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Oliver Jeffers x FEIT Q&A
Oliver Jeffers x FEIT Q&A
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>> Oliver Jeffers x FEIT Q&A

Oliver Jeffers x FEIT Q&A

Oliver Jeffers is a Northern Irish visual artist and author who uses painting, illustration, and storytelling to explore how we relate and make sense of the world around us. Humor and curiosity underscore each project, whether his critically acclaimed picture books or original artwork. His critically acclaimed picture books have sold over 14 million copies and have been translated in 50 languages. He delivered a TED Talk, ‘Ode to Living on Earth’ in 2020, and featured two sculptures at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Both Oliver and FEIT were fans of each other’s work from a far: founder Tull Price read Oliver’s books to his children, and Oliver was a longtime FEIT customer. A chance encounter with a mutual friend led to the two being connected, and talks of a collaboration began.

The result is “All That We Need”, a capsule of special-edition Indoor Slippers developed for children and adults, with an artbook written and illustrated exclusively for FEIT.

Craftsmanship and art simplify the message of our relationship with nature, and each other. The artbook highlights our place within the world: the sun provides energy for trees to grow, the trees create wood so we can make fire, the fire creates tools that we use with our hands to build “useful things” like shoes, so we can walk across Earth to be with each other.

Tull sat down with Oliver for a conversation about storytelling, our impact and connection with the planet, and the philosophy behind “All That We Need”.

On the philosophical tie between FEIT & Oliver Jeffers:

Tull:
"Oliver is putting out a very important perspective out into the world that people need to hear. His perspective connects to the way FEIT considers and looks at the products it makes—the quality, the quantities, and the attention to detail that goes into the entire process."

Oliver:
"Rather than just throwing some art on something, the collaboration had to be meaningful—slower and done properly, rather than just new and fast, like a conveyor or carousel of fashion. I really love this idea of handmade and slow processes. Certain trades and skill sets that almost would be gone if it weren't for people like Tull who are celebrating and supporting artisan craftsmen.

What really rang true for us during the pandemic was that people, even those who were gung ho on the conveyor belt of their career, were starting to question, what's it for? What is this about? I started playing this experiment with friends, asking them to imagine what they thought they would've missed had they been told they were going to be locked down for a year, compared to what they actually missed. What they missed was meaningful time with their family. It all came down to the most basic, simple things.

The booklet that we came up with is called "All That We Need". It's about using what we have in a way that acknowledges that we're part of a greater system than just our own lifetime. And what we ultimately, all human beings, regardless of who and where you're from, need other people. What we are seeing in the conversation around climate is that we are not separate from nature. We are not above nature. We are an intricate part of it. So whatever we do has to be part of a cyclical existence."

Tull:
"FEIT products are made from basic materials that have been used for thousands of years, from processes that have been used for thousands of years. Like Oliver says in the book, everything we use comes from nature, humans themselves come from nature. The two things connect, and it's a very natural synergy, not that different from human connecting with human."

Oliver:
"Part of it is the holistic approach of knowing the full story of what it is that you consume. Buy one thing made well, know where it comes from, know what's involved with it. One of the fundamental things that I'm seeing is that people are caught up in that it's all about them, the individual. People have almost forgotten that it's not just about them, that they are part of a system. And actually, they need the system more than the system needs them. So there has to be humility tied to the knowledge of what you're getting and where it's from."

Tull:
"So many of us have become so disconnected from our environment. How we spend our time, whether it's on social media or in the VR world, but also from how many of the products we buy are predominantly all plastic. And when people are wearing synthetic, plastic products, it's similar to sitting in VR. There's nothing natural or real about it. You're not connecting to a process, a deeper human process."

On the Indoor Slipper

Oliver:
"We designed it during the pandemic and realized that people fundamentally dress differently now. People dress for comfort more than I've ever noticed."

Tull:
"The Indoor Slipper is great because someone could put them on and read one of Oliver's books to their kids. By the time we really started the project, we had left Brooklyn to other places, but my initial experience with Oliver was a very Brooklyn experience. And I think his experience with FEIT was a Brooklyn experience as well. We were literally living around the corner from each other, not knowing it. As I was reading the books to my kids, he was going to the shop."

On the influence of children on the design process

Oliver:
"You have to be a lot more efficient with your time. But in a strange way, my children have influenced my work because suddenly there's a need and urgency to talk about the things that matter. Because in a world that does feel very broken and going in a strange direction, I wanted to be able to certainly look them in the eye in years to come and say that I played my part.

In doing so, I realized I was giving voice to people who couldn't, those who hadn't been able to quite articulate it. But also the reminder of simplicity, of the things that keep them entertained. That what they're curious and interested about were not the things that I seemed to be getting worked up about and distracted by.

In school, they say the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. When I was growing up, this was not a conversation. There was no dialogue. So even though there's vitriol and anger and debate about it, at least it's happening. You can feel the zeitgeist movement under your feet. And art and design are such important roles to play in that."

On art that resonates with both children and adults

Oliver:

The surprising thing to me is that if you're able to make a topic as simple as it can possibly be, so the children understand it, you actually start affecting adults who had previously dismissed it. Because if you can explain things in a way that they cannot really argue, you can start to pick things apart and make people think, especially if you do so in a way where it doesn't feel like they're being attacked. You will never convince somebody they're wrong, just something better to believe in.

What is your FEIT?

My big fight is trying to ask the question why people would rather be right than be better and trying to help people understand that they're part of something bigger than themselves. And you actually feel a lot more content and connected by realizing that it's not about you.

Being right and being wrong, especially with being in Northern Ireland and applying that to here, with decades of political violence, is that people are unable to move past it because by being right therefore somebody must be wrong. And "right" and "wrong" are terms that are anchors in the past, whereas "better" and "worse'' are goal posts for the future. And so when you can replace any conundrum or debate, if you can replace "right" and "wrong" with "better" or "worse", it's quite obvious, suddenly, what needs to be done.

What inspires you to FEIT?

The old camping motto, I think, says it best, which is, "Leave it better than you find it." But I've added in, "But have fun while you're here." Because I can do something. That's what continues me, spurs me on, is that I can actually do something about it. I feel like I've gotten the ability to be able to translate and make beautiful art at the same time. And that's why I feel like I could be a connection, a bridge between this whole way of thinking and possibly a new way.

Who inspires you to FEIT?

All the people who are lost and have their head in the sand.

Why did you want to work with FEIT?

Partly joking, is because I was their best customer anyway. I think they make beautiful, beautiful products for the right reasons, in the right way. And it's just a joy to work with people who do that. And it's been a learning process for me. And it's been terrific fun getting to know these guys better.