a search for the uncommonly beautiful

Treading Lightly with Marnie Hawson

Photography by Marnie Hawson

At a time when sustainability has become a buzzword, interior, travel and lifestyle photographer Marnie Hawson embodies what it truly means to live intentionally. A former environmental scientist, she strives to tread lightly in everything she does – from the businesses she works with to the products she brings into her home.

We visited Marnie at the beautifully restored 1890s cottage she calls home to talk about her inspiring career path, the challenges of becoming a B Corporation and why it’s better to buy once but buy well.

Tell us about where you grew up. What did you want to be as a child?

I grew up on 11 acres of bush an hour from Melbourne. Surrounded by the natural world, I was rarely allowed to watch TV and instead spent hours outdoors making cubbies out of branches, exploring gorges down the back of our property and hunting for yabbies in the dams. I had a horse at the age of 14 and then spent the next ten years competing in eventing.

I’m not sure I ever had a solid career ambition in place as a child. I would have been a vet but hated seeing animals in distress and would faint at the drop of a hat, so that would have been a poor choice! I have an Honours degree in Zoology, a degree in Environmental Science, and worked as an environmental scientist for almost a decade before deciding to switch my career to one where I could work for myself.

Have you always been passionate about nature?

Always. As a child I spent Easters on King Island where my Mum grew up, and summers at the remote Bemm River in East Gippsland where my Dad grew up fishing. After a childhood of shark fishing, cray-catching, and mutton-birding on King Island, I disappointed my parents by deciding to become a vegetarian as a teenager and would thus read books instead of fishing on the family holidays. Twenty-five years later, I’m still vegetarian – they’ve just accepted it now.

How have those personal values informed your approach as a photographer?

After four years working full-time as a photographer, last year I shifted my business to a purpose-driven model with a focus on working with clients who share my values. I realised that I only wanted to work with people who have a strong commitment to the environmental and social impact of their businesses, and who constantly seek to improve their world.

Describe your photographic aesthetic in 3 words.

Simple, neutral and natural.

We love working with like-minded brands and individuals like you who are as passionate about sustainability and social responsibility as we are. Tell us about the process of becoming certified as a B Corp. 

When I decided to change my business model, I knew it had to be all or nothing. This included stopping work for my highest paying client. Since then I haven’t looked back. Now, I am in the process of obtaining my B Corp certification as a platform for measuring and improving my impact, and to join a global community of likeminded people. I’m finding it a difficult process as a sole operator offering a service instead of a product, but it wasn’t meant to be easy and I will conquer it soon!

How do you bring a sense of environmental awareness to your day-to-day living?

I really love the quote by Bea Johnson that “every time we make a decision, we have the power to support a practice that is sustainable or one that is not.”

As consumers, every dollar we spend either supports a business doing good things or a business with poor practices. It’s just a mindset shift – next time you go to purchase something new, just do a bit of research for an alternative product that supports an ethical business. And try to buy second-hand!

"Well-made means longevity, and therefore sustainability. I'd rather buy once and buy well to have something for life."

I am always hunting for the most sustainable option in everything I do and buy. My superannuation is with Australian Ethical, and my chosen power supplier is Powershop, as their energy is certified 100% carbon neutral. My car is offset with Green Fleet, and my flights are always carbon offset. I grow a large edible garden, compost, keep chooks, and have been vegetarian for 25 years. I feed my dog ethical food by Frontier Pets, buy all my cosmetic, body and home products from Nourished Life, and only buy ethical fashion when something wears out and I need to replace it.

I’m a member of 1% For the Planet, supporting Charity Water and the Humane Society with a portion of my profit, and I also lend money through Kiva to support people growing their businesses in a sustainable way.

You live in the Macedon Ranges in a gorgeous 1890s weatherboard house, with the town’s old post office also on the property. What refurbishments did you do to make it your own?

We didn’t plan on doing much to the house as it was never our intention to stay that long, but nearly nine years later, we’re still here! We recently rescued a 50-year-old AGA oven and refurbished our kitchen around it. We re-used a lot of the existing cabinetry, bought second-hand brass tapware and handmade brass handles, re-purposed a vintage Czech galvanised washing tub into a sink, and used zero VOC paints.

We also recently converted the old post office building on our street front into a little private bar nicknamed the Misses Sutherlands – paying homage to the two sisters that lived in our home and ran the local post office for 50 years. We put an Armadillo rug in there, and I’m yet to spill red wine on it which I am taking as a win (I have a propensity for this).

We strongly believe in buying fewer but better things. What are your reasons for investing in quality, timeless pieces?

Craftsmanship, good design and functionality will always draw my eye, because well-made means longevity, and therefore sustainability. After all, I’d rather buy once and buy well to have something for life. Everywhere I can, I support businesses who value natural materials, ethical workmanship, and sustainable practices. I also love to buy vintage items, as I think that most things are better with age and a good story.

How do you disconnect and unwind for that busy, outside world when you arrive home?

Potter in the vegie garden with the chooks, walk our dog Dexter up in the hills amongst the kangaroos with my husband, and invite some friends over for a drink in our little bar.

Finally, we can’t help but ask – what’s your favourite Armadillo & Co rug to have underfoot?

It would have to be the Malawi – it’s so, so soft, made out of wool, and even Dexter prefers to lie on it in front of the fire over his sheepskin.

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