Post-furniture

Wendy Neale and Maaike are crucial inspirations for Artisan Modern. For many years I have yearned to bring them together for a conversation. The completion of the book became the opportunity.

I met Wendy Neale in 2009. At the time she was completing her Masters of Design thesis, articulating a perspective on sustainable furniture after a career as a furniture maker and industrial design instructor. She was asking “why I want to make things in a world that’s got too much stuff already. You can read the full text about her work here. Subsequently, she became the director of the Wellington FabLab, and I’ll ask her to bring us up to date about that experience and why she has recently left that position.

Wendy: I’ve never mass-produced. I was only ever batch producing because I really hate doing things more than once. I was director of FabLab Wellington for 9 years. During that time I lived in Portugal and Dubai. I studied in Amsterdam in 2018. The job gave me a lot of freedom, but as part of that really broadened what I was interested in but also drawing back things I’ve been interested in my whole life.

FabLabs for me are about sharing knowledge, empowering people, within that digital space. One of the reasons I loved doing that was because it was a globally connected group of interesting thinkers. A lot of what we talked about was sharing ideas but not moving stuff around the planet. Globally connected but locally productive.

So we spent quite a bit of time developing new materials. My lab had a really sustainable focus, whether it was successful in that or not I don’t know. We were making our own bioplastics. We never threw away any of our wood dust because we only ever used actual wood, so we’d use that to grow mushrooms and make mycelium materials and stuff. But that was a focus that I had, that I brought with me to the University.

I met Maaike in Sydney in 2013. She had worked in community spaces focused on reuse, inventing projects and doing training and education. And then bravely decided to open her own furniture restoration business, working both with customers’ existing objects and objects that she found. When we met, Sydney city had popups in empty retail spaces. So she had this beautiful shop on Oxford Street.

Maaike: I was on my own doing furniture resurrections full time from 2013 to 2018 in my own studio, doing textile art on other people’s furniture and pieces I wanted to do myself. I was in the Sydney popup for nearly 5 years of that, which was epic in terms of getting established. I had a grant to pay for the space and it’s quite good having a sign and a shop front on Oxford street in the first 5 years.

When that wrapped up I moved to a studio with real-life overheads which got pretty intense pretty quickly. It was also a less creative area; a lot of good drive-by traffic, but a very different market. And I’ve never been particularly good at selling myself. Some clients did find me over social media. But I was taking more and more bread and butter work. Reupholstering dining chairs in white fabric, which gets you more work in a similar vein. And you do it well and relish having your own studio and all the rest of it. But I think my final year I made less than an apprentice and I was working seven days a week and it just felt like continual education of clients. “Why is it so expensive?” over and over again. “Why should I do this with you when I can buy new from China for a quarter of the price?” And “Why does it cost so much if the materials are free?”

It’s not free. Everything you pick up and put anywhere in Sydney comes with a rent price tag. It took me more time to purge the collection of potentials than to worry about the things that were done. There were so many things that I hadn’t gotten to that I had photos of in about 6 different studios. And you’re never going to find another egg chair frame. I’ll hang on to it forever, but in terms of rent it probably cost more than keeping a dog.

Wendy: Not to mention all the time you spend making it, thinking about it, all the time you spend gaining the skills to do it, and it gets back to that whole thing about how do we value the object and how do we communicate that value.

 

Maaike: My husband is an architect and design thinker as well and has been a rock through all of that stuff. We looked at what was working and what wasn’t and decided to pivot the business. So first thing stop doing the bread and butter.

There were a lot of people who were very much into the classes I’d been doing but wanted to be able to do it from home. “Introduction to upholstery” and those kind of things. Wanted to go to TAFE but didn’t want to go to TAFE because it’s structured around traditional apprenticeships and models that don’t suit mothers and people who work 9 to 5. So we did the research and made a kickstarter campaign to develop basically the first year of TAFE upholstery class in a box, in the form of an ottoman.

