More than a year ago, Print’s sister publication, HOW magazine, featured Lorrin Webb and her company Wanderite in the Designing Change column. In an interview, Webb described Wanderite as “an eco-friendly, sweatshop-free screen-printing design studio that features my hand-drawn illustrations on responsibly made apparel using water-based inks and solvents.” In addition to Webb’s running and creating wearable design for this ambitious business, we learned at the time that she was also teaching others on her campus about how to start their own design business. “I’ve always known that I’d do my own thing as a designer and illustrator, so I made the decision from the beginning that I’d do it in the most responsible, sustainable, eco-conscious way possible,” she said.
Needless to say, we were impressed. So we decided to catch up with Webb and see what’s happening in her business today. It turns out that her eco-business continues to evolve, while at the same time staying true to its roots. She now works out of Asheville, North Carolina—a fitting home given that Wanderite draws inspiration from the Appalachian region—and she finds herself surrounded by a multitude of resources, from boutiques and galleries to street markets and festivals.
An Evolving Eco-Friendly Design Business
“When I began, I was in design school and working part-time at a local coffee shop, and relied on start-up grants from the business school,” Webb says. “At this point, I have been operating full-time for the past two years, relying solely on my illustration and design work with Wanderite to sustain me. I am traveling full-time with my work, vending at indie art, yoga and music festivals, street markets and pop-up shops.”
In Wanderite’s early days, Webb was primarily selling her work wholesale to local boutiques. But over time, she realized that she is most successful and fulfilled when doing in-person shows. “I get to engage directly with the folks that are attracted to my work,” she says. “It is incredibly fulfilling to see people’s reaction to and appreciation of my work.
“In this setting, I get the opportunity to act as an environmental activist, educating people about eco-friendly screen-printing and packaging. Also, I consider myself honored to be a voice for human rights in regard to educating people about the (unsustainable) way our products are made these days, and the fact that I use only sweatshop-free garments for printing. To see someone who’s never thought about these issues before suddenly light up when shown the alternative, makes the work I do that much more exciting.
“As an artist and designer it has been awesome to figure out what my best-selling items are, and be able to rely one hundred percent on my creativity for income. That has given me a lot of freedom.”
The Philosophy Behind an Eco Design Business
A business such as Webb’s—and arguably, any business—demands to be driven by a strong philosophy. Webb notes that the philosophy behind Wanderite is reflected quite simply in the name itself.
“In mineralogy, ‘ite’ is the suffix added to crystals when named,” she says. “Wanderite is a fictional stone that seamlessly weaves together the two most inspiring sources in my life: spirituality and exploring nature. I am most at peace and alive in the belly of the forest, and I am fascinated by gems and minerals and how they have been utilized by humans for healing and ornament since prehistoric times. Many stones have metaphysical properties.”
She goes on to say that is she were to describe Wanderite in terms of its metaphysical properties, the description would be as follows: an activated wandering spirit; increased groundedness and simplicity; the ability to be at home wherever one goes; a greater acceptance of unknown situations; and an unwavering ability to be present in the traverse of life.
The second meaning of Wanderite, Webb says, is to “‘wander right’, or as a wise on once said, ‘It is better to travel well than to arrive.'” The wise man she refers to is the Buddha, and Webb notes that Buddhism has played an integral role in her life for more than 15 years.
“Though I may not have always lived my life in perfect balance with [that saying], it acts as a sort of ‘happiness meter’ for me,” she says. “If I find myself rushing through my to-do lists, overwhelmed and feeling irritated, frustrated and over-stressed, odds are I am not being present in the moment and doing each task with total presence. It is really easy to see our responsibilities as hurdles to being happy some time in the future, when it’s all done. But everyone knows when you knock one thing off the to-do list another five things appear to take its place. I use this Buddhist saying any time I catch myself doing life in this manner. It helps keep me centered and sane and taking time to reflect on how grateful I am to be living my dream and following my passion.”
In addition to impacting her personal life, the Buddhist saying plays a direct role in Webb’s eco design business, as well, having a constant influence over her decisions regarding business ethics. To Webb, this means, “It is better to preserve the planet and promote well-being in others [travel well] than to make a quick profit [to arrive]. I am a part of the growing number of indiviudals and makers that refuse to do ‘business as usual’. I have grown up being exposed to businesses that choose profits over environmental and human preservation, and I am under the impression that we just don’t have to do that anymore. At this point, we know too much. We can make better choices that improve the quality of life rather than destroy it.”
The Keys to Success
When Webb was teaching others about how to start their own design business, her number-one piece of advice to design students had to do with taking that first step.
“So many students know what they like to do or the kind of design work they are inspired by, but don’t know how to take the first step toward defining their work,” she says. “In my experience the simplest way to start figuring out what kind of design work you can make a career out of, is to make a list of all the things in life that excite you. From there you narrow down to maybe one or two of your top favorites.
“My list was pretty ridiculous: rainbows, campfires, 16th century botanical etchings, high-country Thai embroidery, etc. After making this list, the top two for me were crystals and mountains. I had not seen anyone putting these elements on clothing, and within these two categories my work would be cohesive but also give me an endless array of material to draw from. Being cohesive as a designer is vitally important in my book, and as a design student you are all over the place. It is a super-simple starting point, but it worked for me and gave me material that defines and focuses my work and continues to be an endless source of inspiration.”
Webb goes on to note that her next best piece of advice had to do with excuses, particularly ones related to what a designer may believe he or she is lacking. “Persistence is golden. It is going to take hard work and long hours just as it would at any other job, definitely more so in the beginning. The benefit here is that you are working hard using your own creativity instead of designing for someone else. My favorite saying in regard to this is ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.'”
What’s next for Webb and Wanderite? She notes that she’s currently working on a series of prints that explores the synergy between plants and crystals, a phenomenon she’s never seen illustrated in detail. She also has a number of shows lined up and is hard at work on an upcoming line of apparel in collaboration with a designer out of San Francisco.
“When I took the plunge and started my own eco design business, I envisioned getting to a point where I just had more time to create and to explore the wild mountain areas that inspire my work,” Webb says. “I have used my creativity and design skills to create a life that I do not need a vacation from. To me, success continues to be defined in those terms.”
Have you designed a wearable? Whether it’s a T-shirt you designed and sell in your shop, a button you created as part of a client’s brand campaign, or a health and fitness tracking device you designed for a company, your eye-catching, innovative designs belong in Print’s Wearable Design Awards.