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Category Archives: fly the coop
Kelly Spencer is a Wellington based artist who I first started following after stumbling across her work two years ago. I continued to keep an eye on her projects that popped up on Facebook and was able to meet her in person when I covered her “fridge” painting for the Red Bull Pop Life event in Auckland last November. We definitely clicked so you can imagine my excitement when she got in touch and revealed she had her own Gold Coast adventure planned that coincided with mine!
Despite us both landing at the hot and muggy Gold Coast airport on the same day, we made some loose plans via email to meet somewhere down the coast a few days later. I left some cryptic messages on the Aussie cell number she had supplied me with and after some to-ing and fro-ing we made a date for 11am at Cabarita Beach. Despite being a total tourist I felt pretty smug as I turned off into the beachside carpark at bang on 11. However, it was “bang on 11 am” a couple of kms back North where I crossed that invisible line from Queensland into northern NSW….and their daylight savings time. Kelly kindly never mentioned it – as I was bang on a hour late.
Unlike my other interviews, I was catching Kelly at the very very beginning of her Australian sea change. While the NZ summer had been a record breaking one for sunshine hours, the threat of fifth wet and windy Wellington winter was enough for her to finally make a move which she had been aiming at for some time. A few months earlier while home in Gisborne for a visit, she had caught up with friend; Robson Timbs and discovered he shared her ideas on a change of scenery too. In fact he even had a ticket booked. They were also on the same page when it came to travel and a plan was made to purchase a van and lock in tickets for the Byron Bay Blues Festival over Easter. I caught up with them “boiling the billy” the day before they were continuing South.
After a cup of tea I enjoyed a snoop around their van/home. There were grand plans to improve the interior fit out, but at that point of time the “pile everything in” method was doing just fine. Sharing the same carpark were a number of other vans, cars and caravans filled with super friendly, tanned adventurers who they had struck up an easy balance of sharing chairs and chocolate, watching unlocked vehicles and learning each others stories.
We then wandered down to the stupidly idyllic beach. It was here that I realised Kelly was actually acting out the secret dreams of so many people. To pack up and head for sunnier shores with the only secure plan being the purchase of a van….well it is a pretty romantic idea. The reality is that the life of a freelancer is scary enough without throwing in a foreign country (as close as it is) and no fixed abode – but the reason I knew this was going to be more than a long holiday was her grit and determination to lead her life the way she wants.
Kelly has many arrows to her creative bow. Her work has been seen across book illustration, webpage design, t shirt graphics, identity design, posters, set design, music festival branding, street art and painting a life-sized fiberglass baby elephant. She has work lined up with a kids clothing label (owned by an ex pat kiwi) on the Sunshine Coast and is part way through the completion of illustrating a book. In the 36 hours she had been in the country when I caught up with her, she had secured a painting commission and had a possible lead creating art work with a custom surf board shaper. So you get that motivation isn’t an issue here…
While I may have painted a picture of two happy nomads, this isn’t the case. Both Robson and Kelly are professionally trained and experienced in their respective industries, and it is certainly helpful that Kelly’s skills are conducive to travel! While plans were loose, they were concentrated on finding a balance between lifestyle and work opportunities which they hoped would have them putting down some roots somewhere along that glorious coast.
As I drove back and crossed the invisible border again, I felt that this post was going to be more like a “pilot” for a series. Having the opportunity get a glimpse first hand at a successfully creative New Zealander like Kelly leaving her secure network of clients for the virtual unknown, felt inspiring. I am sure it will just be a matter of time before I am reporting back with an update.
What I learnt from Kelly:
It’s one thing to have an amazing body of work, but it takes some spark and guts to sell your skills and turn a dream into reality.
Fly the Coop: Brisbane + Gold Coast was made possible by the support of Mondegreen.
