Emerging designer debut: Wild and Woolly, iPhone case on point
One to watch
T his September Nina Cheng came to the party with a fresh (and very fluffy) new concept: 3D-printed fur iPhone covers. The coveted creations are not only ethically sourced, she's even collaborated with an Eskimo village in Alaska to source materials. Here Buro 24/7 Middle East speaks to the accessories designer about fur and all of it's frills, ethics included...
Congratulations on the launch of Wild and Woolly. Tell us about the collection and why they're named after American fur outposts...
Thank you! Well, during my early research for Wild and Woolly, I discovered a lot about the history of fur. What many people don't realise is that North America, as we know it, was built from the fur trade. Starting from five hundred years ago, it was the demand for fur and the supply via racially harmonious trade that drove the exploration of a continent and ultimately propelled America into prominence. I found this history fascinating and chose to name each phone case model after an American fur trading post to honour the heritage of the fur trade and its importance in bringing so many cultures together in one place-Native Americans, French, British, Dutch, Spanish, and Russians-and also its importance in the founding of a new world.
The covers were originally designed for use in cooler climates. How do you think they'll transition into the warmer areas of the world?
Fur is a fabric that is beautiful, luxurious and comforting, with an added advantage of providing warmth. There are plenty of fur products invented for warmth, but very few for anything else. I think there are many women living in warmer climates who love fur but don't have many opportunities to wear it, and even women who live in four seasoned-climates who want to wear fur more than just once a year in the middle of winter. I'm also seeking out new ways to wear fur that have no seasonality requirements.
We love that you collaborate with an Eskimo village in Alaska. Did you visit them?
That's right-I source the sheared beaver furs from a Yup'ik Eskimo village in Western Alaska, located several miles north of the Arctic Circle. The villagers ethically harvest the fur once a year, during the coldest part of the winter, to ensure the densest fur possible. I hadn't founded Wild and Woolly until after their last season, but with some luck, I would love to visit the Eskimo village this or next winter. One of their buyers sent me a video of their fur process, and it's unlike anything I've ever seen-there's miles and miles of frozen tundra and they have to transport the furs via snowmobile. The Yup'ik people still hunt and fish for subsistence via traditional aboriginal methods, and for many families, selling these furs is their sole source of income in the winter. I hope that by sourcing from indigenous people, Wild and Woolly can support and hopefully help preserve their heritage and traditions. This village also supplies some of the densest and plushiest fur I've found!
The case is actually 3D printed, which is very cutting edge. Tell us about the process...
Fur is actually very challenging to work with when there's a phone involved. I tested several types of underlying cases early on and realised that combining fur with generic plastic phone cases that are pushed out of molds by the millions would not deliver a good user experience-you would constantly be trying to brush fur off your phone's screen or camera lens. Wild and Woolly cases were designed, tested, and perfected, specifically for use with fur, with industrial engineers.
I'm a big believer in comfort and usability, and these cases have the advantage of being optimised for both while still being wholly artisan-made.
Wild and Woolly definitely makes a statement. Where did the idea come from to curate the collection?
The collection was inspired by my love of fur-and my propensity for frequently dropping my iPhones! Many months ago, I shattered my screen and decided I finally needed to get a phone case, but after going to several luxury department stores and browsing multiple websites, I was quite disappointed by what was available on the market. Most phone cases were neither unique nor luxurious, and the few designs that were more upscale were very masculine looking and covered in exotic skins. Personally, I think python and crocodile are beautiful, but I didn't want to be touching a scaly reptile whenever I'd be on my phone (which is often)! I have always loved fur and have been wearing it since I was a teenager, so I wondered why no one had attempted a high-end fur phone case. I made a fairly rudimentary version for myself, and the first night I took it out, I was stopped every few minutes by strangers asking who made it, where they could buy it, or if they could take a picture of it. Within an hour, I took my first order and subsequently, Wild and Woolly was born. Now I have earrings too.
Furs have come with their fair share of bad media, are your furs ethically sourced and why did you decide to use fur opposed to faux?
I feel that there are a lot of misconceptions about fur out there. In reality, fur is actually the most humane out of all of the animal industries, and there are many more regulations surrounding animal welfare with fur than with meat or leather in North America and Europe. As well, real fur is much less polluting to manufacture than synthetic fur, which is derived from petroleum and takes incredibly long to break down-500 to 1,000 years.
You'll see on the website that we've listed the origin of the fur on every phone case model and have several options for ethically-sourced, free range fur. As mentioned before, our sheared beaver furs are ethically-sourced from an Aboriginal village in Alaska, and the majority of our mink and fox furs come from Saga Furs, a Helsinki-based auction house that maintains the highest standards of fur production and quality.
What's next for Wild and Woolly?
I'd love to work with more eco-friendly furs in the future. I'm exploring one of the most eco-friendly furs: nutria, an otter-like animal, which has been decimating the wetlands in the South, to the extent that several states have mandated nutria eradication projects to save the habitat. Nutria fur used to be a Hollywood favourite, worn by starlets like Greta Garbo, and it seems to be making a come-back-Thom Browne and Marni have both used nutria in recent collections.
Wild and Woolly is available at Browns in London, Opening Ceremony in New York and LA and internationally at wildandwoollyNY.com.