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A clothing store like no other

silvia jen and netty- sharemartIMAGE: Silvia Lopez and Netty Olaya parade their bags re-purposed from New Zealand Post uniforms with Jen Whitty on the Sharemart catwalk. Image: Gabrielle McKone

Porirua is experiencing a clothing store with a difference. Situated opposite the back entrance to the North City Mall, between three ‘two dollar stores”, Sharemart is an art, design and community project providing an interesting alternative for bargain hunters and clothing lovers.

Part of public art programme TEZA: Transitional Economic Zone of Aotearoa, at Sharemart customers are encouraged to participate in bringing life to clothing, from its construction through to its performance, flaunting garments on the catwalk. The public are invited to repair their clothes, upcycle old uniforms, swap their garments and get styled.

“When customers walk in the door they step onto a shiny pink catwalk,” say artist Vanessa Crowe, who leads the project in collaboration with Massey Fashion Lecturer Jen Witty. “Rather than walking into a store filled with racks and racks of clothes, where customers are lured by bargains, Sharemart invites people to participate in the production of clothing, from its making through to its modelling.”

Sharemart has bright graphic signs similar to other fashion outlets, but inside there are just a few racks and shelves, some filled with an ensemble of items, others display neatly folded colour coded New Zealand Post uniforms. There are also work tables with sewing machines and a colourful stock of threads, yarns and bindings.

Crowe calls Sharemart a “slow fashion store” inviting the public to think about clothing in a different way. Recognised is the time and effort that goes into producing clothes as well as asking people to think about what happens to clothes once trends move on and they are no longer wanted.

The store offers a range of services to extend the life of clothes, namely ‘Repair, Repurpose, Swap and Style’ – a new economic model which promotes a more engaged relationship between the product and consumer.

The store looks to extend the life of the garments otherwise destined for landfill. A range of workshops are offered, particularly beneficial to anyone in need of work clothes or wanting to learn some new sewing skills. Swap and Style is another service, bringing clothes to swap, try on and parade on the shop’s instore cat walk.

Sharemart was born from Crowe and Whitty’s common interest in exploring new forms of exchange as well as the stories which can be told through clothing. When pitching their project idea for TEZA, they decided to see if they could support women from the Colombian refugee community, to understand their needs and help create opportunities for them while celebrating their place in Porirua.

“We wanted to give visibility to the Colombian community within Porirua, to get to know them and celebrate them being here.” say Crowe.

The project has developed since July in collaboration with a group of Colombian women, and their love of colour, dance and vibrant style has had a strong influence over the colour and dynamic of the Sharemart store. Spontaneous dance lessons that occurred during workshops, inspiring the bright pink catwalk.

During these workshops Porirua resdients Silvia Lopez and Netty Olaya produced a collection of bags from the New Zealand Post uniforms, which showcase their style and craft. The bags are for sale at Sharemart.

Otherwise the store operates a koha exchange service asking customers to consider the value of the time and craft put into creating and mending clothing, and to give in relation to their own needs. Any donations made will go to the Colombian women.

Sharemart is open now untill Sunday November 29th, with shop hours from 10am-4pm and late nights (until 6pm) on Thursday and Friday. The project has been made possible with the support of Letting Space’s Urban Dream Brokerage Porirua with support from Porirua Chamber of Commerce and property owners Kiwi Properties, and funding from Creative New Zealand and Massey University.

TEZA is a major public art programme produced by Letting Space which invites the public to consider the wealth we all share, through a coming together of discussions, workshops, performances, festivals and activities between 21 and 29 November in Porirua. The programme is available at http://www.teza.org.nz

Vanessa Crowe is a practising artist and designer, interested in how familiar everyday life conventions, such as clothes shopping can be used to engage the public in thinking differently about the world, she also produced the popular project Moodbank in Auckland and Wellington, a bank whose currency is mood, not money.

Jennifer Whitty is the founder of Space Between, based in Massey University’s School of Design in Wellington. Space Between is a new social enterprise for fashion aimed at bringing about change in the industry by exploring alternatives to mass-produced high-waste clothing, and creating ethical business opportunities for new designers. Space Between works according to two distinct, but complementary, strategies to design, with the textile waste from the current system and to ultimately eliminate waste from the industry by design in closed loop solutions. http://www.spacebetween.ac.nz

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