Surprising products being made and sold by creative people right here in this province
By Katherine Saunders
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are inventive people. Centuries of self-reliance have taught us to work with what we have and develop our skills to enable ourselves to survive rough times and prosper in good times. Folks in this province are putting their talents to work to make a living here at home, resulting in some amazing creations. Recently we spoke to three similarly driven people making very different products. Their successes are examples of what can be achieved if you have passion and drive.
Elizabeth Zedel is the owner of Lizard’s Leos, a St. John’s company that makes custom leotards for young athletes across Canada. Elizabeth started the operation out of her home 10 years ago, but now the growing business has its own premises and employs four people to make suits for young skaters, gymnasts, dancers and swimmers. She is ecstatic about her recent growth and having a new place to work. “It’s divine,” she laughs. “I don’t know how we did it before.”
When a club or team approaches Elizabeth for a design, she works with them to determine what they want their leotards to look like. She gives specific instructions for measuring the athletes for their suits, so that she can ensure the best fit - essential for optimum athletic performance.
“We’re not limited to a line of products,” explains Elizabeth. “We can make truly custom suits.” She uses fine fabrics from Montreal and around the world that come in a variety of colours. Using a process called sublimation printing, she can add patterns and ombrés, club logos and other designs to the suit. Elizabeth adds all her own appliqués, using rhinestones from Austria and Korea to make leotards glisten during competitions. She takes pride in her work, and only the best quality products will do for her customers. Elizabeth’s suits are high quality and designed to last through practices, washing and competitions. “It’s about making [athletes] comfortable,” she stresses.
Her suits have been worn at national championships in gymnastics and synchronized swimming. She has also designed apparel for Canadian Paralympians. “I love working with them,” she beams. Elizabeth is proud to make a product here in Newfoundland and Labrador that is worn by athletes across Canada. Photos of her work and her contact information can be found on her website, www.lizardsleos.ca.
The Newfoundland Salt Company
In Newfoundland, salt is symbolic of our heritage. We are surrounded by salt water, and salt was once vital to the booming cod fishery as the province was settled and grew. Despite that, the salt we use everyday to preserve or flavour our food was always imported from somewhere else. That hole in the market is what Peter Burt and Robin Crane set out to fill when they launched The Newfoundland Salt Company in 2012.
Peter is a chef and was working at award-winning Raymond’s restaurant in downtown St. John’s when he began experimenting with making salt from scratch. Within months, he and Robin had formed a company and their salt was being served at Raymond’s. Then consumers got a taste of it when they began selling at the St. John’s Farmers Market, and they knew they were really in business.
In 2017, they took advantage of an opportunity to relocate their operation to Bonavista. There, they were happy to find a supportive environment for their business. “We love the community here,” Robin gushed.
The process of harvesting salt and preparing it for market takes 12-13 days. First, they drive to nearby Spillar’s Cove, where they pump water from the ocean into their 2,000-litre water storage rig. They tow the water back to their building, where they have storage for 50,000 L of water. The seawater is then transferred into a fast-boil container, where it is boiled for 48 hours. This increases the salt content of the water from 3.5 per cent to about 80 per cent. They pour the salt into a specially designed pot, where the rest of the water slowly evaporates. They then hang it in bags to dry before packaging it and shipping it to market.
Today, The Newfoundland Salt Company salt is sold in retail stores across Canada. It is served at some of the top restaurants in St. John’s, and in some local breweries.
Peter and Robin believe there is no salt like Newfoundland salt. They have compared their product with other sea salts from around the world - they have a collection at home - and have found that their salt is the whitest of the bunch.
“It tells us that we’re doing everything right, and that we’re getting our water from the purest and cleanest source,” Peter explained, adding that Bonavista is along an iceberg path, which regularly refreshes the water. They count themselves lucky to be able to make a living at home, using a natural resource that the province has to offer.
“The ocean is here,” Robin reflected. “We’re very lucky that we have it.”
Newfoundland Salt Company sea salt can be purchased at retailers across Canada. There is a list of local sellers on their website, www.newfoundlandsaltcompany.com.
Black Hen Studio
Susan Furneaux and Michael Harlick own Black Hen Studio in Conception Harbour. They are fine craft artists who make beautiful pieces out of items foraged from the coastlines and forests of Newfoundland.
Susan recently spoke with Downhome about their work. “I specialize in natural dye and hand embroidery, and Michael is a metal smith. He does fine gold and silver jewelry as well as forge work knives.”
Susan has 30 years of professional experience working with textiles. Michael started out as an apprentice at a jewelry-making shop, where he worked for 10 years before branching out on his own to further develop his craft. As a couple, they collaborate on much of their work, while also devoting time to individual creations. They specialize in making handcrafted knives of many varieties.
“The knife handles are embellished with local antler, beach stones and semi-precious stones from around the province. I embroider the sheaths with natural dyes and hand embroidery,” Susan explains. “[The knives] are meant to be used and function as they should, as well as be beautiful objects.” In fact, their knives function so well that they are in demand by local chefs.
Susan and Michael’s individual work draws from their separate training and experience. “It’s usually based on a theme that we want to explore,” Susan says. Michael has been experimenting with recycled metal from old saws, forging it into new pieces. He also dabbles in sculpture and still makes jewelry. Susan makes mostly one-off pieces that are anything and everything to do with textiles, often exploring a particular theme through her designs.
“Our work is really grounded in the arts and crafts movement, both in philosophy as well as in the design esthetic,” she says.
They work with as much local material as they can, and these can inform the designs. If they find something cool out in the wilderness, like a piece of antler or a neat beach stone, they will create artwork with it. They also take commissions, and some of these start with an item that the customer found and wants to preserve as art.
Susan describes their work as being “very much of place.” Because it is made in Newfoundland out of materials foraged here, it reflects the colours and textures of the local flowers, minerals, trees and wildlife. Susan explains that they are carrying on a Newfoundland tradition of making things out of materials available from the land.
“Only until recently, with the internet, was the world opened up to us for materials. There were some mail orders, but you had to deal with catalogues, and it was a racket. Generally, in Newfoundland, people had to make do with what they had… I think we’re just continuing on with that.”
Susan offers workshops out of the studio that range from beginner to advanced levels of textile work. Michael provides blacksmith demonstrations. Their schedule and their latest work can be found on their website, www.blackhenstudio.com, or on their Instagram, @blackhenstudio.