Interview #10: Repair Enthusiast and Author Isabelle McAllister

I have been looking so much forward to sharing this interview with you. Not only because Isabelle McAllister is a brilliant sustainable visionary and activist, but also because she is a dear friend of mine.

Isabelle and I met around three years ago here in Bali, when we had both just moved here. We have had a myriad of inspiring discussions, and she always has a way of asking thought-provoking questions and making me see things in a new perspective (which I love!). She is constantly searching for new knowledge and continuously tips me on inspiring podcasts to listen too or new books to read.

Isabelle recently published the book Skavank (in Swedish), which means imperfect, flawed or broken, and is filled with aesthetically nourishing photos of beautifully decayed things, inspiration on how to repair broken belongings (and convincing visual proof of how these repairs will make your things more appealing and valuable), encouraging thoughts on the importance of reducing consumption by mending and upcycling the things we already own, and lots of vintage bliss and tactilely inventive house restorations.

Besides from being an author, Isabelle runs the podcast Fornyarna, is an incredibly thrilling instagram activist, a scholarship founder, DIY enthusiast, and climate advocate. Yes, she is active! And, yes she is inspiring!


What does sustainability mean to you?

To be kind. And really mean it. In action and words. Saying this almost sounds naïve but I think that is more a realisation of how far we are from really trying to take care of the planet and each other.

Sustainability to me is also a wish to form a deeper connection between all things living.


How would you describe your mission in Skavank?

Skavank (translates as imperfect/flawed/broken) is a book about our things, about our relationship with them and how we can mend, tend and care for the stuff we surround ourselves with. 

The new and fresh has been desirable for so long (in relation to both people and things), and the trends have fluctuated extremely fast. It has often seemed more efficient (and cheaper!) to buy new than to repair. I have worked with interior projects, design and DIY for several decades and contributed to both new consumption but also reuse over the years.

Over time, the unsustainability of our consumption rate has become increasingly clear to me. Things are so quickly becoming obsolete and consumed that we don’t know how to take care of our stuff, mend, repair and make use of traditional handicraft. We are losing the knowledge of working with our hands. So many things that we consider as finished and obsolete can be restored and valued if we change our ideas about them.  

Skavank wants to challenge old thought patterns, tell about the properties of different materials and show how old and chipped things can get a new life. Isn’t it also the case that the things that are already pre-owned and handled – by us or by others – hold something that new stuff lacks; patina, provenance or personality? Something that requires time, care and durability. A kind of acceptance of the transient.

This book wants to show the beauty of the imperfect, and the satisfaction of taking care of something. To use what you already have for as long as possible is one of the best things you can do for the planet – and maybe the process of doing so can heal us too.


What do you view as the biggest environmental problem?

Probably the polarisation in society. We try to simplify and see everything as black or white, profit or debt, bad or good and straight when life is actually a rainbow!

I think most issues tend to be both complex and simple, but somehow most of us mix them up, so we don’t know what up or down anymore. I think it’s time to go back to basics, to find the core – the roots of what, how and why we do things: to Re-wild.

So, maybe time is the biggest environmental problem. The system that has provided us with the illusion that we need to fill our days to the brim with things that are not really important. 


What are your working on at the moment – and what’s next for you?

I’m still working with my new book Skavank. It’s a starting point for many conversations, so I’m doing podcasts, interviews, moderate conversations and giving talks. I also facilitate workshops with more hands-on crafts – how to practically make your things last.

Other than that, I’m trying to find my way in this transformation that is needed – so where can I serve and be useful in the best way? I always worked very broad, in many different contexts. I like it, but sometimes it takes a little bit longer to find a clear path. Also, I have realised that the idea of a clear path is just an illusion and that in transformations normal rules don’t apply – so I’m basically just trying to enjoy the ride!

Read more about Isabelle here.

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