Made in N.Z

Made in NZ

I’ve always been a ‘do it yourself’ type of guy. I colonised my spot on the Rinopai hillside, living in a tiny shed isolated up in the bush. Slowly I built my life. My garden, workshop, gallery and then our house. For our house we dug the clay dirt from the hillside and made it into bricks which we used to build a large part of our house. Its a number 8 approach to things that I love. I always seem to have a need to try and do things using stuff around the place. It sort of is ingrained.

The same has applied to my jewellery practice. It was really hard to teach me anything. I was frustratingly confident that I could sort things out. It meant I made heaps of bad jewellery pieces as i tried to work out techniques. It probably meant it took me three times longer to make any progress. Out of all this though the positive has been that I developed my own way of doing things in my workshop, and over the years this has streamlined to my current processes. I enjoy working things out and mostly seem to get to the desired end.

When I first started looking at jewellery in the 1980’s , there seemed to be so much from Bali and India. Amazingly good work and so affordable.  Probably being in my late teens I was only seeing a certain strata of jewellery available. So I became early on determined to make pieces that were obviously from here. I wanted young people to wear jewellery that related to our cultures, that spoke of experience of this environment. And I wanted it affordable so that price was not a big barrier. Those first years in mid to late nineties , I worked really hard and sold almost everything I could make.  It was of course bad business as my profits were so tiny that our small family, frith, willow and myself, were so poor that we earned less than what we could have been paid on the benefit. But I was determined to carry on. I was proud to have the work ‘Made In N.Z.’, to be making and selling my own work.

Now two decades on the marketplace has changed. There is now a total flood of good jewellery being made locally. The polytechs have been doing such a good job of training budding jewellers that we are flooded with choice. It is a market that is totally due to the support of the men and women of our land , who have linked their own identity with fashion and jewellery from here. They like to buy and support local craft artists. Together we have built a small industry based around a  unique type of style which is such an asset.

This market growth has not gone unnoticed by the big players in the Jewellery industry. They could see opportunity for revenue. So they play hardball. They commission New Zealand designers and celebrities to put their name and style to a design range. This should be a good thing, create some genuine employment for all these well trained, artistically astute makers. But no, they are on about profit. So this work is manufactured in Thailand or Indonesia, where the very capable locals are paid a tiny wage in order to maximise the profits back in N.Z. Shipped back to N.Z, it is cleverly marketed as N.Z work. It is not all promoted as ‘Made in N.Z’ but some is. It has N.Z style, it has an N.Z designers name,.  With the prominent advertising and marketing hype and deep pockets of these big companies it is really hard for new zealand consumers to even tell the difference. The downwards effect of this has been that it is almost impossible for N.Z based workshops to compete and stay in business. A dire position indeed that has seen many makers exit the marketplace.

So I have been confronted with the option to have my work made in a third world country where the wages are a tenth at best of local wages. Makes business sense, my business advisor would recommend it. However I am a maker, I like making my designs. Running my workshop is what I like to do, so I employ an assistant and I pay her a fair wage. We enjoy the collaborative process that marks our work. We are proud to label our work ‘Made in N.Z.’ and hope that our customers appreciate it as well. It is vital if the local Arts and Crafts are to evolve, progress and flourish that this notion continues to matters to the buyers of our jewellery. :)

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