We interviewed Sara Morel recently, founder of Reclaimed Woman and CEO of Salvo, and it was a great insight into reclamation and the role it has in sustainability. She is doing some amazing work as you will see below, working on various exciting projects.
“It’s a nice way to kick off the new year by discovering new projects and meeting like-minded people because the sustainability space is really exciting. Sometimes you can get disheartened, as you feel there is so much further we need to go and faster to help the planet, so it’s really positive to connect with people. It makes you feel like we can do this.”
If we can talk about Reclaimed Woman first and how that project started, your role within that and what your vision is for it.
It almost came out of a need to reclaim my life. I was working in fashion at the time and it was great because it enabled with to buy my first flat in London. But I vowed to renovate it with as much reuse of salvage as possible. And through that journey, by just being exposed to sustainability through that project, it made me really want to do more and shift what I was doing professionally with what I’ve been discovering personally.
It was also a way for me to really connect with Salvo, as I was using that as a resource to find reclamation dealers and just learn about the materials that were already out there. And then from that, I used Reclaimed Woman to write about the story and write about the journey of renovating and discovering these pieces. Then that shifted into a desire to try and help people, so I created my consultancy as it can be daunting when you start looking for reclaimed material. So I wanted to try and help people find more ethical and eco-friendly choices. Whether that be fashion, for themselves, or for their homes.
Reuse always excited me because of the amount of amazing things that are already ou there. There are many different ways you can interpret sustainable living. But for me, it’s just a no-brainer. Reclamation and reuse what really connects for me. So that’s the side of sustainability that I took.
I also read about your sister project Ethazon. Could you tell us more about that?
So Ethazon is a project, that me and my friend started who is also a director in Salvo. It’s mainly sourcing vintage pieces, mainly fashion accessories, and also accessories for the home. But we also got a limited collection of upcycled accessories.
So for the summer, we created bags out of 1960s toweling. And for the bigger ones, we used old Karate belts for handles. They are also quite practical as they have pockets inside too. And we also wanted to make the branding quite strong so we could apply that to other things as we grow. We have been quite busy with everything else but we really want to do more with that.
You mentioned Salvo before, but can you talk more about how Salvo works as well?
So Salvo’s ethos is reuse for the world you want. It has been going for 30 years now and I became involved in the business gradually, as I transitioned out of fashion and more into interiors. It’s a marketplace but it is also an introduction, a view on the world of reclamation.
Salvo is the destination for reuse where you can find everything from antique lighting, fireplaces to reclaimed building materials. You can also discover local reclamation yards and we have different tools to make it easier for people to source. For example, you can post wanted alerts. So if you are doing a home renovation, and you are looking for something specific, you can put a message out to our audience to find things.
And then gradually you will see a few things from Ethazon coming into Salvo. So the vision is to have things from reclaimed bricks to bags. It’s encompassing the whole lifestyle of reuse. We want to grow it into a destination so that whether you’re looking into building sustainably or dressing your home or yourself and you’re looking to reuse some incredible things that are already out there then Salvo is the place to come.
Do you think sustainable building is possible nowadways?
I do, definitely. And obviously, we’ve got the advantage of technology to support that. But we also almost need to take a step back from what’s possible in the modern-day in terms of the speed that things can be done and incentivize dismantling and reclamation rather than demolition. For example, one of the services that we support with, is reclamation audits to identify reusable elements and rescue as much as possible.
I think that’s really important, and that connects both to my world previously in fashion and in construction because I think there’s so much focus on new rather than what we can do with what’s out there. And it’s not easy, because of the way that the system is currently, you do have to go against the grain. You need to think creatively and challenge a lot of the project’s time scale or the way that you design and specify rather than actually taking architectural designers to look at the materials that are out there and working almost backward and designing around that. This also creates an exciting creative challenge, but people need to be on board with that, this different way of working, and it takes a lot to readjust time scales and where you allocate budget.
Do you want to mention anything else you are working on, speficic activities that you do with Salvo to promote sustainable building?
Beyond the marketplace itself, we also support people working across the building environment and we just actually launched FutuREuse as a specific home for members to access a library of resources that are designed to promote a reuse economy. It is designed to give people ideas, share pilot projects and support professionals with their reuse ambitions.
We have just unveiled a new label for true reclaimed materials which again is designed to help give more visibility to reclamation and the reuse that is taking place which often can go unnoticed. The idea is attaching QR tags or engraving QR codes subtly so that it provides assurance that it is genuinely reclaimed. The Truly Reclaimed label shares the environmental benefits of reusing an item in terms of carbon savings and also the stories about its past life or rescue. Our aim is to get more people on board with reuse by showing what’s special about reclaimed products, but also why they are an environmental necessity to incorporate into projects.
