Last Sunday K.BIRDY was part of the Rosewood London's first Slow Food and Living Market, located in the hotel's gorgeous courtyard. It was a wonderful experience on many levels, not least as the slow movement concept is something that has resonated with me for some time.
I once heard a chef and food writer describe the SLOW concept beautifully. She had a smallholding where she described growing and harvesting her produce with love, and then preparing it with love and finally serving it to her friends and family with love. Besides daydreaming about how good her food must have tasted after all the love poured in, she seemed to have got the emphasis in her life right – to add richness to our experience, share this with others and actually slow down enough to savour the details.
The slow food movement emerged in the 1980s in reaction to the onset of fast food. When you see the slow food symbol in a restaurant window you can be sure that every aspect of what is served to you has been made from scratch and not poured out of a jar. The produce is seasonal, ethical and sourced locally.
Having lived in Australia before moving to England, I discovered the Slow Guide to Melbourne around 2007 and with much enthusiasm, as I was imagining I'd have a sneaky directory to discover some great local food and lifestyle products. But I soon realised it was more than a guide to finding some really interesting local businesses, but actually led me on walks through the city that revealed the history of the local area and its remnants left in the landscape. It made me conscious of the sights, sounds and smells within my surrounds, which enriched a sensory experience.
A friend of mine came up with the expression 'Smellbourne' when we were out walking one balmy evening. We would walk for two hours or so through all the back streets to unwind after work. When the roses were in season we would stop at each fence to lean over and smell. There was always a little excitement before smelling, was this just a pretty tease or would it have a lovely scent as well. Every so often we would find a rose that was just exquisite. We joked that we could actually do guides to 'Smellbourne' to lead people around these back streets and to well…smell the roses!
Backpacking around South East Asia was a wonderfully slow time for me. I didn't have a phone. There was no sleeping with my phone at my ear to listen for beeps of incoming client emails that might need my urgent attention! I was lucky enough to discover a permaculture farm where the farmer used no modern machinery (not to mention no electricity). I was helping to restore one of the bamboo huts and there was no drill to help speed up the work. A good part of the morning was spent tapping a nail through the bamboo to make way for the screw. Rice was harvested with a scythe, the ripe seeds shaken onto a sheet, husks swept away and then poured into sacks. I asked the farmer why he didn't get a small tractor or some basic machinery to help lighten his work (although fit he was in his fifties and it was hard work in the heat of the sun) and he answered, "whilst I do everything with my hands I am living sustainably and I am an example to my community as to what is possible if we live sustainably". We cooked in a traditional Thai kitchen using wood and a wok. If the fire was made too soon before the vegetables were prepared, he would remind us that we were wasting the energy from the wood. Everything in his farm had a value, even the unused energy from a small fire, something I'd never truly taken the time to appreciate before.
The designs from my latest cushion collection began as drawings in a Laos weaving studio. Initially I sought weaving tuition from a Laos master weaver and then returned to draw in her traditional studio. Hand weaving is slow work. A few centimetres of an intricate pattern may represent a whole day of work for a weaver. The silk comes from the cocoons of silk larvae. These are boiled and then spun, dyed in large vats, dried on bamboo sticks and then threaded onto spindles and ready to be woven. The loom itself takes a week to thread. When I watched the women preparing the loom it was quite awe inspiring. Girls are taught to weave by their mothers at around age six and by their early twenties play their looms like virtuoso musicians. Where I felt clumsy trying to tie a knot, they deftly tie one in a second between their index finger and thumb, a bit like flicking a crumb.
Our cushions are the product of a conscious choice to slow and experience life's details; sewn in London, by craftspeople, they are faultless in quality. Each design begins with sketches and photographs which provide inspiration for a pattern repeat which is developed on computer and printed then redrawn several times by hand in pen & ink before resolving the final pattern. Our patterns are digitally printed onto silk. The smooth silk surface helps to capture the textural feel of the drawn lines. Selecting the finest materials has been thoughtfully considered; choosing a satin silk for the cushion which is enjoyably soft to touch and using organic cotton for the lining and back. Our swing tags and paper packaging use 100% recycled paper and we avoid the use of plastic as much as possible, by storing the ready-made cushions in biodegradable cellophane.
Under the arches at the entrance to the Rosewood London, we were in good company at the Slow Food and Living Market. Opposite us a shoe designer with handmade shoes with soles of coconut husks and so comfortable they felt as though your foot was being massaged whilst walking (www.po-zu.com). To our right a ceramicist with organic shaped tableware in sophisticated neutral tones, with glazes that subtly contrasted matt and gloss surfaces (www.facebook.com/LondonKana). To our left an apothecary who makes with pestle and mortar from natural ingredients her own soaps, lip balms and essential oils (www.honestskincare.co.uk). The constant wafts of flower scents were wonderfully tempting, let alone her simple stylish packaging. It truly was inspiring to be amongst such admirable businesses with beautiful, thoughtful products and made with heart. We are looking forward to being part of the market again next month.