I was suffering some serious heat/humidity induced brain drain by the time I knocked on the door of Kelley Sheenan’s Brisbane home and the Peppermint magazine HQ. Thankfully, in this part of the world they are well equip to combat their climate and after downing some icy water and sapping up the cool of the basement workspace I began to return to normal. The recovery time gave me a great opportunity to make myself comfortable and shoot the breeze with super friendly Kelley, piecing together the journey that led her to set up, design, edit and publish Australia’s first publication focused on sustainable and ethical fashion. In fact by midway through Kelley’s story her Peppermint advertising manager; Sally Cage and assistant editor; Emily Lush were eagerly asking questions themselves having had no idea quite how their place of work had come about!
Born and raised in Invercargill; the deep south of NZ, at 21 Kelley did what many young kiwis do and exited stage right, landing in Melbourne. Over 9 years there she did everything from telemarketing, selling car batteries (!!) and working in insurance. An eventual return to Auckland led to administration work for a graphic design school and also marked her first real efforts at indulging her creative interests. In the evenings she spent time collating and writing a vegetarian cookbook. She was so dedicated to it’s development she cornered Jamie Oliver in a back alley, post book signing to try to glean some advice! This initially worked in her favour with early talks with his UK based publisher…however it was quickly deemed that because she wasn’t famous it really was a no go. (Haha….all it takes now is a stint on a reality show!)
Not discouraged she pushed forward with self publishing in mind and with a few strings pulled at the graphic design school she was lucky enough to get her book taken on as a project for students. Then perhaps, the first step that led to her current career was was taken. On viewing the results of the students work she quickly realised that she was an intense perfectionist and really needed to do the job herself -promptly quitting her desk position and enrolling in a full time graphic design course.
On graduating her course (and with the cook book shelved for now) she marched into a local graphic design agency and in short – insisted they give her a job. When the manager came out to deal with the persistent intruder they quickly realised they were both from the same area in the South Island and she was employed! Graphic design had given her the creative outlet she had been searching for for years and during the time with the company she joined forces with husband Ben to put her skills to use on a personal project by designing and selling printed t shirts at a central city market.
Her first awareness of ethical fashion came about when her t-shirt supplier introduced a new option of printing onto “green cotton” garments. Many of her fellow stall holders were beginning to source from China to cut costs, a decision that didn’t sit comfortably with Kelley and Ben- hence her own research began. This interest then snowballed when she fell pregnant and began hunting for organic fabrics for the arrival of her baby. Hunting high and low locally and online she entered a new world of fashion and business she hadn’t been aware existed.
Her new knowledge stirred her up. She realised quickly that if she herself had only been able to unearth this information by intensive research that many others out there that shared her values were also starved of it. Armed with an 18 month year old and husband she jumped the Tasman again this time to settle in Brisbane. With the intent to give a positive and solutions based front to the sustainable and ethical practice in fashion she decided that her favoured medium would be print. And in 2008 the skeleton of Peppermint magazine began to form.
What followed was some serious hard graft. With the help and support of Ben she worked on sourcing content and designing the publication herself. She endured learning curve after learning curve over self publishing, selling advertising and balancing her role as a mother and wife. Her past sales experience obviously paid off as she was able to fund her first print run of 1000 copies entirely on advertising revenue. This maiden issue was then distributed for free around businesses, shops, brands, cafes – anywhere she thought she would have an interested audience.
As it turned out – she had quite a big one! The response was overwhelmingly positive but also then poised the next huge challenge of doing it again! She started to look into what was required to sell through book shops/newsagents and the answer was a little scary in terms of the print run demanded. However, with an early and positive partnership with a distributor she was once again able to get another magazine out generated by advertising. With a proven audience out there and increasing interest from the fashion and ethical business industries she realised that the Peppermint “beast” she had created might just be getting all a little too much. Two unsuccessful and generally depressing meetings with publishers made her realise that corporate ownership simply was only going to lead the magazine away from her core values. With some timely inspiration from Anita Roddicks book; “Business as Unusual” she excepted that Peppermint was “her beast” and that she was determined to see it grow in a way that matched the causes and issues it was based on.
