Mary Faber

Founder and Designer at Faber & Lo

"This world can be rather dog-eat-dog. If you don't do the job, another designer will."

Raphael Roake: Raphael Roake: I was wondering whether you view design in that sort of sense? Do you feel as if you have an ethical obligation when you’re undertaking design work? Or is it a purely commercial, 9-5 thing?
MF: It’s easy to put on the rose-tinted glasses and want to apply a holistic ethics to everything we produce. But at the end of the day, design is basically commercialised art. It is a commercial zone working towards outcomes that have value, be that economic or otherwise. So while, yes, I do think there is a certain obligation to undertake work in an ethical way, I guess this is also about your own perceptions of what is or isn’t ethical… and that varies with each individual.

RR: Is the ethics of the project or client values something you consider when a client approaches you?
MF: I guess, yes, although it may not be my first thought. But up until this point I can’t say that I’ve worked with a client that’s made me question my ethics, or at least not at the time. If, for instance, a tobacco company knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey we want you to do an artwork for this thing’, or ‘We want to advertise, X Y Z’, that’s when I’d think, ‘Is this about money to me now? Or is this something that could negatively affect the people to which are exposed to and might be influenced by it?’ But that as an example is more black and white than most clients. So while I haven’t had a client that’s directly made me question my own ethics or morals, it can be a grey area. At the moment I’m working with a non-for-profit organisation and I’m charging them the same rate that I charge everybody else. I did stop to think, ‘Is that fair? Should I be doing this for less, or free?’ But then I figured, actually no – they approached me as one business to another and even though they’re a non-for-profit they’re still a business.

RR: Their employees are still getting paid.

MF: Exactly. Even if it may be funded partially through grants or subsidies, they are still a business. They wouldn’t be there if there was no money. That said, I will work really hard to give them something that’s really going to help them because that’s something that I want
to do.

RR: So I saw on your website, were you involved in the ‘Industrie’ collection that was designed?

MF: I was marginally involved, although that was more under Alice’s [Mary's business partener] umbrella – she worked with the client in Sydney and managed the project. However I did help with the finer refinement of the new logo.

RR: Why I bring that up is, I haven’t personally looked into it, but did you guys look into their business practice and their manufacturing practices or anything like that?

MF: Not at all, at least I didn’t. So that’s a totally valid question, you’re right. At the time Alice was working on it she was sub-contracted to them and I would guess it probably wasn’t a consideration to be honest. At that point she was probably of the mindset, ‘great i’ve got a job and it’s something that I love doing’. It would be quite interesting to see what she says about that. I might email her that question.

RR: I feel like a little bit of a dick asking these questions because, you guys were just starting out when that was picked up and done.

MF: Yeah, probably 3 or 4 years ago now.

RR: How were you supposed to turn a paying client down? But I sort of wonder at what point these decisions kick in and at what point this research is done. Because, like you were saying with the tobacco company, if they came to your door with one million dollars that gives you a lot of financial freedom for, potentially, the rest of your life. So how do you weigh up, does this piece of artwork or branding i’m doing, will this impact someone vs how positively the payoff will affect my life?

MF: I guess as well, in terms of the fashion world, ethical practise is a more recent discussion that’s now come to the forefront. You’ve now got movies coming out about it, which is so important – exposure is key to awareness. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, is probably what certain business preferred in order to keep unethical practises under wraps, but it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I think maybe even 5 years ago I myself wasn't necessarily that aware, or concerned, about the origins of my clothing, or food for that matter; whereas now, especially through discussions with Larissa Banks who undertakes the Space Between initiative that advocates recycled fashion, increased awareness has actually made me start to question some of the purchasing decisions I make. Questioning what bigger clients are doing it is a tough one because I think most young, eager designers would want the opportunity to contribute towards a widespread, high-profile project. And, clients aside, as a designer I try and keep my footprint in terms of carbon output really low, as in, I don't print everything and avoid buying lots of technology only to replace it. If I do buy something, I meticulously research and make sure it's something that’s going to last me a long time, rather than throw-away tech. So I guess there are also internal business decisions that can contribute towards a more ethical or sustainable practise.