We did a kickstarter for pre-sales, to fund video and good diagrams and animations. And the indication had been from the market research that people were going to be on board for it, but they just were nowhere to be found when it happened. When it came time for pre-orders they just didn’t step up. It absolutely failed. Which was disappointing.

Wendy: I had the same experience with people saying yes yes, love to do it and would even pay. How much would you pay to allow someone else to do this course as well? Oh, twice as much, three times as much. But no follow-through.

Maaike: I am excited by the people I engaged with in that project. I worked with Julie Patterson from cloth fabric. I worked with these CNC guys who were local. I knew their supply chain. I sourced the plywood that I wanted to use. That was my engagement and I didn’t have to be hands on and make it myself because I was the puppet master over the whole project. I was making something just by bringing all those people together.

the Atomic Ottoman Kit (AOK) by Furnish-ed

 

So I learned a lot from that process in terms of taking a project through those kind of hoops and getting everything organized. And I still have that sitting around, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

I’ve ended up working for a clay-making company that’s also an art store. They want to be doing more online education training, engagement, workshops. They’ve been making clay for 40 years as a family business, but they want to be doing all the things that I know how to do, so I’m trying to bring them into the 21st century.

I sat with closing the business for a long time and I still haven’t entirely recognized it as a win.

Post-Furniture

Amory: I’m curious how you both feel about furniture specifically at this point?

Both laughing.

Wendy: I’ve still got all sorts of stuff that I had before. And I throw things together depending. I’m always reconfiguring my spaces, but I have no interest in making it for anyone else. But I still do pick things up. I’ve got these little drawers that I found in a skip bin the other day, little mahogany drawers.

Furniture? I’m not as interested in. I’ve been really focusing the last couple of years on what I’m calling Food Sovereignty. One of the things I’ve done is make my own incubator for growing tempeh. And then we went into lockdown. So I got really good at sourdough, growing kefir, making my own cheeses. I’m learning how to sew at the moment.

I’m spending quite a lot of time thinking about materials. How do we get our food. What are the systems? How do we engage with them? What does it mean for us, for instance, that we only have flour from Australia. Because we haven’t got any selenium in our soils, and that explains why a lot of our movies are really depressing. And you’ll notice that now they’re not because we use your flour in everything so we can have selenium in our diets and they don’t have to give us supplements. What does it mean for us that we don’t grow our own flour?

We grow trees to make paper, but we throw away our textiles. So my newest interest is going back to rag paper, which is what we used to have and whether I can start making rag paper out of discarded textiles. I was still connected with the fashion design department at Massey and they cut out a lot of natural fibres, calico fabrics for them to make their examples. And so I can get that. But also there’s a dude in NZ who invented a portable hollander. Instead of 175 kilos, it’s only 40 kilos. It actually beats the fibres rather than cutting them.

Maaike: It’s a very broad topic. I still like furniture. I’m starting to be more excited about buying other people’s furniture rather than making it myself. Which makes no sense sustainability but from an “I can finally afford it” perspective, I think it’s kinda interesting. I’ve had my ups and downs with the pieces that I’ve kept. I’m sort of hitting a point where it’s starting to feel like baggage. My dad made a lot as well, so I’ve had a lot of his pieces over the years. Because so many of the pieces are special or have stories or are important for other reasons and they don’t all fit in our house, and they don’t fit in a life that will hopefully be more nomadic going forward. So that’s been an interesting experience. I’m a lot freer with some furniture, well if it doesn’t work in this place then I’ll knock the borders off and reform it into a table that does work in this place. I’m emotionally fine doing that with my own pieces. Doing that to my dad’s pieces feels a little bit – ungrateful. And rude. But that’s also the part of where it has to keep having the function that it needs.

Pedro supervised the removalists when we moved into this place. He was very proud. He said “I was watching it all go out and come in and we’ve made just about everything, or your dad’s done it. We’ve designed and built a table together, chairs and things. It’s cool that we have those pieces and share them, but I’m also getting a lot better at going “well I’ve got the photo, let’s cut it up and do something else with it now.

Wendy: When I did the Master’s degree I called it an embarrassment of riches. It’s a phrase that someone used to describe the Netherlands in the 18th century, where they just had so much stuff, an unbelievable amount of stuff because of where the Netherlands was and what was going on there at the time.

Maaike: I considered changing my phone number when I closed up the business because people kept texting me with no name, just photos and addresses of things I should go and pick up.

Wendy: So 10 years ago I was saying that we had an embarrassment of riches. And I just think that now we’ve got an obscenity. I’m sure it’s the same thing that’s happened in Australia. Because Marie Kondo went on Netflix or something and suddenly everyone was throwing away all of their clothes and stuff like that. The op-shops had to say no more.

Maaike: The problem is that so much of what they were purging is not valuable, was not valuable, and somehow they don’t want it but they think someone else will. But so much of what people try to throw away in Australia is not worth more than landfill. I understand from a sustainable perspective why it’s worth more, but it should never have been bought in the first place.

Engagement instead of Furniture

Maaike: I remember saying to somebody very early on that I just want to make furniture and talk to people about it. And I feel like now I might take the word ‘furniture’ out of it. But I do like making stuff and I like talking to people about it. I like the part where I get to get other people excited and give them skillsets. I would never say I was a people person but I definitely get a kick out of seeing other people discover something new about their capacity and ability and that part carries on regardless of what I’m making.

Wendy: I look back and most of my jobs have been really people-focused, but making things. I feel the same as Maaike. I love to share what I know. I love to see people take joy from those. I’m not an extrovert most of the time.

Maaike: I’m extroverted for an introvert. I never want to be in a roomful of people at a party, but if all of those people like upholstery we’re going to be alright.

Wendy: Curiosity. That’s the key thing for anything. If you’ve got curiosity on both sides.

Maaike: Curiosity is closely linked to enthusiasm. I don’t know anything about knitting socks but if somebody tells me they knit socks I have a lot of questions. Doesn’t mean I want to knit socks, but I’m curious. Why socks? What else can you knit? Do you know? Do you like it? What do you do with the socks?

Wendy: How do you turn the corners?

Maaike: Yeah! Do you use the circle needles? Can you tell me how? It doesn’t have to be with a peer, it just has to be with someone who’s interested. And quite often they are other people who have different experiences in making or prosuming something.

Amory: Is there something about objects that is special, compared to talking about a movie that you both saw?

Maaike: Someone says “oh I saw that movie, have you seen it?” It’s quite hard for someone who hasn’t seen that movie to keep that conversation going. But if you say “I just got this cool dining table” it’s back to that thing of everyone’s got a dining table, or a notion of one. And therefore you’ve got that commonality of a story. Your grandfather made them. You inherited this weird one from your uncle. Your flatmate painted yours pink. There’s always going to be a story because they are common household objects.

Wendy: It’s a tactile thing. If we’re talking about a movie I’m relying on my memory and my descriptive abilities. But one of the things about crafting afternoons with two friends and we all make something and we chat and there’s often a wine involved. But because we’re making things, talking about making things, planning making things, we’re also covering a lot of personal ground and we’re creating this landscape that’s all networked and stuff but we’re not actually looking at each other all the time.

Maaike: That’s the exact theory of MenSheds. The MenShed movement is how do you get old men out of isolation and talking to each other and fixing health problems sooner rather than later. The answer is you put em all side by side facing a wall with a bunch of tools in front of them. We have hundreds of them now. That’s the only way you can get guys to talk about not football.

Wendy: The tempeh incubator is creating something that people could make, and in doing so they’d learn about materials. They’d learn about electronics. They’d engage with something that would have meaning. It was about creating a system and a process that had people engaging with their world and feeling like they can change it because they understand it.

With digital fabrication it’s a little bit easier to do that. The heavy lifting is the design file. But they’re actually involved in pressing the button on the CNC milling machine. And they get to see it being cut out. Or they modified it a little bit. So that when they went to press the button on the laser cutter. I know it sounds a little bit patronizing. But honestly the connections, the excitement that you see people have, that they don’t actually want to make it, but they want to be able to tell that story. The know how it works. They understand the process to some degree. They don’t want to actually be the professional but they can tell a richer story about it afterwards.

It’s an action kind of thing. The whole thing about digital fabrication is mass customization because you can start off with one file that can come out in so many different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen Nervous System designers. They sell 3d printed dresses and stuff like that and they do jewelry that’s a generative design so the prosumer can do some sliders on their website to design within parameters the jewelry piece that they want.

Amory: Maybe. I think it’s a powerful idea. I think it’s your phrase Maaike, “they want to be part of the story” and then I heard other people say it. And it was within Wendy’s work already. But that was your phrase. Can you give some examples of what that looks like.

Maaike: It is about tailoring the piece to what you like but there is definitely the conversation that happens afterward with every single people who says “hey I like your brooch” which is “thanks, I made it, like this.” Not like taking ownership for the production, but this is the neat thing. I was involved and I did this and then I said “make it red” and now it’s different to everything. So there’s the moment of that’s the new treasure. The customization of it. The engagement.

 

Making & Making It

Maaike: So I’m figuring out what’s next. I’m enjoying making things not for money or for people. It’s bringing back the joy a little bit.

Wendy: Yes that was a really big one for me when I stopped having to make bread and butter. I didn’t like making anything any more, for ages. And you kind of know that when you’re back on track. But also I’ve had a lot of sadness in my life over the last five years, and grief, and that’s when I realized the important role that making has. If I was feeling really sad or be sleepless, I’d just make something. I’m so glad that I had that making back, when I got all the sadness in my life. Because if I didn’t have that I don’t know what…

Making it

Maaike: We have this idea that a chair is $5 because I’ve seen it in Super A Mart and that’s the truth now. Whereas a chair is, at absolute best, one day’s labor. And what do you have a right to earn for one day’s labor and is it more or less than someone else’s labor. I don’t go into a hospital and say “well I’d take out my own appendix if I just had the time.” But plenty of people do it in my business, regularly.

Wendy: It’s so familiar to hear your story, Maaike, that people don’t value making of furniture because they can often just get really cheap stuff that they think has more value.

Maaike: I think that there’s a lack of critical thinking in general. It’s not just they haven’t made a connection to my labor and I feel hard-done by it. It’s that we don’t question the supply chain. We don’t seem to ask – it’s like overabundance means the only brief is “can I get it and can I afford it?” There’s not well I need it to do this or I need it to do that. There’s no thought “is this one better made?” or “what’s the reasoning behind it?.” The idea is that price is about brand rather than something more. I don’t get the sense that people in general who were inquiring about bread and butter work had ever thought about furniture beyond price tag.

Amory: When you think about the people who don’t get it and the people who do get it. I think the stereotype is that the people who do get it and are willing to pay the price are rich people. In your experience is that true?

Wendy: Not necessarily. I’ve had really rich people just haggle. Or pay the 50% up front but then I had to spend ages chasing after them. I’ve got a little bit in my head, rich people are rich because they’re mean.

Maaike: What I think whenever it’s like that is “well that’s how you got all the money”.

Wendy: So I think there’s a space in between with people who’ve worked really hard to get their money so they understand the value of their own money. They understand the value of their own work. So they’ve got a point where their heads are above the water and they want to celebrate that.

Wendy: You’ve got two kinds of furniture. If they were old fashioned customers they’d be asking you to make furniture because even though they knew how to make it, they knew that you could make it better and they have an appreciation that you’ll do it better or faster so it allows them to free up time so that they can do something that they’re really good at. That’s quite a functional kind of relationship. That’s how we developed having our own areas of expertise.