Up until 2011, Peppermint was a labour of unpaid love for Kelley and friend Tess Curran who came on board in 2009 and is now Deputy Editor. Working out of Kelley’s living room with no pay for years would have had most people questioning the magazines viability. But Peppermint was becoming a barometer of Australia’s interest and growing awareness of this type of industry. Initially a friend had questioned Kelley on what she would do once she had profiled all six of Australia’s sustainable fashion designers? This was a fair point to make in 2009 but now Peppermint sustains a staff of 5 (not including Kelleys 6 year old son Ryder who is “Manager of Print and Photocopy Machinery”) all in response to the explosion of the industry and it’s popularity. Submissions vastly outweigh what was previously heavily sourced material and the magazine sits well among fashion, creative and business based publications in stores.
Taking her journey into account, it’s hard not to be massively impressed and downright inspired by this Invercargill born expat bringing sustainable and ethical issues to living room tables minus the guilt and hippy status.
From left: Assistant Editor; Emily Lush, Advertising Manager; Sally Cage, Editor/Publisher/Designer; Kelley Sheenan.
Absent but loved! Deputy Editor; Tess Curran, Administration/Accounts/Design; Brent Wilson and Manager of Print and Photocopy Machinery; Ryder.
Kelley + Brisbane 101
Lives:Red Hill, Brisbane with son Ryder
What she loves most about Brisbane:
-It’s a city finally finding it’s feet creatively, so is currently a groundswell of creativity and innovation.
-It’s big enough to be interesting but small enough to feel like a community
What she misses most about NZ:
-Being able to lie on grass without being bitten by something!
-Family and friends
-The secondhand shops (I always clean up when back in Invers)
What I learnt from Kelley:
It’s impossible to read our own future but when you find that “thing” that really spins your wheels take hold of it in some form and indulge your passion. It might not become your business, but it might be the most rewarding thing you ever do.
I am very excited to say that my last minute efforts in organising interviews for another Fly the Coop feature have paid off!!! Not only do I have some diverse and interesting creative kiwi’s to meet and interview, I have also been incredibly lucky to have one of my long term supporters; Mondegreen come on board as the sole sponsor of this trip.
This is a pretty big thing on my end. From the Studio Home survey there was a resounding “Yes!” when it came to sourcing more “behind the scenes” type content, but collecting this takes some time and a little funding! So to have Mondegreen make a whiplash decision in response to my down-to-the-wire planning…well…..it means a hell of a lot!
The Wellington based Mondegreen team from left: Helen Simonson (Graphic Design), Laura Newton-King(Textile Design), Nicky Cameron (Design Director) and Liz Ting (Fashion Design)
These were their thoughts for lending their support on the Fly the Coop project: ‘As a New Zealand brand that designs and produces onshore it’s really inspiring for us to see New Zealand talent taking on the world! We love to celebrate New Zealand design and talent whether it’s here or further afield so we were very excited when Julia asked us if we wanted to sponsor her latest edition of ‘Fly the Coop’. We can’t wait to see pics and read about the creative kiwi souls she has tracked down in and around Brisbane, we hope you’ll be inspired by them too!’
If you haven’t yet made the “click trip” to visit these guys online, I would love it if you took the time to now. They have an awesome interesting mix of internationally sourced homewares (think Jonathon Adler and Artecnica) and their own NZ designed and made clothing range.
By the time the day rolled around to head to Noho and meet with Luke Harwood at his New York coffee spot, I was feeling like a bit of a map reading, subway riding pro. I stomped around the streets of Soho ticking off all the stores I had promised myself I would check out then wandered the couple of blocks north to Bond Street and Happy Bones NYC. I managed to walk past the sandwich board outside twice (duh!) before realising that I needed to walk through a boutique eye-ware store to discover the high ceilings and large, brick clad spot that I was looking for.
Typical of these antipodean endeavours, a talented barista from the homeland was brusquely churning out coffee after coffee. It turns out that Patrick had been making coffees at Luke’s favourite Ponsonby Road café in Auckland and was subsequently head hunted to be part of the stateside adventure. Arriving a little early I had time to take in the space while waiting for Luke. To me it was awesomely “New York-esque”. Industrial, sparsely furnished and a bit of a local’s hideaway. Both tables had people propped around them locked in conversation or their laptops. Two backlit bookshelves held a wide array of edgy design led magazines and books while a large photographic print of two young Maori boys by kiwi expat photographer; Maya Villiger took pride of place behind the counter. There was a small selection of delicious looking pastries and baking in the cabinet and Patrick was just a blur buzzing between coffee machine and the tables.
