We talk with the owner of Frances Nation, a shop curator of functional wares made in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Interview Sara Black
Photography Sarah Rowlands
Tell us what you do and why you do it.
I run a shop called Frances Nation in Ōtautahi Christchurch, which stocks quality, functional home goods from New Zealand makers. Before the year is out, we will have opened a second store, Frances Nation Grocer, which will sell New Zealand made picnic supplies and pantry items.
Your store sells New Zealand-made goods exclusively. What makes that path important to you?
Aotearoa-made products are often great quality, and I see value in supporting and celebrating our local artisans, designers and manufacturers. A great part of my job is visiting makers around Aotearoa, getting to know them and figuring out which products my customers will respond to.
What are your thoughts on sustainability in the design industry and what do you see changing within the next decade?
It’s an exciting time for the design industry, with so many problems to solve and a clever, well-informed, critical audience. Over the next decade I’d expect to see producers of useful, quality and sustainable product do very well..
Has the pandemic affected your business and have you implement any changes that you kept post-lockdown?
We have our collection available online and, of course, this ramped up during lockdown. Our bricks and mortar sales are still our main focus, but we send goods all over the country and internationally every day. During lockdown my mum even helped me deliver packages around Christchurch. She loved doing it so much it’s become a regular gig. She keeps asking for a Frances Nation electric car, which is a little out of my budget currently, love the idea through.
What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of what you do?
I showcase hundreds of different makers so it can be quite a juggling act. I find my goods through research, random travels, tips and connections and I love going straight to the source, such as a factory or workshop. I’ve enjoyed forming working relationships with a wide range of people from different backgrounds. I’ve also started to develop exclusive products in collaboration with various artisans and manufacturers. Christchurch is a great city for design because we have a lot of small-to-medium-sized industry close to the city centre. The work is fun and time consuming and makes for a more interesting product selection and experience for my customers.
Your store is located within The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, Ōtautahi Christchurch — a heritage-listed site. Do these bygone surroundings inform the vision for your store?
The restoration of the Arts Centre is impressive and inspiring in so many ways. There is excellent craft happening on a large scale all around us: stonemasons have settled here from around the world to help carve the Oamaru stone; engineers have found innovative ways to earthquake strengthen the buildings; architects have uncovered and reestablished heritage features and inserted contemporary elements seamlessly.
I also love the relaxed, pedestrian nature of the site: lots of corridors, hidden spaces, courtyards and winding staircases and turrets. Our new grocer, on the ground floor of the building, is connected to the existing shop upstairs via a spiral staircase — you can’t get much better than that.