Island Entrepreneurs – Workbelt
by Hilary Schofield
Delving into the inspiration, influence and individuals behind some of Hobart’s happening businesses with a social bent.
Artisan leather worker and slow fashion advocate El Noskcaj started her business Workbelt 5 years ago. In that time Workbelt has morphed from market stall, to atelier-shop front, and now online and B2B. El is constantly tweaking her products to make the most of sustainable sourcing, market demand and her ethical approach to running a micro business.
How did you start? I consciously wanted to make a change to my career when I was sick with chronic fatigue and had to step back from society. I knew I liked sewing, but I was soon frustrated with ironing, washing and intricate details. I treated myself to some leather and I loved the quality. Leather is such a luxury to work with.
Do you have a business plan? No I do not…even though I used to teach business studies! My business plan would have looked different to reality very quickly. My approach has been constant evolution through trial and error.
How has Workbelt evolved? Over time I’ve put much more thought into sourcing ethical leather and maximising efficiency. In the early days, I used to look for inexpensive leather, then I would notice scars and signs of animal mistreatment, so I decided to only use skins that were the by-product of the meat industry. I now source most of my leather from Italy, where animals are typically in small herds and well cared for. My supplier is an Australian business, because I want to support local, and they are big enough to have a code of ethics and supply chain accountability to protect workers and animals.
What about Australian leather? I would like to be able to source locally tanned leather, and I do if I can. I was once able to use some very local skins after I connected with the wife of the late wildlife biologist Irynej Skira. During his career in wildlife conservation he built a collection of feral animal skins from remote places including Macquarie Island – they were a privilege to use.
Has COVID-19 changed the way you work? Yes, I have streamlined my styles and process. Initially was a panicky time, because who knew what was going to happen? But organisations like Brand Tasmania have really got on board with supporting local, and there was a massive shift towards Tasmanian made. I built a whole new website, starting again and investing in photography. I was forced to do things that I had put off! COVID gave me breathing space and people have become very comfortable with online shopping – that’s been a huge positive, #madeintasmania has become really important – also platforms like ‘Have & Hold Tasmania’.
Tell us about your zero-waste work? I realised I was accumulating a lot of offcuts and I didn’t want to put them in the bin, so I started mosaicing the leather together to create one off bags. People have loved the Zero Waste Collection because it’s wearable art, each piece is unique and has a story – it’s sustainable and ethical but also a beautiful original piece.
What’s next for Workbelt? I love doing small batches of bespoke products for local businesses. I recently made leather aprons for Stillwater in Launceston, personally delivering the aprons was a highlight! We have so many wonderful hospitality, wine industry and floristry businesses in Tasmania, I’d like to have a whole apron range named after those businesses so we can promote each other. I feel very special sitting in a place like Clover Hill Winery and seeing my leather aprons in action.
What type of entrepreneur are you? I’m not sure I am an entrepreneur because I’m not profit driven! I can see lots of ways to make my business more profitable, but it would require me to step away from the part I like the most…the making.
How important is living in Hobart? Well, it allows you to have a wonderful lifestyle on a modest income. There wouldn’t be many places in the world where a Maker could have such a lovely life. I feel really connected with my community, the Photographer I work with lives around the corner, our photo shoots are in local places with local people and I feel really proud of where I live.
What advice would you like to give to yourself five years ago? Be kind to yourself – don’t be overwhelmed by advice, keep trusting what feels good and what you’re ready for.