Made by hand

02:36, Mar 26 2014
Fresh Choice Nelson
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Paula Leighton, left, and ntsGRachealnteRachael Brown, directors of the Little Beehive Co-op.

Handmade is in and it is here to stay. A new gallery/store has opened in central Nelson as a place for artists and "makers" to join collectively, making and selling their work.

The guiding philosophy of the Little Beehive Co-op is that everything has to be handmade.

Directors Rachael Brown and Paula Leighton, both busy mothers and artists, have previous experience running businesses and organising events. Leighton was one of the main organisers of the highly successful Great Christmas Market while Brown runs her own photography business.

Leighton designs and makes women's clothing under the label The Seamstress, as well as a children's line called Rocket Kids.

Brown has a photography business, Rachael Brown Photography, and was feeling frustrated by working alone for the past three years. She yearned for a co-operative where she could work alongside others, share ideas, and give support while feeling supported as well. After meeting the building owners, Jose and Kung Gay Cano, the women knew that 123 Hardy St was going to be the perfect venue for such a co-op.

Neither knew how to set a co-op up or the practicalities of running it, both admit freely that they are taking it "one step at a time".


"It's just been a case of throwing yourself in the deep end and just doing it," says Brown.

Within four weeks of signing up for the lease, they have opened the Little Beehive Co-Op, with product from craftspeople and artists in the region.

"Getting a bunch of creative people together, all these people from different journeys and creative outlets, you feed off ideas, different art forms blending together, it really keeps you connected," says Brown.

They sought 25 co-op members to make it affordable, set up as a non-profit organisation, and through connections in the craft and art communities of the Nelson region, now have 20 members. These range from printmakers, photographers, fine jewellery makers, ceramic artists, textile and clothing designers to skincare and men's shaving products. They also take artwork on consignment from non-members.

The space combines a retail outlet at the entry, with a wide hallway gallery space, leading to a meeting area with an outdoor courtyard. Artists currently exhibiting in the gallery space are Fleur Woods and Rachael Brown.

Two separate rooms offer workstations for photographers and artists who can come and go as they please. Each member of the co-op commits to one day every 25 in the shop for the day. There is no commission on sales of work by members, while consignment work has a 30 per cent commission rate.

"The co-op is kind of like a home away from home, with work stations and a communal kitchen meeting space," says Leighton.

Co-op members can run workshops on the weekends and in the evenings in the communal space while non-members can hire the space.

Both women are full of praise for their landlords

"They have been so helpful, Jose is a real man of the world, we couldn't have had a better relationship with our landlords," says Leighton. "We definitely couldn't have done anything without Jose, he's incredible."

Gay Cano is equally as enthusiastic about the Little Beehive Co-op.

‘I think it's great. A lot of people talk about art and culture, and are not doing it, but they are," says Gay Cano. "It shows that many things are possible. Most artists feel that they are alone, but here they are not alone, they share ideas, it's an open space for ideas."

Both women are thankful for supportive partners.

"We both have young children and feel like we've hardly been at home the past month, with our partners really supporting us and helping out at home," says Brown. "They have both seen us run projects successfully in the past, so I guess they are used to it, and they have confidence in us."

So far the response to the shop has been overwhelmingly positive with visitors very interested in the whole concept of handmade.

"There's a big movement back towards handmade, people want to buy things locally made," says Brown. " I think this is growing, with initiatives already like the Saturday Market, we know customers like the connection, there's a loyalty there and I think this will just get bigger and better."

Little Beehive Co-Op, 123 Hardy St, Nelson, open 9.30am-2.30pm Monday to Saturday. Inquiries: Rachael Brown: 021 022 48624.