Sustainable Sealskin Fashion: A Note from The Walrus Talks National Tour

Shelley Ambrose
Shelley Ambrose, executive director of the Walrus Foundation

Over the course of The Walrus Talks National Tour, executive director Shelley Ambrose is wearing a handmade sealskin jacket and a pair of sealskin bracelet cuffs onstage. The pieces have received incredible responses from our audiences during our tour so far, so we asked Clare Fowler, from St. John’s, and Cheryl Fennell, from Yellowknife, to speak about their design processes, their relationship to sealskin, and the importance of sustainability in the North.

Clare Fowler (jacket)

Shelley Ambrose

My work is exploratory. I’m not afraid to use colour, texture, and to pair it with different materials. I’m compelled to be bold and unapologetic in my designs. I see truth in the material: the resiliency, hard work, and beauty produced by harsh conditions. It is successful evolution; it is a smart textile. Anything a synthetic textile would try to emulate, nature has already perfected in this fibre.

The creative potential I see in sealskin is nurtured by my emotional relationship to it. It embodies so much of what the world needs right now. It is local, sustainable, humane, and possesses the most wonderful combination of durability and biodegradability. You can wear it for an entire lifetime, and it will then return to Mother Earth. I’m inspired to push the limits of what the material can do. I’m inspired by the sealers themselves and their strength in the face of adversity.

Cheryl Fennell (bracelet cuffs)

My sealskin snap bracelets travel places I would love to go – Polaris Awards, rock concerts, weddings, international trips and trade – and now, the Canada 150 Walrus Talks tour!

People often ask me where I get the sealskin for my products. Hunters from the Northwest Territories catch seal for food and sell the hides to our government, who get them tanned and resell the hides through local Aboriginal sewing centres. Seal is a beautiful hide that enriches its surrounding. I believe that using seal wisely and practically, both for food and design, emphasizes that the natural world is a divine trust to be used sustainably for the betterment of the world.