International Women's Day with Sophie Sellu
Sahara operates as a strong, female-founded business. Progressing the narrative around equality will inevitably lead to change, and we take the opportunity every International Women’s Day to show solidarity.
This year’s theme, Break the Bias, aims to educate on and encourage actively calling out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping. Bias, whether intentional or unconscious, makes it difficult for women to move ahead. It is not enough to recognise bias; action is required to level the playing field.
Our contribution to the conversation involves highlighting the thoughts and incredible work of women in creative fields. Hear from a painter, woodworker, potter, photographer and storyteller about how they manage, orchestrate, lead, and make vital decisions regarding their businesses. Learn about their unique journeys, insights around unconscious biases, and visions for an equal future.
Sophie Sellu is a woodworker who makes beautifully carved wooden objects from reclaimed and sustainably sourced timber from her home studio in London under her store name 'Grain and Knot'. She has always set out to elevate the everyday experience with tactile and functional pieces for the home. Winner of the 2020 Independent Award in the Modern Crafter category, she approaches an ancient craft with fresh eyes. Born from a love of nature and the need for purpose in creation, each piece is carved by hand, giving the objects soul and honouring each tree that the timber came from.
Working in creative fields can often mean a non-linear career path – how did you come to work as a maker and what sparked your love of artistic expression?
I started carving as a way to get away from my computer screen and to get away from an unfulfilling design job and the need for an outlet to be creative. I was drawn in by the material, the functionality of the pieces and the instant connection I felt to nature. I never intentionally set out for this to be my career, it happened very organically with the need to do more with my hands.
After two redundancies in the space of two years, I decided to set out on my own path and found so much joy in the work I was creating. I think artistic expression has always been in me, even as a child I would spend hours making collages, drawing, and collecting found objects.
Sophie in her South London Studio wearing Sahara Stretch Denim Jumpsuit.
"For so long woodworking has been a predominantly male interest and I really love to change people’s perceptions of it and make it a much more inclusive environment."
Femininity is multifaceted and powerful. What role, if any, does femininity play in your perspective when sculpting?
There are a lot of influences that impact my work. My friends and I often talk about how powerful a female perspective can be when designing, as historically a female perspective has been completely overlooked. Being assertive and bold in design choices is a powerful tool in itself.
As a woman in the creative industry, can you speak to a time you have been on receiving end of other people’s unconscious biases? Perhaps you have had a positive experience you’d like to share?
For a long time, I didn’t have my name on my Instagram profile, and I would always get messages and emails from people assuming I was male. When I would attend markets, one time in particular a male friend was helping me out and everyone assumed that my work was his. For so long woodworking has been a predominantly male interest and I really love to change people’s perceptions of it and make it a much more inclusive environment. I’ve always been proud of my work, and it made me laugh when people were so surprised that it was me behind the brand.
Too often unconscious biases affect how we view ourselves, have you had to overcome biases of your own in order to achieve what you have, either personally or professionally?
Absolutely! I’ve found various aspects of my practice challenging and have often found those internal voices telling me I shouldn’t be there, or my work wasn’t good enough. There have been times when I was the youngest or the only female with a seat at the table and I didn’t value my years of knowledge or skill in a room full of others. There has been a huge lack of representation and visibility in my field and I’d like to see that change.
Sophie wearing Sahara Tencel Twill Shacket and Tencel Twill Bubble Trouser.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring younger women in the creative industry?
Build a community, take the time to really find your voice, create just for the sake of creating and collaborate. Learn to say no when things aren’t working, celebrate the small wins.
Why do you think reflecting on and sharing our experiences as women is so powerful?
Looking back and reflecting on your journey is always so important. It’s difficult sometimes to see how far you have come whilst you are in the middle of it. You can see what things have worked well for you and what you can improve on. Sharing experiences helps others to not make the same mistakes you have. I have always taken on tips and advice from others, it’s always great to get an outside perspective and solve problems together in an uplifting manner.
Sophie wearing Sahara Weekend Jersey Sweatshirt and Weekend Jersey Joggers.
Lastly, have you been inspired by another woman working in the creative industry that you’d like to spotlight? If so, what qualities led you to choose them?
I met Mariell Lind Hansen through Instagram for a photography project she was doing on makers and their studios almost 10 years ago. She is an incredibly talented photographer, but also set up Benk + Bo in London. She has always championed makers and has created a really inclusive environment that is used daily by creative freelancers, artists, and makers. She has built a community of like-minded individuals in an organic and supportive way and always has time for others. I’m forever inspired by her passion and what she has achieved. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.
“I often talk about how powerful a female perspective can be when designing, as historically a female perspective has been completely overlooked. Being assertive and bold in design choices is a powerful tool in itself.”
Follow, discover and shop Sophie's Work: