A new gallery has opened in Whangārei for creative residents who make upcycled art. Reporter Jenny Ling talks to designer Shelly Matiu who got the new venture off the ground.
For the past decade, Northland artist Shelly Matiu has been on a mission to save the planet, one upcycled garment at a time.
The fashion designer takes unwanted denim and transforms the tired clothing into modern dresses, fitted jackets, overalls, and puffer vests under the label ANOagainreuse.
Now Matiu has launched a new Whangārei art gallery – which she believes is the first in New Zealand – exclusively for artists who create upcycled art.
The trash to treasure gallery, named UPcycled Af, was opened on Woods Rd on April 30 to an eager crowd who stood shoulder to shoulder both inside and out.
Matiu was completely overwhelmed at the turnout to view the space, where everything is upcycled, repurposed, reinvented, and one-of-a-kind.
Now is an ideal time to be starting the new venture, she said.
"It seemed there was a big gap in the market and everyone is ready for conversations about upcycling and sustainability and eco-friendly solutions, and just taking care of our planet.
"There's a difference between upcycling and recycling.
"Upcycling takes a product no one else wants and turns it into something of better value. It's about reusing products and stopping things going into landfill."
There are four main "foundation" artists involved in the venture - Jonelle Halkett, Mike Paora and Arna Turton - who along with Matiu, keep the new gallery well stocked.
Other artists are welcome to rent space on a temporary basis to showcase their upcycled works.
Along with the artworks for sale, Matiu also plans to hold events "that co-ordinate with what's happening in the community".
Every month a new artist's work will be featured, along with a different theme.
This month it's Opening to coincide with the gallery launch, with a bit of Mother's Day thrown into the mix.
June's theme will be Matariki.
"Everything you see will be switched over every month so it's refreshed and brand new," Matiu said.
"We might use the same artists, but they need to bring in entirely new pieces for that month.
"We're constantly adding new artists to the gallery.
"People come to a gallery for a reason, to be inspired. We don't want it to be stagnant, we want it to be fresh."
Matiu, who is from Ngāpuhi descent, has been sewing since the age of 8.
She originally lived in Wellington and moved to Auckland to work on films, TV and theatre as an audio engineer, boom operator and in the wardrobe department.
In 2000, she did a brief stint at her friend's op shop in Whangārei, turning garments into upcycled garments for fun.
She returned to Whangārei in 2018 and set up a studio above the current gallery while continuing to work as a contractor on films and TV commercials.
That year she was asked to present a small range at an Eco Journey event after a pair of jeans she had upcycled for herself was spotted by the event organiser.
She was selected to showcase her garments in the Eco Fashion Runway during the 2019 Hutt Winter Festival.
The fashion runway featured 12 designer collections from around New Zealand, who fit the criteria of eco, ethical, upcycled, locally produced and/or New Zealand made.
The idea for a shared gallery came about late last year.
Matiu was invited to be part of an upcycling exhibition at Journey Studio, a collaborative art space launched by local fashion designer Ruth Gayford, owner of Mercy Clothing, and her partner, artist Mike Paora.
Gayford and Paora also wanted to establish an art, design, and fashion space for locals to share their ideas and work.
Along with Matiu, Halkett, Paora and Turton were at the exhibition.
"From that exhibition, the conversation was started about 'hey this is really successful and would it make sense to have a gallery of our own for designated upcycling artists'," Matiu said.
"Six months and a handful of meetings later, here we are."
Each of the artists has a unique set of talents.
Halkett runs The Salvaged Life transforming disused furniture into beautiful bespoke pieces, while Turton from Arnas Glass uses stained glass and broken window panes to create glass artworks with native birds and flowers.
Paora, a carpenter by trade, uses offcuts of wood to make furniture, wall-hangings, mirrors and shelves through his business Straight Outta My Garage.
He also uses the Journey Studio space for his pencil sketches and wall art under his alias The Sketchy Fulla.
Paora was a builder for 10 years before throwing in the tools and taking up his upcycling hobby fulltime three years ago.
He also teaches carpentry part-time.
"It's something I've always done; find a bit of broken furniture and I'll fix it and turn it into something else."
He is also proud of the combined effort to establish UPcycled Af.
There is growing interest in upcycled items from both artist and consumer, he said.
"It's awesome, it's always been my dream for Whangārei to have something like this.
"For these three girls to come out of that exhibition and say let's open our own store, I'm fully behind it.
"I love the combined effort from everyone involved."
Matiu said getting together as a group was "the most amazing thing".
"Sometimes I feel like I'm doing this on my own, but I've found my people, they're quite the dynamic team.
"I'm stoked with these people in my life, we're a really good team.
"We all bring different strengths, and are all really good at things that fit into this jigsaw."
MATIU HAS always dabbled in upcycled fashion and her passion for denim and the environment has grown.
She used to source denim from various op shops and clothing swaps and turn them into pieces of art someone can wear.
These days, people know her well enough to drop loads of unwanted denim off to her door.
Since she got serious over two decades ago, she must have stopped scores of denim going to landfill.
She puts this down to a shift toward the "fast fashion industry" that began in the late 1980s when New Zealand allowed goods, including super cheap clothes, to be imported from China and India.
"It was the birth of fast fashion.
"In the 70s when I was a child my mother made all of my clothing; she sewed knitted and crocheted – everyone's mother did.
"We would treasure our clothing and pass it on and we'd have hand-me-downs.
"You had an appreciation of what it takes to make a garment.
"Now we live in a throwaway society, there is no value in clothing."
Matiu encourages people to think a little more deeply about the purchases they make.
"It's about educating people to understand the process of clothing and rethink what we consume.
"People seem to think they can only be seen in a garment once.
"But now is the time to question things. Buy pieces that last forever, and really treasure the garment and love it and look after it.
"We don't actually need that much clothing."
The team at UPcycled Af is keen for more artists to get on board. If you're interested email: email@example.com.