Ok friends, this is a biggy but such a goody. When I sat down with Austin Moncrieff on the back porch of his Byron Bay house I honestly had NO idea where his story was going to go. So many times I caught myself with raised eyebrows or a disbelieving shake of the head. This guy is one of the most motivated and diverse creative forces I have ever met.
And as you can see, he has a really cool house!
While he looks like a seaside bred local of Byron Bay – Austin grew up on a small farm in Bombay, south of Auckland. At 10 years old he jumped the Tasman with his Mum and spent much of his remaining childhood years living on a houseboat built by his step father.
At 22, following a series of hospo jobs and a stint as a tree feller, he decided to do a Diploma in Graphic Design and Photographic Art. At 23 he then stepped straight into the clothing industry with a job for popular sports apparel company; Scody. Here he found himself totally immersed at both a design and manufacturing level, learning a massive amount about screen printing while on the job. At the same time he was lending his design experience to a local Gold Coast surf label, producing graphics for their t shirts.
Looking for a bit of a break he skipped back to Auckland and spent some time hanging out with his cousin, Campbell Bevan. Hanging out turned to brainstorming and it wasn’t long before the two young guys had a firm plan to start a clothing label! In 2002, Austin quit his jobs in Australia, relocated to Waiheke Island and began designing the debut range for Sidewalk.
Starting a business at such a young age is hard enough, but try mixing in a cancer diagnosis! Despite such a blow, Austin made the decision to continue pushing forward as much as he could through his health battle, but did move home for 6 months to be supported by his Mum during that time.
The Sidewalk team, armed with only a catalogue of designs and concepts, then approached powerhouse Australian creative; Ken Done in an attempt to win his support and funding. And that they did! Entering into a 3 year agreement they immediately rolled into designing and producing 3 collections a year, selling to 45 NZ and 35 Australian boutique stockists and showing at 3 NZ Fashion Weeks.
In 2005 the business was at a pivotal point. They felt it was nearing the time to open their own flagship store but their contract was coming to an end and well…they made the tough decision to quit while they were a head.
Austin, initially stayed on Waiheke. Feeling a little lost at what to do next he took up the odd bit of local freelance design work and indulged his passion for down hill skateboarding. It was on one particular session with a friend that he took a massive spill (and wasn’t wearing a helmet!) resulting in a heli evacuation to Auckland hospital, internal bleeding on the brain, an operation, 48 staples in his head and 3 weeks in intensive care!
Following some serious recovery time he made the move back to the Gold Coast and for the first 6 months worked for an emerging clothing label. Still with an itch for the clothing industry he made the decision to relocate to Sydney to look into opportunities on the table with Sass + Bide, Tsubi and Insight – settling on a 1 year contract with Mambo.
But the GC lifestyle called him home once again and he returned to get fully involved in the down hill skateboard scene (nope….intensive care didn’t put him off!) As part of the first official Australian Downhill Skate Boarding team they toured and competed throughout Europe. During this time one of his friends bounced around some logo’s and ideas for a skateboard company. They began sketching and developing designs and in 2009, they toured trade fairs in China to find a manufacturer and get the ball rolling on another endeavour.
Early Skateboards was born, offering not just boards but gloves, helmets and all the accessories of the sport. Austin, together with his business partner, have continued to develop and grow the brand into the popular industry mover it is today. During that period Austin also worked at Boardshop, where he was involved in everything from product development, packaging and distribution and gleaned valuable knowledge about operating an online business.
After constant weekends commuting to Byron Bay to spend time with his friends, in 2010 he finally relocated himself. In response to the more creative community he found himself in (and loved) he saw an opportunity to run an art show, and considering the awesome house he had found to rent (that you see here!) he decided to do something different and host it there! The Marvel St. Gallery was born. Every 3 months or so he clears out the house, paints walls white and recreates, as closely he can, a gallery style space. Then a date is set and all those interested can attend a live painting event in the back yard combined with live music and the rest of the show. Invited and hosted artists involved to date have been Jeremy Austin, Caspian de Looze and Jodee Knowles.
These events also sparked the beginning of his current and very cool project; NITSUA.
Born out of a need for furniture, Austin got busy re purposing old doors and bringing discarded “stuff” back to life. NITSUA essentially marries his loves of street art, textiles, graphic design and creating all into one amazing and truly unique aesthetic. On my visit in late 2013 I was lucky enough to not only check out that damn cool house but also his studio and new showroom he’s carved out of the simple double garage.
His massive experience in the commercial design world meant that he was always going to approach any creative endeavour with total professionalism. Identifying where his like minded customers might lie he works closely with architects and interior designers as well as private commissions and hospitality fitouts which have included murals and most recently bespoke furniture for local travelling foodies; the Gourmet Goons.
What is it that he does you ask? Put very very simply – Austin uses stencils he has designed to makes surfaces beautiful. Tables, cabinetry, artworks, vinyl furniture, walls, skate boards…well, after meeting him…he offers functional art and anything is fair game for this creative dynamo!
So I wonder, if like me, you feel a bit exhausted from reading this account of a creative life so far. Austin was quietly spoken and super focused, even when I sat there kind of gaping at everything he had done he just smiled – I’m not sure he realises that other people don’t have career paths like that!
There is so much to learn from the persistent creative spirit and business acumen of this guy. I left feeling pretty excited that I had been the first to meet him as he sets out on his next adventure!
WHO: Austin Moncrieff. I run my studio & showroom on a full time bases with freelance graphic design jobs through a local marketing company.
WHAT: I live in a shared house with two mates. One Brazilian buddy who is a skateboarding coach and the other works in the mines up north 3 weeks on 3 weeks off so most of the time we have a pretty quiet house apart from the occasional friend or couch blow-in wanting to stay because of our epic location in Byron Bay. Our beach house has style… wooden floor boards & peeling paint, its run down with a lot of character. To the side of the house there is a double sided garage I’ve divided with a wall splitting my studio from my showroom.
WHERE: Byron Bay. In the heart of it down one of the main streets, right next door to the local bowls club and about a 2 minute walk to the beach. I tend to get a lot of people walking past my studio on a daily basis to stop and take a look at what I have to offer. Most people who hear about NITSUA come over to discover I have way more than just a table that can work with there interior space. I love Byron, it tends to get a little busy over the summer period for lifestyle but its great for business.
DESCRIPTION: I would have to say this is the loosest house I’ve lived in. We can pretty much do anything we like with it. Having run Marvel Street Gallery through here, I’ve collected a lot of great art from over the past 3 years and an ever changing street art wall connected to the side of my studio in the back yard is just the start of it. People who visit are blown away on the retro styling – I’ve always been a collector of the grandma textile / 70’s furniture. We have a dedicated jam room to let loose in with a drum kit, base, acoustic, bongos & decks.. what can i say… the neighbour’s love it when we jam!
WHAT I LEARNT FROM AUSTIN:
There is really no reason big enough to stop reaching for your creative goals.