Luke arrived and we took a seat on a low bench at the back of the room. Totally laid back and friendly as you only hope the kiwis you meet overseas will be, he let me question away.
He is one of the three founding directors of hugely successful NZ fashion label Stolen Girlfriends Club and has put his savvy marketing and branding skills to work with some other prominent kiwi brands. In 2010 Luke and his wife Gabrielle upgraded city size from Auckland to New York and Gabrielle now has a position many fashion hungry designers would kill for at an internationally renowned magazine. Meanwhile, looking to find a local project while still very much on the clock for Stolen Girlfriends Club, Luke struck up a friendship with (AMAZING) artist Jason Woodside and a concept for a small “hole in the wall” selling top notch coffee was born. Something that Americans as a whole are starved of!
As the process of networking for spaces began, they met the owner of Selima Optique on Bond St. who offered them the under-utilised space behind her shop. This was a giant leap in size from their original idea but the surrounding streets filled with creative agencies and studios put them on the doorstep of likeminded customers. The space is now very much used as an out of office meeting spot and general bolt hole for the local creative. The size also allowed them to indulge their passion for art based and alternative publications, again adding to the creative vibe of the place.
When I visited Happy Bones NYC was just 1 month old but all I saw were customers strolling in, ordering their coffees and chatting with Patrick as though this had been their coffee haunt for years. This can all be put down to Luke and Jason recognising the needs of their own kind in the midst of a massive city full of choice. All Kiwis and Aussies adventuring in NYC should be reassured that their flat white withdrawal doesn’t need to be so brutal with Happy Bones now open.
LUKE + NYC 101
Lives : Noho, Manhattan with wife Gabrielle
What he loves the most about NYC:
– the business opportunities
– people are so receptive and positive to new ideas
– the food!
What he miss’s most about NZ:
-ease of being in own country
Favourite NYC haunts:
– Army surplus stores
– Vintage stores
– Takahachi, East Village
– Taking the train upstate to Maine and the Catskills
What I learnt from Luke:
Keep it simple and focus on quality. Create something that you love and like-minded customers will follow.
My effort to meet Henry for our interview started fairly typically for me. As per usual, I popped out of the dark subway only to spin around in circles trying to get my sense of direction. I was yet to confidently walk up and out onto the street heading the way I was meant to. Instead I would always stand with a virtual flashing arrow above my head screaming “Tourist!” while turning my map around in my hands. Probably accustomed to giving wayward New Zealanders easy to follow directions, Henry had made this manageable by saying “just look for the really tall brick smoke stack, that’s my building” and with “smoke stack” located, I made the quick 10 minute walk down the street.
He met me at the massive front doors (turns out this building was where air conditioning was invented) and led me to his huge, light, bright studio. Actually, my first thoughts were “this is just like in a movie” in the sense that it was the perfect balance of old, industrial, eclectic furniture, books, art supplies and large techy photography equipment. Pretty much the sort of space that any creative would dream of working in! Shared with another photographer, it is also on occasion made available to friends and their projects. There was a booking for the afternoon and the girls from Soludos (another awesome brand with an Aussie connection) had claimed a corner with their bags of gorgeous little espadrilles preparing them to shoot with Henry the next day. After I snooped around with my camera for a while, secretly imagining where my own work space could go, we then walked back down the road to take up a window spot in his favourite café and chew the fat.
