Rhiannon Rowley of Abaca in Carmarthenshire
"I am passionately committed to manufacturing in Wales and to using as much Welsh organic wool as we possibly can."
Abaca was the first manufacturer of Soil Association certified mattresses in the UK. The company began trading in March 2005 and is both a wholesaler and sells direct to the public. Abaca is based on a farm in West Wales which has diversified and is the biggest buyer of organic wool in the UK. It produces a complete range of adult and children’s mattresses, each of which is hand made by their skilled team.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
I had been working in the mattress industry for some fifteen years, and during the latter part of that time customers were beginning to question whether the materials used in mattresses could be having an effect on their sleep and general health. Though the decision to produce a mattress which was fully organic was a relatively easy one, the reality of creating it was quite another! It took three years of development work to arrive at a point where I had Soil Association certification.
During those three years I left my job and set up Abaca. Though it was a tremendously risky thing to do at a time when the furniture trade was in the doldrums, I was convinced that there was a market for a UK manufactured organic mattress. I am absolutely sure that the ethical beliefs which underpin organic production are increasingly important to an ever more enlightened consumer, and that growing the number of ‘everyday’ products which are available is the way to move the market forward. Organic means far more than food!
Who are your customers and where are they?
Our customers are people who have concerns about the environment, health and traceability. They are people who think deeply about things and who live all over the world.
What do you love most about what you do?
The conversations I have with people.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
How can we get more people to buy organic?
By manufacturing everyday products that are also organic.
What other organic ventures do you admire and why?
I greatly admire Neil Chadwick who developed the ‘Sea Salt’ brand of organic clothing. He produces beautifully coloured fashionable clothes that just happen to be organic.
How do you plan to progress in the future? What is your vision?
I believe that Abaca is capable of year on year growth for many years to come. 100,000 mattresses a week are sold in the UK so there’s plenty of scope! I am passionately committed to manufacturing in Wales and to using as much Welsh organic wool as we possibly can. My management team are all much younger than me, so while I hope to be able to slip into semi retirement before too many years have gone by, I know that Abaca will thrive under their leadership.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
St. Paul. When I first became a Christian I believed him to be a misogynistic bossy so-and-so, but now I relate strongly to his conversion on the road to Damascus and have come to love his writings. Paul turned his back on the establishment when he became a Christian and maintained his passion for his new religion for the rest of his life. There are points in all our lives where we are faced with choices which are life changing. Having the courage to follow our convictions isn’t always easy, but believing passionately in something worthwhile is a life enhancing experienc.
When were you happiest?
I am happier now than I have ever been. For me, every decade has been better than the one before so I’m really looking forward to being 60!
What is your favourite word?
Hiraeth. Hiraeth is the Welsh word which describes missing a place. It’s often used to describe how someone feels when they’ve left Wales. It’s an intensely evocative word with no English translation.
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
A radio, I can’t live without Radio 4!
What keeps you awake at night?
Mattresses that haven’t been made by Abaca!
What single thing would most improve your life?
Having an extra day in the week that was just for me.
I'd like to be remembered for...
Being a good mother and a good employer.
Find out more about Abaca at www.abacaorganic.co.uk