ARTIST INTERVIEW: Brittany Cole Bush of Shepherdess Holistic Hides
Company: Shepherdess Holistic Hides
Artist: Brittany Cole Bush
Brittany Cole Bush, aka Cole, together with partner Laura Schoorl of Pansy, started Shepherdess Holistic Hides during the formative years of Cole’s unique career as an urban shepherdess. When Shepherdess’s first lot of hides was tanned, Cole was managing a grazing operation of 2,400 sheep and goats in the Bay Area, using their grazing for vegetation management and fire prevention as an ecological alternative to chemicals and machinery. At first tending to the sheep and goats on the ground throughout Northern California, Cole later began to educate, consult and advocate in the fields of regenerative agriculture and land stewardship. Cole works with sheep farmers and ranchers around the country to support a new era of innovative entrepreneurship with conscious, ethical and mindful approaches in raising and managing livestock. These crossover pursuits within agriculture, sheep, goats, land, food, and fiber are the heart of her passion for Shepherdess.
Earlier this year, Cole and Laura relocated Shepherdess’ studio to Los Angeles, where Cole aims to keep her skin in the game by creating grazing programs for fire prevention like those she ignited in the Bay Area. In time she plans to create a vocational training program to train new urban graziers from non-traditional backgrounds from the city. Today she manages the hide business and is a part of every aspect of the process as they continue to build new relationships with sheep farmers and ranchers working to source hides from those who share humane, ethical, and ecological values. Since she has pivoted from working with livestock in urban spaces to now building Shepherdess in Los Angeles, she is satisfying her need for the excitement, spontaneity, risk and physical challenge that she found with shepherding by pursuing a career in stunt performance. She describes how translatable the skills and challenges are between working with livestock and the physicality and risky business of stunts.
What led you to the work you do now?
My path has been such an exciting journey because of the nature of my career with a unique vocation as a shepherdess working in urban spaces with sheep and goats in the Bay Area. What I had learned while actively shepherding and managing the grazing business provided the foundation for the skills and relationships necessary to create Shepherdess with Laura. Although I am not herding sheep and goats regularly now that I live in Los Angeles, I feel that I am actively supporting farmers and ranchers who are doing their best to ethically raise and ecologically manage their animals with integrity and respect.
In addition to running Shepherdess now in LA, I’ve quenched the thirst for the daily excitement, physical challenge, and the risk that working with livestock provided by pursuing work in stunt performance. Since April I’ve been training in the foundations of stunts and have been thrilled to find that there is a lot of overlap in stunt work which is both physically demanding and not for the faint of heart. My personal path to my the work today is clearly tied to my adventurous spirit and independent nature. In fact, Laura and I were born on the same day and I feel like our mutual beliefs in living life on our terms has led us on our authentically interesting paths that I’m grateful to be walking alongside her on.
In terms of the start of of Shepherdess, it was purely organic. We didn’t intend to start a business, but one thing led to another and it became clear that there was certainly a demand from folks who want to be connected closer to the source of something so special like a hide of a once living animal.
Both Laura and I had been working with hides in our own leatherwork for some time and the idea arose to source hides from regionally raised sheep and goats, ideally with traceability as to where the animal came from.
From my experience and relationships within the sheep and goat industry, we were able to do a small pilot project where we sourced fresh pelts, had them tanned and with the finished hide intended to use them in our leather work. I was experimenting with hair-on-hide wallets and Laura had several beautiful designs developing with bags, clutches, wallets, and slides which have gone on to be loved by many.
The hides turned out gorgeous but were too dense and fluffy to use for our purposes and decided that they were beautiful just as they were. Friends were wild about them and so we ended up selling the first lot to friends and family with never the intention in doing so. We decided to try it out again with a few more hides and just kept on going with Laura bringing the hides to various events where she was selling Pansy.
What would you say is the driving force behind your creative work?
I feel that the driving force in our work is our mutual love for simple and natural beauty in our daily lives coming from sources that align with our personal values. I also feel so passionate about closing the gaps of waste and environmental degradation that occurs often in the hide industry by providing those who want beautiful hides in their lives an alternative source that connects folks closer to the source. We do our best to keep developing Shepherdess to answer to the increasing demand for hides that come from good sources that share our values.
I think that Laura and I can agree that the most meaningful moments of our work are when we visit farmers and their flocks, getting to know how passionate, loving, and mindful they are about caring for their animals. Connecting with the farmers on their land, with their sheep is surely special and it’s rewarding to share the story of where these select hides come from to those who take these hides home.
How do you find a balance between practicality and beauty in your creations?
Throughout the history of humankind, hides from animals have been used to make clothes and shelters, as well providing the material for tools and comforts for survival. Today there still seems to be a deep appreciation and relationship with hides because they continue to simply bring practicality and beauty into our daily lives. Hides are appropriate for everyone and at any age because they provide comfort, warmth, insulation and of course a sense of ultimate coziness. When it comes to practicality and beauty, a sheep hide pretty much defines the combo!
Do you see your work as part of an artistic tradition? Where does your work depart from artistic tradition and move into new territory?
The art of tanning hides is one of the most ancient skills that we have practiced throughout time. The crafts of creating useful things from these hides also include a myriad of artistic traditions which have been proven essential to the visual languages of cultures from around the world and throughout history. Our work shares a modern day translation of this craft and tradition through the hides we purvey. Over the past several years we’ve developed a close working relationship with a family-owned-and-operated tannery that uses methods are low-tech mimicking many of the processes that are used in traditional tanning by hand. The skills to tan hides are very specific and we have a lot of respect for the women that we know who not only tan their hides by hand but teach others these traditional methods.
Who are some current artists, creators, or people working in other fields whose work you admire?
This is a low hanging fruit to answer but I am inspired by Laura. She is a talented designer, a masterful maven of color, and a model badass, boss-lady entrepreneur. I’ve admired watching her other business Pansy grow over the years and she is a true inspiration for other women. She is so committed to her values and her unwavering ethics are commendable in her sourcing, process, and accessible design and sizing. She actively supports other creative women through beautiful collaborations, has contributed greatly to changes that we are seeing in how women’s bodies are portrayed and celebrated in social media, and is proving the model in slow and organic growth in small creative business.
I also am inspired by Rebecca Burgess, the executive director and founder of Fibershed, a nonprofit organization based out of the North Bay of California that works to create “regional fiber systems that build soil & protect the health of our biosphere.” Fibershed actively participates in supporting small fiber producers, conducts valuable research, and is influential in educating consumers, designers, producers, and big business about the opportunities of how the apparel industry is a critical part of global climate change solutions. Shepherdess is a part of Fibershed’s producer network and we are happy to be a part of this community working to regionally create “climate beneficial” products from fibers produced by farmers and ranchers who value regenerative agriculture.
Do you think community is important to creativity? If so, how?
I’d like to give a shout out about of our creative community of EPCF. I think that in order to thrive as a small creative business today, it requires collaboration and community support by those who are also in the trenches not only as creatives but entrepreneurs, parents, partners… There are friendships forged, new creativity inspired and mutually beneficial collaborations ignited within a community that is built off a foundation for passions of creative pursuits. Our world needs beauty, authenticity, and connection and I think that art, culture, mindfully crafted and sourced, practical and beautiful things are essential to a vital quality of life. I’m grateful to be a part of a community that is dedicated to create and share these valuable creative offerings with the world. There are so many ways that our friends within our creative community have supported us and our growing business but one of the most important things to highlight is how much fun we have together. The hustle can be tiring but the good times that we share are priceless.