A Bureau of Friends That’s Built to Last

maria and julie

Maria Moyer and Julie Gilhart

Just when you think you’ve met the most amazing woman, three more walk through the door. In this case, I’m talking about a whole Bureau of Friends consisting of some of the smartest women in the sustainable world.

When I say “sustainable,” I mean it in the fullest sense of the word – for all these women are participating in something balanced, whether coaching people on how to love and sell their work or personally creating something of significance in a studio. From all there’s an awareness and a promoting of  the fine balance of living and meaning.

Maria Moyer (Founder of Wink Communication), Julie Gilhart (Barney’s Fashion Director), Natalie Chanin (Designer, Founder of Alabama Chanin), and Cathy Bailey (Co-owner of HEATH Ceramics) make up the core of the Bureau whose main mission is to create dialogue, and in so doing, help people understand objects of quality and experiences in their lives that ring true.

One of the ways they’ve done this is through their “Making and Meaning” workshops, where the group invites interesting people to talk about their current projects and ideas which, over making a craft, organically becomes something more than just networking with really cool people.

A modern day sewing circle? Maybe, but this series is evolving into something more substantial, like how we communicate with each other.

natalie chanin

Natalie Chanin

Moyer sums up the group:

“We’re a talent agency for good works-a speakers’ bureau and consultancy; Conveners of designers, makers and thinkers.  In our media-drenched, social-networking-maxed lives, the four of us have combined our talents to engage people in meaningful ways that might lead to action-or at the very least, connect us to each other in more deeply than the alternatives.”

Cathy Bailey

Husband and wife team, Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, owners of Heath Ceramics

Recently formed, the Bureau has no defined expectations of what their future holds as a group, but based on their energy and passion, it can’t help but inspire, whatever the direction.

I recently caught up with Moyer, Chanin and Bailey, who were kind enough to answer a few questions.

Did you start working together because you felt compelled to? That something really important could happen if you did?

Natalie: Perhaps because I am rurally located, I felt that working together with this group would give me a feeling of belonging and inspire new growth, new ideas and a way to grow my work in a fresh (and sustainable) way. Once we had our first “meeting,” it was clear that belonging was more than a way to grow my business but to grow personally.

Cathy: I felt compelled by Maria and the women she wanted to bring together. I believe that when you have the opportunity to connect with people who you truly admire you need to take the time and opportunity to engage and collaborate, and that’s when worth while ideas and efforts are flourish.

Maria: Like many artists, entrepreneurs, and social minded people in my life, these women move me. I do feel compelled when I have the opportunity to work on things that matter to me, with people I admire and enjoy.

How have each of you engaged people in meaningful ways that might lead to action and how is the Bureau stronger because of it?

Natalie: The conversations that have grown around the tables are a great example of how belonging leads to action. First, we are inspired by one another to action; but, more importantly, the conversations begin at a single point and with all of the input become stronger and have led more concentrated ideas and projects. The whole of the unit is stronger than the strength of the individual parts.

Maria: I think our auction for Haiti is a good example. After writing checks and texting donations, The Bureau of Friends, and some of its friends, wanted to do more. So, we gathered items and services to auction – 100 percent of the proceeds go to Architecture for Humanity’s work in Haiti. Lutz & Patmos Cashmere, organic cotton bedding from West Elm and more coming. We hope these small gestures grow larger, with a little help from our friends.

Natalie Chanin talks craft at  Bureau’s New York “Making and Meaning” workshop

What are some future projects you have in store?

Natalie: Cathy and I are very excited about a collaboration between HEATH and Alabama Chanin. Working in her studio last fall was one of the highlights of my year!

Cathy: The HEATH-Alabama Chanin dinnerware project is very exciting. But, it’s the ongoing support, feedback and perspective that we are able to give each other as a group that’s extremely valuable to me – it will lead to more projects together that none of us would have taken on separately.

Do you agree that quality and craftsmanship are just as important as something sustainably designed?

Cathy: I believe that good and worthwhile objects are made in a quality way and that craftsmanship generally leads to longer lasting objects that will be appreciated for generations.

Are we asking people too much to consider appreciating both the objects they consume as well as how it was created?

Cathy: I love objects that show what goes into making them. It’s satisfying to be conscious of what I buy and use. By supporting local makers you naturally know a lot more about objects, and in turn the object becomes more meaningful and long lasting, so that’s one great idea to promote.

Maria: I think this is about helping consumers understand and appreciate quality. Quality, for me, includes beauty, manufacturing that considers the environment and the culture of the people making the item.

We all talk a lot about the future of sustainable design and whether we’ll need to even talk about it (it will just be designed that way). Would you suggest we just stop talking eco-language? Has it perhaps become a black mark when mentioned?

Maria: There’s so much education [still] to do with makers, retailers and buyers. It will be a long while before we can stop explaining things in eco-language. However, let’s remember please, that people stopped saying “horseless carriage” when we meant “car” and it wasn’t long before “color TV” became, simply “TV”.  I hope I’m alive to see certain eco-terms become obsolete because it’s just understood, integral, and implied.

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.