, David Attenborough, Astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Mel, she’s loads of fun.
To celebrate the launch of Elkie & Ark this holiday season, Anne is offering all DG readers a $20 discount and free shipping in Australia on all orders over $150. Just use the code at checkout at www.elkieark.com SANTASNOOZING before the 31 December 2016!
Anne Foster loves creating change in the most positive of ways. She believes in the power of every person to – step by step – impact the world in the most amazing ways. She can never decide between coffee, green tea, and turmeric so coffee inevitably wins. She thinks we all need to slow down and stop being so busy. Ironically, she isn’t great at sleeping or doing this herself, so founded Elkie & Ark, a business dedicated to sharing the pleasures of a simple life and living the important things. Like sleep. And family. And jumping on the bed.
Anne has studied everything from Environmental Science to Finance, and in her career worked and invested in the world’s smallest startups to the world’s biggest enterprises, advising on supply chains, sustainability, water, waste, pollution and renewable energy. She has spoken at leading global events on sustainability and social enterprise and the power of everyday consumers.
She lives a life as low impact and low-tox as she can – while living in the real world – and is a mother of two little ones. She has worked for NGOs supporting women and children and trafficking of women is the thing that really gets her down. So, she’s on a mission to help to stop it (among many other things!)