Christchurch creative Stacey Weaver never dreamed she’d make a living from photography, but her blossoming homeware business is proof that talent plus hard work can yield wonders
How did you get interested in photography? What made you decide to pursue it for a living?
Stacey: I was about 14 when I first became interested in photography. I started using my parents’ point-and-shoot 35mm camera to photograph our pets and Mum’s impressive garden. I majored in photography during my fine arts degree at Canterbury University and later chased fashion photography jobs overseas, managing to land a couple of gigs shooting for Melbourne Spring Fashion week. But pursuing it full time seemed like an unattainable dream.
Back home in Christchurch I freelanced while working in sales and marketing roles until Just South West was born as a “project” for a creative outlet four years ago. I started selling a few prints to my first stockist, A&C Homestore, in 2016. The “project” continued to blossom and is now my full-time focus.
What drew you to photographing flowers?
I have always been drawn to still life but not to flowers specifically until the start of 2015 when I photographed a peony stem which seemed to have dried into a perfect petal sculpture. I wanted to shoot it and enlarge as big as I could to focus on all the intricate areas of natural deterioration.
Luckily a friend of mine worked at a local printer and allowed me to experiment! My love affair with decaying blooms began that day and I think my mother’s passion for flowers has subconsciously seeped its way into my lifestyle and interests today.
How did you develop your style?
I photographed more and more flowers, studying each stem in different lights and angles. I shoot until I feel I have best represented that flower at that moment in time. No flower dies in the same way and that’s what has captured my attention. Placing the stems on a dark background made it even more interesting to me. I wasn’t into capturing fresh flowers; I wanted to share their unexpected beauty in a moodier way.
How did you make the leap into setting up Just South West?
JSW was purely a creative outlet from the start and was on the side of my full-time day job for its first two years. As it continued to grow, I became more and more stretched and stayed up later and later at night working. Despite the exhaustion, I felt so wholeheartedly fulfilled.
I asked a few friends with their own businesses for advice, and the most common remark was to “give it a year”, and the other was “smell the fear and do it anyway”. I had (and still have) a huge amount of support from my family which helped me make the leap, just knowing they believed in me. I am now successfully running my business from home thanks to my little Blue cat and supportive partner. Sometimes I have to pinch myself!
What’s the story behind the name of your business?
I knew I wanted to use my initials so my brand was still linked back to me as the artist, yet a little detached. At the time I was living west of Christchurch, but I grew up south of Christchurch and those were the two places where I had been photographing flowers. Using my middle initial, ‘J’, Just South West was born!
What made you decide to move into textiles and stationery?
I knew I wanted JSW to be diverse. I keep all of my journals and sketchbooks and the very first list of goals I set for JSW included textiles and notebooks – but I didn’t remember writing that until I looked back over these journals almost two years later, by which time I’d already added stationery and textiles to my collection!
Creating notebooks was a relatively risk-free and fun exercise which I could produce locally using printers here in Christchurch. I wanted to start small in the textiles area and create pouches and pencil cases to match my notebooks. This helped me gain trust in the factory I’d chosen off-shore and, in a way, gain trust in myself, too, to be able to visualise my images in a different medium.
What have been the biggest challenges about running your own homeware business?
Learning to back myself and my ideas, and the dreaded small business cashflow!
What have been the highlights? What are you most proud of?
There are a lot a highlights! Meeting so many wonderful like-minded creatives and small business owners; feeling like my soul is fed; but I am most proud of the fact that, in response to my first floral portrait, people told me “no one will buy pictures of flowers with a black background” and guess what? They are still selling today.
Who are your favourite Kiwi makers?
There are so many! I am very grateful for being able to meet and build relationships with these people through JSW, because an inspiring network is important when you work alone. In no particular order: Fleur Woods, Hannah Jensen, Renee Boyd Ceramics, Bunch Floral, Flowerhead, Mark Antonia, Muck Floral, Formantics, Claybird Ceramics, Ico Traders, Studio Home, Evie Kemp, Simon Lewis Wards, Dawn Clayden, Made Of Tomorrow and Jen Sievers.
What are you excited about? Any cool projects on the horizon for JSW?
My mind never stops! I’m always thinking about something new to create… you will definitely see some new products pre-Christmas for the gift-giving season and new textiles are on the horizon, for sure.
Words by: Sally Conor. Photography by: Kelly Shakespeare.