In the late 1800s in colonial Christchurch, one of the most important contributors to the local economy were the booming tanning industry. The largest and most successful of these became known as The Woolston Tannery.
More than a hundred years later, and the long-since-abandoned factories and facades of The Tannery have sprung into life again, being restored and repurposed, brick by brick (literally - they've removed and hand-cleaned over 150,000 bricks!) into a boutique shopping and entertainment destination, made up of five different precincts. The Tannery will be home to a craft brewery, retail stores, artists' and designers' studios, craft collectives, cool eateries, a modern deli and cafes... This is an example of the Christchurch phoenix we've heard about, an exciting, progressive new city rising from post-earthquake ashes.
The newest tenant at The Tannery is a design store run by Emma Smith and Billy Wilson. Mere weeks before the big one hit, they'd opened shop in Sumner. Their newborn design store dream was short-lived, as damage from the earthquakes made it too difficult to continue trading, and Emma and Billy had to close the doors. Just a few weeks ago, The Flock re-opened inside the red brick buildings of The Tannery.
Lookin' good, good lookin'.
Hey Emma, Billy! How did you come to start The Flock together?
Emma is a photographer by trade and originally from Christchurch. She met Billy while living in Wellington. Billy is a painter and was teaching art at a local institute while Emma was photographing weddings. We decided to move to Christchurch together in 2009, as Emma hadn’t lived around her family in ages. She was really over the wedding circuit and was looking for a change. We decided to start The Flock just before the first earthquake in September 2010.
We share a love of design, material, craft and space, and felt that a shop would provide a constantly changing environment to play with.
What lessons have you learned since starting the business?
The first two years of a small business is always tough going, throw in a few earthquakes, several thousand aftershocks and a car driving through our shop window into the mix and the most enduring lesson you learn is to pick yourself up and keep going.
For us it has been very important to be very clear about what we want to create and to be single minded in our focus and our path. As with everything, you have to be true to yourself and not directed by the opinions of others.
We used to struggle a bit between stocking what we know is popular and will sell versus what we love and value but which is more left- field. The model of good business seems to be towards the former, but it has never sat right with either of us. We want to be inspired by what we select for the shop, and we hope that others will be too. We have been surprised over the years at what has ended up selling well despite our doubts about whether people will get it, or want to pay for it.
More than ever the earthquakes and the resulting hardships have made it very clear to the both of us about what we want in terms of lifestyle, and we are not willing to waste our time.
Emma & Billy checking out their sweet prods
What's on your personal wishlist at the mo?
Foremost on our wish list - more time away from the store to scout for exciting designers and crafters. Our minds right now are very much focused on the west coast of America and London Design Week in September. There is so much innovation and hand crafted production going on in these places.
Billy has to balance The Flock with his studio practice, and now that the new shop is open one of his wishes is on getting the balance just right.
Also on Billy's wishlist is a painting by the kiwi/australian based artist Peter Adsett. Emma would love a contemporary house designed by Charles and Ray Eames if they were both still alive, but she'll settle for an Oak and leather mirror made by Douglas and Bec.
What's your favourite item in the store right now?
Emma loves the new Uniform Wares Series 203 Wrist Watch, which is on its way to the store.
She also is very impressed with the company Found My Animal who make good quality and beautiful dog accessories from materials such as marine grade rope and brass fixtures. They devote their time to re-housing homeless dogs in New York City. Billy is into the Michelle Quan bells (think hand-thrown and painted ceramic wind-chimes, done really well). They are made in Brooklyn, New York.
Teatowels!! And Billy modelling a handmade backpack
What's your most prized possession?
Emma - my trio of fluffy cats Brian, Bessie and Mewy.
Billy - the lovely Kodachrome family photos I have from my mum's place. She had them in some old albums that never got looked at. I’ve taken the best ones and plan to get them framed white on white so that they can shine on the wall and be seen every day. Snapshot technology was lost in the eighties when it got too close to reality. There is no digital filter available that today will get that back.
We love a good recommendation - tell us something we need to know about!
The book Rethink The Way You Live by Amanda Talbot. It is a fantastic coffee table book with amazing interior and lifestyle ideas focusing on small, sustainable, creative everyday spaces. Humble but beautiful. A quote from it by William Morris: “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” We can’t say that that is how we live right now, but it’s a nice idea to work towards.
The song Candles from Beth Orton’s new album Sugaring Season. Listen on good headphones! Emma just saw her play in a church in Auckland. Upon hearing that song, Billy wishes he went too.
There is a blog that a friend recently directed me to which is great fodder for the eyes – it is called The Poetry of Material Things.
A little sample of my favourite stuff from The Flock online store.