Maaike: The clients who understood that it was a trade of labor and expertise and they knew where their expertise ended and someone else’s began.

Wendy: And then the other customer is like actually “this is an artwork masquerading as a piece of furniture.” They’re going to say “we want one of yours, because it’s your style we’re looking for. We don’t care how long it takes because we don’t want to rush you.

Maaike: It’s a very conscious investment for those people. They are taking that moment of “I’ve arrived. I’m above water. What would my life look like if not furnished by Ikea. We can have nice pieces, we can think about it. It’s not necessarily that they’re rich, but time is a luxury. The user experience of your home is a luxury. There are some university students who will eat tinned soup forever in order to have that luxury sooner because they see the value in it. But for a lot of people they’re hitting that stride in their 30s 40s 50s. It’s truly gift to self. I want when I sit down at the end of the day and survey my kingdom, for it to feel like this. And I having paid well for it is part of the process and part of the feedback and feeling that you get every time you see that piece. It is like buying artwork.

Maaike: The customers I’m thinking of can enunciate what they’re looking for in a piece of furniture beyond price. They have an experience in mind or a material connection or an aesthetic. Or they understood the slow movement and they liked the origin story and the idea “this is my talking piece”, “this is my gift to self”, this is something I’m gonna love for all these other reasons.” Therefore the price is the least important element.

Wendy: People who for whatever reason looked around and said I want to know where all my things are from. And it’s not because it’s really popular now for everybody to think about buying local. It’s because I’ve thought about it. I’ve read some books. I’ve had some great conversations with their friends and family about stuff. Maybe they come from a family that has had skills in the past that they appreciate. The noble materials, things like that.

Maaike: I do think there’s that recognition that Wendy was talking about “I’m a young professional creative and I see someone else doing that in clothing and I recognize the value in that and I will save everything in order to own that dress from that person.”

Amory: So they’re kinda like your peers in some way?

Maaike: That deepens the appreciation and the understanding. But it’s also then a group of people who’ve fully bought in to the lifestyle and the supply chain and the idea of “I can tailor everything” or “curate my world.”  I think that people get a lift out of curating spaces and homes and experiences. “I hunted down the people and I met them and I followed them and I went here and I introduced this person to that fabric.”

Amory: There you go.

Wendy: I think also it’s kindof like I live in the center of Wellington. I can’t grow my own food much more than a few things on the balcony. But I can be a conscious consumer. I think a lot of people are in the city because they have to be or because they really like the broad-minded mix of people they’re around and stuff. They want to surround themselves with things that have that kind of promise of a more engaged environmental lifestyle or something.

They’re living an urban lifestyle and with that comes a sense of style, going along to political and cultural things. They want to acknowledge other people’s work. They want to not rush things that don’t need to be rushed.

Amory: A couple of minutes ago we hit on this idea of maybe they’re peers. Can I just revisit that for a moment. Do you find the good clients tend to be people who are themselves creatives?

Wendy: I think to some degree they are. But also there were a couple of clients I had who I think they just really wanted to be creatives.

Amory: Aha!

Wendy: I had this one guy, he was a computer programmer and I think he was probably quite creative in his programming. But he didn’t have any, he wasn’t adept at all with hand eye coordination. And that’s when I was in FabLab wellington, we were often having computer programmers who wanted to learn how to make things. They’d come along and they’d want to do some of these courses that we were offering, because they wanted to shift from being so virtual to having some engagement. And digital fabrication was a way of doing that without having any technique or skill, and then they could move into a more hands-on approach afterwards.

Maaike: So much of the work with people is finding the gateway, what’s the thing that makes you comfortable that lets you get started. And then once you’re 3D printing it’s a small step to taking up crochet or something. Once you can see something made physically right in front of you it’s quite empowering.

The creativity thing is an interesting one. I think I do tend to have people who have less traditional roles as clients. They might not be creative per se, but journalists, writers, as well as designers and musicians.

Amory: This idea of pressing the button on the machine, you could work that into a business. I’m just imagining Maaike if you were going to do what you did before, that the contract could be that they need to show up and watch this part happen. There are a few businesses that I’ve come across who are getting so strict with their customers. They are doing limited editions. We’re only going to make 50. Ordering is at 8am on Thursday and the last 10 times we did this we sold out in 6 minutes. They have some system that makes it very difficult to get the thing. But this idea that you as a customer have to do stuff. You have to qualify. There are requirements.You’ve talked about the importance of having an open workshop so people can see the labor and people can point to it. You could identify one or two moments in the process where they’re going to see something that empowers them to tell the story, that makes them feel involved in some way. What about: You only get to buy this thing if you witness this part of the process.

Wendy: That whole individualism that has been sold to us. That’s where it kind sits. You’ve got something that somebody made for you. You had a conversation with them about it. In FabLabs and MakerSpaces. call people prosumers.It’s like you’re producing and consuming. So you’re part of the story of production.

Amory:  Or collaborate. I know that some artists really don’t like to do commissions. In your work – which I didn’t hear you call art, others might call it art. Was the collaborative element in which they are asking for something, was that a drag or was it usually working?

Wendy: For me some of it was about the people who found the original object wanted it afterwards as well.

Maaike: There is very definitely something about upholstery for me as a medium that’s about stretching and tension more than it needs to be a piece of furniture. I very much enjoy the manual labor and the process and the feel of it. So working collaboratively and having people bring pieces was a very expedient way to do interesting things with a piece they were already attached to, rather than having to find a buyer for a purple chair. So a lot of the time it was really good. We would have conversations and there was a bit of back and forth with color palettes and ideas and sketches that I found really good over time in terms of developing my skillsets. There were better outcomes and worse outcomes. Oftentimes the people that trust you completely and don’t want to interrupt your flow are terrifically upset when you return their grandmother’s chair. I’ve redone one or two pieces because it’s not what people were expecting when they weren’t available to engage.

Amory: so it’s actually better if people engage?

Maaike: I had to learn very early on to ask people who else had to live with the piece of furniture. Because people would give you an entire brief and then go home and then 3 weeks later they’d ring you up and say “it’s just that my husband can’t stand purple”. I’m like “but it’s the top of your list. How did we get here?”

Maaike: That’s a skillset that we don’t necessarily have as creatives is that people management and process. And not that it has to be something rigid, but I look at miscommunications between architects and clients and think “most clients that you’re dealing with if you’re designing houses are first-timers. They’ve never been to an architect. They don’t know really what you do or why you’re not a building designer or what the price is. And they want to brief you about well I want the bedroom next to the kitchen and it’s going to have a grand staircase and that’s all I know. But really you want them to talk to you more about how you live and who you live with and what kind of things you do in your home. And then you can do what you need to do. It’s not on the client really to know that.That’s your offering and you need to know how to walk people through that.

Wendy: I also went through the same sort of change in process and I think one of the ways that I started dealing with it was to say “you’re looking for a surface”. It’s not a dining table. You want a surface. You want a seat. You want to store. So how are you going to use that surface?. What are the processes that you’re going to do. What are the actions you’eer goiggn to take. How is it going to fit in to your life. That was definitely a learning. I too have had situations where people haahve gone “that’s not what I imagined at all”. So the creative or curious questioning is so important. If you say to me “i want a dining table” then I dredge up something from my dictionary of images and lay it over. Whereas if you say “My family eats together. I’m often having guests. I’m also Japanese.”

Maaike: “there are 5 of us”

Wendy: “We like to eat with our hands.” All those sorts of things. So it’s about our daily actions. And how does that furniture serve us in that.