RR: So now looking to the meat industry. You did the branding for Miss Moonshines. They look like they were pretty meat heavy sort of menu, and this is getting very finicky, but it's an incredibly unsustainable process of creating food.

MF: Well, there is a very large discussion that could extend well beyond a very short interview. They are Restaurant that only uses free-range meat – which is where I sit in terms of the spectrum of food consumption. I eat meat, but I am of the free-range sustainably-sourced section of that. I have my own chickens at home. …I have kind of like a sideline story that you might not want to include, but I was given some eggs from a friend who bought them on Trade Me who mentioned some were ‘laying chickens’ and some were ‘meat chickens’. I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ Then, after they hatched, I saw the meat chickens grow exponentially faster. Three times the speed of the laying chickens. They couldn't walk or breathe properly. I was mortified. These ‘meat’ chickens ended up dying because their bodies could not handle the rate at which they were growing. I’m guessing that normally they would have been killed before that point and sent off to the industry, ‘wherever’ they take chickens like that. So that made me really passionate about meat being sourced from
free-range farms.

RR: Yeah that's very cool. I think I know there's a lot of people who just don't care, but did you find that it was any different working with people that your views on that particular thing aligned. Is that something that you found in your practice?

MF: Certainly following that experience, if a client came to me and they said to me, ‘I'm doing this ‘thing.’ I would be more inclined to ask, ‘What are you doing to source X? Where is it coming from, how are you getting it and what are the conditions like?’ If anything, just for them to start questioning it. Sure, your product is made of natural things but where did the natural things come from? How were
they obtained?

RR: I keep saying this, but it’s different for everyone, do you think that that's a designers role to say to these people who might have been doing this particular thing for 100 years and then they hire a visual designer and we say, ‘How you’re doing this is isn’t sustainable’. Is that our place to do that?

MF: I guess that's up to the designer – it's up to their own moral standards and ethics. The thing is, this world can be rather dog-eat-dog. If you don't do the job, another designer will. That's just the nature of the beast because you’ve got companies like Fiverr and Freelancer.com and they're certainly not asking any of those questions. People can just put an ad up, ‘I need a logo’, and it could just be a name with no background or context and they will get a design back, regardless of the logo’s purpose or company background. I think so much of the world wouldn't ask those questions. So yeah, I think it's up to the designer. But it is great to start creating awareness for designers to be asking these questions because even if it doesn't change that company, it’s planting a seed. Enough seeds planted will create growth eventually. It's a really hard juxtaposition for me and it's hard to say.

RR: That's kind of the consensus that I’ve found so far is, it's just all shades of grey man.

MF: It is! I mean with anything – with any company selling a product. Yes that product may be good, it helps someone, but it’s still using resources at the end of the day. Whether or not those resources could be used better or the process in which they were obtained could be better, that's kind of fluid and it's always going to be changing and challenging. Part of the problem for designers is there’s so many of us. You're competing with so many people so if you start saying no, no, no...what jobs are you going to do? So I think you need to set standards for yourself and think deep down, ‘What do you represent’ and then choose whether or not to work on projects accordingly. If you go down the route of not wanting to sell things commercially to people because you don't think it's right then you might end up becoming an activist rather than a designer. That said, you can use your design as activism, which is great, but on the flip side, do you want to make a living
from design?

RR: Do you think that might be, and I'm going to swing from the more radical side of my opinions, being like ‘I'm going to make a difference from the inside’ as opposed to taking a stand against it. Do you think that's a bit of a cop out or do you think that's a legitimate route to take? So if I was in an industry and I started asking those questions, is that a more productive or valid thing to do as opposed to taking a stand?

MF: I mean, it's not going to have as much shock and impact than if you said, ‘No, I don't want to work for you’. However, it might have more of an impact for change because if you’re on the inside then they get to know you and potentially respect your opinions more. If you are someone from the outside and you’re questioning them, they might get that all the time. But if you're in the crowd with them and then your questioning, it might have a bit more staying power. I myself would trust the opinions and questioning of a friend or a colleague rather than someone outside. I haven't thought of it like that before, but maybe that's a very valid way of combating certain issues – infiltrating from the inside.