We had a launch of our new shop a couple of weeks ago. It was great. The place was packed – a great turnout. We put chairs outside with atmospheric tea lights inside fruit boxes, laid carpet on the pavement and added pom poms to the knitted trees. It all looked so lovely.
So many people helped with their time and expertise for free. Miss Chu gave us lovely petal strewn rice paper rolls, Young Henry’s poured their home made cider and beer from kegs in overalls and tattoos, organic wine from Retiefs and Fifth Chapter came from Canberra and Southern highlands and Sarah, Trudy and Cindy volunteered their time all evening. It made for a truly festive night.
The best was getting Clover Moore and Steve Pozel to open for us both saying some lovely words about my business and me. Thanks people. Clover even stayed and chatted to my Mum and Dad on Skype in England. Cute. It made their day. They’d never spoken to a Lord Mayor sitting on their sofa at home before!
And I wrote a story and read it out on the night. This is what I said-
A short story about luck and timing.
I opened my very first cloth shop in year 2000 over in Clovelly, not too far from the beach. My tiny run down terraced shop was nestled in amongst a grocer, a butcher and a hairdresser.
I didn’t chose the area for any strategic reason other than it was available and affordable and I could walk to work along the coast with the dog – maybe have a swim along the way.
It was an opportunity to live the lifestyle I craved, the likes of which was unheard of back in the UK where I grew up. So I grabbed the chance with little more to go on that a feeling, a hunch.
My idea was to open the shop to customers one day a week. The rest of the time I planned to work quietly and undisturbed designing and printing my fabric like it was my studio.
So I set my print table right up in the front window with about 1 mtr to spare on one side and barely a hips width on the other with my rolls of fabric, lampshades and cushions squeezed in haphazardly around the edges.
This was my shop stock and I wanted the locals to see how I made it. I wanted them to learn about my craft, understand the endeavour and be engaged in my process. Like city kids seeing cows being milked at a farm I thought.
I also thought the curious people would be content with just looking in on their way past and they would come back on a Saturday to buy what I made during the week.
Life would be simple.
It wasn’t like that though. I underestimated their enthusiasm. Notes got pushed under the door overnight, messages left on the phone, greasy marks from noses and fingers patterning the glass.
What do you do here? When are you open? Can I work for you?
The locals embraced me. The shop was soon open six days a week and I had to squeeze in the printing and making after hours and on Sunday’s.
It was a slightly mad and rather precarious existence – especially for my stock. Ink and paint would often splash and fly across that tiny room as I worked hard focussing on my deadlines, adding accidental colour and pattern to my fabrics in ways I hadn’t really planned.
But this life and way of way of working was true to me and I think the community recognised that and so responded in a reciprocal way. We were honest with each other. They loved me and I loved them. And I hadn’t seen it coming. Pure luck I guess.
Now gallop forwards 12 years and I find myself in Darlinghurst celebrating the launch of my new cloth shop. One month in and the parallels to Clovelly already feel very similar.
It was pure luck that got me this place too. I happened to talk with the City Council at just the right time. They were looking for someone who could add colour and movement to William St and I needed a new shop fast. So when I was offered this sunny corner spot, this ex Ferrari showroom, I didn’t hesitate.
Although I hadn’t considered William St before, I knew I could give it a damn good go. And the opportunity of putting my battered old industrial sewing machine in where a gleaming red sports car used to sit was, well, just too delicious an idea to resist.
Most nights for the weeks before we moved in I came by the shop alone after work in the dark. I stood at the windows painting sketches onto the glass of the things I could see outside. I laid mismatched recycled carpet tiles like a big patchwork rug and set old bits of furniture out nicely so people might get a sense of what was coming, all the while watching the community walk past on their way home from work.
People would wave and smile, give me the thumbs up, pop their heads round the door asking the same kind of questions as before.
What are you doing here? When will you be open? Can I work for you?
Yes I thought, I’m going to love this community.