Is FuturREuse just in terms of rennovation as well?
It covers all sorts of things. Firstly, we have different publications about reuse. My colleague Becky and I just completed one called Fashion For Reclamation which traces how the modern-day reclamation industry as we know it, evolved. We looked at the difference, in particular at fashion environments in London that designed stores with reclaimed materials and how they speak to people and create a unique connection with customers.
It’s quite interesting from a case study point of view, as designing with reclaimed materials is sometimes described as a noble act. Yes, we highlighted the environmental reasons for reuse, but our research also showcased the commercial appeal and benefit to businesses that take the reclaimed route.
FutuREuse holds other case studies, tools, and connects people to an updated directory. There are actually 500 reclamation dealers across the UK and Ireland that it specifically points to. It’s a focused edit to mainly support people sourcing reclaimed building material, so it could help people with a personal home renovation but it can help architects, designers or builders on professional projects as well.
It’s so great to provide these different resources because it’s really a hard sometimes as an individual to know where to go and find info about reclaimed materials
Exactly. Because I think sometimes it’s about building confidence and also sharing examples, and sometimes you really are forging a new path. For instance, some of the projects that we were involved in recently were about how somebody can go about reusing reclaimed materials for structural elements. It’s nice to see other examples that are out there because it can be a challenge for people who are building up their knowledge-base and working this way.
What is the role of art in archtecture and how does that link to sustainability?
I think for me personally, one of the amazing things about art is that no matter what you were doing 5 minutes ago, when you are engaged in something, it can take you out of yourself and it’s a form of escapism. Artful architecture is also there to form a function. It connects you, and I think that’s what we found with some of the case studies of designs that feature reclaimed material. Architecture creates a connection with the space and your surroundings. There are so many different interpretations but I think that’s one of the things I like about it. It heightens your awareness of that moment, experiencing that building, that interior…
I think from the directory of architectural materials you have on the website, you can feel there’s a big connection between art and architecture because some of those piece were really beautiful!
And it’s amazing if those pieces can be reused as they were intended, so a door can be reused as a door but then it also opens up a world of innovative possibilities as well. So if something can’t be reused due to modern-day regulations in a traditional functional sense, there is also a huge interest in decorative salvage and it can be your wow piece and the artful edition to a building or a room.
Do you think there’s a link between fashion, building and sustainability?
Yes absolutely. For me, sustainability is my connection through all those things. I think your driving ethos finds a way into different areas of life. Never would I have thought I’d be working so closely with construction, but when it comes to sustainability, everything you do speaks the same language.
How do you balance work day with these different projects that you are part of?
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it’s challenging. But I quite enjoy that switch as well. So at one moment, I am focusing on writing and just get in the zone and enjoy that. And then other times your days are like one call for this, one call for something else. And it is part of the modern-day challenge.
But its’ also what keeps things exciting. Interestingly, something that you wouldn’t expect to be connected and you suddenly do a loop and you’ve realized you’ve learned something that is going to support you within another project that you are working on from a conversation that was about something completely unrelated. I don’t know, I quite enjoy that unexpected connection between the different things that you are working on and the people that you meet.
What is it like to be a young woman in the reclaimed building element business?
My experience only started over the past 7 years, gradually coming into it but personally, as a woman I’ve always found it a really inviting space. It is still male-dominated, but there are also a lot of women working in the industry and running reclamation businesses which is extremely inspiring.
We are currently planning a campaign as part of Terra Movement Hope For The Planet so I just wanted to ask you what gives you hope for the future?
I think people’s energy and excitement. I think that’s really shifted in the last couple of years. Also in terms of increased awareness, I think that’s huge. For example, as we were saying people making small changes or being curious to question what’s being accepted up until now and move the status quo whether that’s personal or professionally. I think a lot of people are seeking careers that are giving them purpose in different ways so I think that’s what gives me hope because we really need to want to make those changes.
Do you have any pieces of advice?
It’s actually a piece of advice that I always share when I tell the story of my first renovation and it’s something that I am having to tell myself and my husband as we are doing our renovation now and that’s just too slow down. It’s so important when you are doing a professional renovation project just to really get to know the space because you see things in a different light the longer you live somewhere.
Today there’s that instant pressure of speed and expectation of an immediately perfect new place. At the end of the day, it’s a journey and I’m trying to enjoy that journey. I think the more considered you are, the more things you discover that you can reuse so it’s a more sustainable approach and also a more relaxed approach. But it’s hard. That urge to assert your stamp on a place really does sneak with current day expectations. So my advice is to resist that pressure, find beauty in imperfection, and take your time. Let a place introduce itself to you and you’ll be able to reuse more than you thought.
Featured Illustration by Lara Perez