Maaike: Very key that all the different images and associations that people have with words, even something as simple as ‘dining table’. I say ‘dining table’ and I picture our 1980s round thing with the bentwood rattan chairs. And you say ‘dining table’ and you picture the one that you loved in the 1990s. So same page ‘dining table’ got it. Here’s my money. And then at the end of it, “oh my god I never thought it would have 4 legs!”

Wendy: And it’s circular! But that sort of questioning is something that comes with experience. You can be taught some of that, but you actually have to mess up. You have to make mistakes. To get the real hang of it for you.

Wendy: There’s that interesting thing about the ottoman kits that you were thinking of doing. That’s something that you’ve designed that they get to make part of it. You’ve done quite a lot of the heavy lifting.

Amory So you two are not the only people in the book who are no longer doing what you did when you were interviewed. And I have not acknowledged this in any way. There’s no mention of that in the book. In your cases I kind of don’t feel it’s necessary because what you are communicating is so conceptually strong. I feel hesitation about how to manage this, whether to say something and what to say. How do you feel about that issue? Do you feel that you want that part of the story to be told and you want to read about others and why they stopped? Or is that not so interesting really.

Wendy: No, it is interesting. We’ve focused on the difficulty stuff. But I’d also like to say that I’m really glad that I did what I did. I stopped doing it because I moved on as well. And I want people to know that the core thing is about being the modern artisan. Maybe my materials and processes have changed, but living an engaged life with agency and engaging with other people to make the world a better place. That hasn’t changed. So I’ve done that through a range of jobs and media. And I keep revisiting the same themes again and again, just in different contexts.

Amory: And that’s very different than a business that’s focused on making money from producing A commodity. Because it’s you as a person, which is very different than how we think about THINGs as commodities.

To some extent, it didn’t work. I don’t know how sustainable it is to furnish the whole of Sydney with individuals like me. It’s not about the physicality of doing one chair. It’s about the number of people you reach and you talk to that start mulling over those things and behaving slightly differently even if they do buy their couch from Kmart. Maybe they get it reupholstered. Maybe they live with it longer than they wanted to. There’s a million different steps that people can take from those interactions.

Wendy: We have these repair cafés. And I’d certainly like to see a more craft-focused approach to the repair cafés.     I went to one and I had to leave because I just couldn’t stand to see what they were doing to fix things. Oh, you’ve just fixed it so that nobody can ever fix it after this. You should probably unplug that heater before you put the screwdriver in. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’m imagining starting off something that could lead to something more meaningful than repair cafés.

Wendy: Such a good point, because you can’t actually know what kind of impact you’ve had…What we’re talking about is how do you define success? And how do you measure it? And you can’t measure that people have made little bits of changed decisions later because of their interaction with you unless they come back and tell you that. I don’t think that my things have been unsuccessful, because I’ve learned from them. I didn’t make massive amounts of money. That’s all.

Wendy: So that brings us back to when do you measure success. If you’ve started something off it’s about a whole way of thinking for everybody.

Amory: The organic food movement looked like it was not going to work for a really long time, and then it completely took over.

Maaike: And you do sometimes get feedback because they saw you were doing a thing and now they’re thinking about it, or they want to know.

Amory: The supply chain issues post-covid puts what you were doing before into a different economic context. The fact that it didn’t work then, teaching people how to repair and beautify their own furniture … The market for that is really different. It’s important not to say it failed. Only in that context it failed. Now you’re in a different context. It might be worthwhile running some experiments.

Maaike: When I was looking at going out on my own I looked around and I saw a lot of people who were being successful and doing it on their own. And about a year after I was out on my own I looked around and realized I knew a bit more about most of those people and none of them were doing it on their own and none of them were gloriously successful. in Australia it’s a small pool there are 4 or 5 people who are good in every field and they are the same ones that get touted and you hear the same names over and over and you assume they’re sitting pretty and they’re comfortable and they’ve made it and it’s just not a reality for 90% of the people who are doing what we do. It’s a hard slog and it’s exhausting and we haven’t cracked the nut about how to get through to people about the value of what we do.