Cork woman's small sustainable craft business set up during lockdown is thriving

Musician, horticulturalist, naturalist and crafter LAUREN GUILLERY set up her new business during lockdown, with sustainability at its core, writes AISLING MEATH
Cork woman's small sustainable craft business set up during lockdown is thriving

Artist Lauren Guillery, Seaside Squirrel from Clonakilty. Picture: Darragh Kane

THRIVING in balance with the planet is the goal of musician, horticulturalist and crafter Lauren Guillery, who turned to her sewing machine and crochet hook during lockdown and started a small craft enterprise. The business, ‘Seaside Squirrel’, makes a range of handmade products with sustainability at their core.

“I started off making cloth face masks due to my concern that the disposable ones would inevitably end up in the ocean or in landfill, and then I realised there were other products which I could make to offer alternative options, and through my work I am on a quest to find positive solutions to the environmental problem,” said Lauren.

Growing up outside Lille in France, Lauren always loved the natural world and as a child she spent many happy hours in her garden watching the playful antics of the ducks which were kept by her dad.

Lauren Guillery with her hens named after characters in Coronation Street.
Lauren Guillery with her hens named after characters in Coronation Street.

She now lives in the beautiful Seven Heads Peninsula in West Cork, with her fiancé Michal, their cat and dog, and five hens, some of whom are named after characters in the long running soap opera Coronation Street, which she watches regularly.

“ We have Vicky, (Queen Victoria) Maggie (Princes Margaret), Fiz, Jenny and Rosie,” she laughs, “they are so funny and adorable, and I love just watching them roaming around the place.”

Just like for so many other people, the lockdown brought personal challenges to Lauren.

“My grandmother, my dad’s mother who was 90, was living in a nursing home in Paris, and unfortunately she contracted Covid and passed away in April, 2020. This was a really difficult time not being able to go there and be with my family, and not being able to give my dad a big hug to comfort him.

“He could not travel to Paris from Lille for the funeral either, as it was the height of lockdown in France too, so it was especially difficult for him. Luckily his siblings in Paris were able to organsise the practical side of things, but it was a very sad and lonely time for us all.

“And then, myself and Michal had to cancel our wedding which we had planned in May, 2020, as our families could not travel to celebrate with us. We have not rescheduled it yet, due to all the uncertainties still around travelling during the pandemic.”

Despite the loss of her grandmother and personal setbacks, Lauren channelled her substantial energies into expanding her enterprise ‘Seaside Squirrel’, and began to consider what other sustainable products she could make.

Lauren Guillery's feminine hygiene products, from  Seaside Squirrel.
Lauren Guillery's feminine hygiene products, from  Seaside Squirrel.

Among other items such as reusable face cleansing pads, one of her most innovative ideas was reusable feminine hygiene products. She began making a range of disposable pads and panty liners, all made from natural and repurposed materials.

“It’s quite incredible when you think that women will use between 10,000 and 16,000 pads over their lifetime, and when you consider that all goes into landfill, and that’s not even taking into account the manufacturing, packaging, and transportation waste involved.

“So it made sense to me to consider an alternative. And although it seems like a small monthly cost, over a lifetime you will spend thousands of euro on a product that will end up in the rubbish bin. It all adds up on a financial level, and most importantly at a huge cost to the environment.

Cleansing cloths made by Lauren.
Cleansing cloths made by Lauren.

“The cloth pads which I make have a top layer of cotton fabric and a bottom layer of cotton flannel, and they are also fitted with a hidden waterproof layer. I did a lot of research and testing prior to launching them. They have been worn by a diverse group of women who all have different requirements, so they come in three different sizes, taking into account different absorbency levels. I have taken all the feedback given to me by the women who tested them on board in order to come up with a product designed to ensure maximum comfort and practicality.

“Although making the switch to cloth pads may seem a bit daunting at first, they are really easy to use. They all have wings that snap around the gusset of most styles of underwear. The waterproof yet breathable layer underneath the absorbent core will prevent leakage, and you will never again experience a plastic wing sticking to your leg,” assures Lauren.

There is a very comprehensive ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on Lauren’s website, explaining the best way to wash and care for the reusable pads.

“For women who prefer tampons, I would encourage them to consider a moon cup which can be sourced through local health food shops,” she said.

One of the balms that Lauren makes.
One of the balms that Lauren makes.

As well as having a talent for sewing and crafting, Lauren is also a horticulturalist, and a permaculture designer, and loves to share her knowledge about native species of plants and birds.

“I’m planning a few foraging walks, and workshops on tree identification and tree propagation, around West Cork during the coming year, and from mid-January I’ll be doing a weekly post on garden birds on my social media platforms,” she said.

Lauren working in the garden.
Lauren working in the garden.

Lauren also nurtures a garden from which she sources the ingredients for a range of salves and ointments which she makes from scratch, including Calendula, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Comfrey and Wild Rose.

Using traditional methods, she dries the herbs and marinates them in essential oils, leaving them on a sunny windowsill, a time honored traditional method which has been used for centuries. The only added ingredient she uses is beeswax, which she sources from local West Cork bees.

As well as tending her garden, making her herbal skincare range, sewing her range of accessories and home decor products for ‘Seaside Squirrel’ Lauren is also a singer/songwriter and guitarist and has an album of original songs called Disaster in La La Land.

Artist Lauren Guillery, Seaside Squirrel from Clonakilty with her work at the Glucksman Craft + Design Fair in the Glucksman Gallery, UCC back in November. Picture: Darragh Kane
Artist Lauren Guillery, Seaside Squirrel from Clonakilty with her work at the Glucksman Craft + Design Fair in the Glucksman Gallery, UCC back in November. Picture: Darragh Kane

Sewing and making her ‘Seaside Squirrel’ products to the soundtrack of guitar driven rock music in her studio is a daily pleasure for Lauren. She also makes sure that she gets out in nature every day, not only to walk her dog, but also to spend some time observing the birds and the landscape around her.

“ Just being out in nature is so soothing and relaxing for me, and I know that during lockdown lots of people discovered how healing and calming it is.

“My life vision is to try and look after our beautiful Earth, to live and promote a greener way of living, and to support a shift from a society based on consumption and nurture a shift towards a circular economy.

“This means that the focus is on how we can reuse, repurpose and repair in order to preserve our precious natural resources, protect habitats, and reduce pollution, both on the earth and in the oceans.

“With that in mind,when making my products, I reuse remnants that are left over from the fashion industry, and recycled papers for packaging and stationary, keeping sustainability in mind in all that I create.

“I am also into supporting small local businesses, which means not contributing to the pollution caused by transportation.

“I feel very positive about the future. I think a lot of people are doing their best to make more sustainable choices when it comes to consumption. When you think about how people made the switch to using reusable shopping bags, it’s just the norm now. I feel very optimistic that people are gradually finding more and more ways of living a more sustainable lifestyle. One small green step at a time,” she says.

Tips from Lauren to live a more sustainable life

1. Reuse shampoo, shower gel and washing up liquid bottles at health food shops and refill stations and some supermarkets.

Consider using cloth handkerchiefs like your Granny used to use, which can be washed, ironed and reused.

2. Look at air miles to see where your products are coming from. Buy local, support your local bookshops and the local economy. Eat fresh local food if possible.

3. People are already starting to pool cars and bikes and if families or neighbours could consider sharing equipment such as power washers, lawn mowers, etc, it would be a significant reduction in terms of waste and cost.

Lauren’s website is at https://www.seasidesquirrel.ie/

Also find @seasidesquirrel on Instagram/ FB and Pinterest.

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