On the completion of degrees in American Studies and Film Studies at Canterbury Uni, Christchurch, Henry set off, like so many kiwis do, toward the UK. While on a holiday stopover in South East Asia, he was approached by a stylist looking to recruit “western” models for a shoot. Ever the easy going character, he took up the opportunity which he then decided to pursue on his arrival in London. With bar tending in the evenings, he began visiting agencies but with few results. It wasn’t until an agent from Milan fashion week came over that he was noticed and then cast to walk for Gucci, Prada and then for Louis Vuitton at the Paris fashion week. I’m sure everyone wondered where this New Zealand guy had popped up from, but the modelling world wasn’t done with him yet. Following his catwalk success he then became the “face” of Prada, Hermes and Lacoste and subsequently splashed across magazines and billboards around the world!
He rode the modelling wave full time for 2.5 years before starting to itch for something else. It had been an amazing ride but really was just a great way to earn some money and explore the world and he was ready to move on. Not something his agents were happy to hear! Regardless, Henry dropped off the modelling world’s radar and popped up instead in New York where he rented a studio, put in a mezzanine where he could sleep and began to indulge his real passion of photography. Again bar tending was a great back stop and proved to be fantastic for networking and the sourcing of his first clients. With experience in front of the lense, he proved his worth behind and after three years he was a full time photographer.
During a snowstorm in the city, he braved the weather to shoot the strangely deserted streets and posted the images on his website with the photoshopped additions of Star War’s characters appearing from the blizzard. He emailed the link of the collection called “Hipster Strikes Back” out to a few blogs and saw his web stats shoot from nothing much to 30 000 unique visitors a day. This got his brain ticking and name resonating among the creative heads of the internet. It was around the same time that he had decided to ditch fashion photography in favour of creating work that was against the norm. Instead of trying to “read the market” he realised he could just do what he wanted and someone out there would love it!
Inspired by a fashion shoot he had done in 2008, Henry was keen to further explore the bounds of 3D photography and after some crazy brainstorming with a friend, settled on a project. Boobs. Not boobs in a pornographic sleazy way, more like edgy, fashion based and down right awesome way. After some shopping around with publishers, most of whom were way too scared to touch it, they met with Seven Footer Press and the project transformed into a glossy book called 3DD that was so popular, Marc Jacobs (the Marc Jacobs!) offered to hold the book launch in his flagship LA store. The book became the 1# Erotic book on Amazon and propelled Henry to shoot another. With 3DD Deluxe he upgraded his techy equipment and shot in 5 countries.
When I asked if he was keen to ride that success and produce more, the answer, with a wry smile was most likely not. To me this was like dropping modelling at the top of his game, Henry just isn’t in it for the fame and notoriety, there is too much artist in him for that. But the project did inspire him to keep exploring and now his work is far more art than photography.
Still life photography with food as the focus is a favourite subject. He has just finished a series of prints depicting the busts (“profiles” in case of confusion in relation to previous paragraph!) of all the American presidents made from Jello. He also showed me some shots of an almost completed project where he creates the countries and continents of the world from a popular food linked to them. Think Africa in bananas, NZ in kiwifruit and the USA in corn. They look INCREDIBLE and word in the studio is that Scarlett Johansson has put her hand up to be first to purchase.
With all this intense experimental art going on, it’s easy to wonder quite where Henry’s income is coming from. But as I learnt, this guy is extremely savvy and is always looking for the hook in everything he does. Always contemplating “what makes this interesting?” He will get an idea and then think “who will this appeal to? Could I sell this as a promotional concept to a brand?”. And that he has, over and over again. His aim is to work with big business to take an inspiring and creative angle on their product and help them create something memorable.
As you can tell from the length of this interview, we talked for ages. I was kind of reluctant to let him get back to work as I was so fascinated not only by his history but his super easy-going casual persona which in some ways just didn’t seem to match! I was left feeling totally inspired, a little gobsmacked at what he has achieved and bewildered as to why he isn’t splashed all over every creative and entrepreneurial publication in NZ!
HENRY + NYC 101
Lives : Williamsburg, Brooklyn with French girlfriend Charline
What he loves the most about NYC:
– Social: there is always something to do/hear/see. Every night there is a buzz!
– Positivity: people are positive before they are negative
What he misses most about NZ:
What I learnt from Henry:
You can consistently test the bounds of your own creativity while still considering the commercial opportunities. Artists do not have to be starving.