Indigo Greenlaw & Wills Rowe offically founded The Paper Rain Project in 2013. Since then these two incredibly creative characters have built a business that produces high-quality items without costing the Earth. Using t-shirts and hand-made skateboard decks as their main canvases for expression, Indigo & Wills collaborate with artists around NZ & the World to create products which highlight different social and environmental causes. As a part of their CAUSE collection a donation from the sale of each product goes to support the cause it’s matched to - see here for what we mean.
Although they’re based in the South Island, Indigo says Kōkako has been on their radar for quite some time as both businesses share a lot of common ground. We chatted to Indigo about how The Paper Rain Project began and she let us pick her brains about the best spots near their home base in Picton.
Is there a story behind the name?
Yes & no. ;) When Paper Rain started as a hobby of mine as a 19 year old painting custom skateboard artworks I wanted a name that could be an umbrella under which I could make anything, so that when it evolved I could change the product without having to change the name. When Wills came on board in 2013 and we registered the business, we just kept it. ‘The’ makes it official, ‘Paper’ is where all the ideas begin, ‘Rain’ signifies growth and nature, ‘Project’ made it sound like something was happening (which it is!) but now it’s a nod to the fact that we’re a social enterprise (and a work in progress!).
What was the first product The Paper Rain Project produced?
The first product was a custom painted longboard artwork on a board that a friend was making out of recycled waterskis. So the boards were first, then the artist t-shirts & more… I was painting off and on for four years before we started the business officially.
On a typical day what goes on at the Paper Rain homebase?
There is no typical day! The only typical thing is coffee consumption and communication! Wills works in our workshop and crafts our recycled wine-barrel or macrocarpa boards and runs the laser-cutter/CNC router. He also builds our fit out furniture, makes all the signage for our stores & screen-prints our t-shirt range from the garage of our house.
Hannah, our much-loved Assistant Manager who I met during my short stint at University of Canterbury Fine Art School, is one busy bee. She could be pulling out blank tees to ready them for screen-printing, stock management and POS systems, working in our Picton store, co-ordinating our artists & charities, doing our accounts on Xero (or a little yoga in the lounge.) She is also an artist and has several board works with us as well as having pencilled the artwork for our black-on-black ‘Kete’ t-shirt in support of Satisfy Food Rescue.
And me? I move between our Picton Store, pop up shops & working from home. My work includes co-ordinating our wee team, doing our graphic design, some board painting & screen-printing. I do a lot of communicating and all the visual/content you see across our platforms. The only certain thing on any day is that I will be highly caffeinated… I am an ex-barista and the habit stuck.
What’s been you favourite product out of the Paper Rain range to date?
Hmm… one of the things I love best about our products is their relationship-building capacity. We love working with our guest artists (& we have an incredible bunch, both in talent and in person). I love the variety of our board artworks, especially those painted or etched on our hand-built recycled barrel or locally grown macrocarpa boards as those are the true collaborations.
What’s the biggest challenge running a small ethical business? Unfortunately but most definitely finance. We put a lot of time, energy and money into the production side of our business and we struggle to keep our profit margins high enough to cover our running costs whilst still keeping things affordable for people. We had no business experience when we started, just a clear vision and a lot of enthusiasm so we’ve made some mistakes along the way for sure! However, I think I’d have to say the humble t-shirt is my favourite product! This isn’t just the super soft product that they are - I’m not much of a fashion girl - but it’s because of the cause, effect and capacity for connection that they provide. We connect with the artist to create a work paired with a social or environmental cause, connect with the charity we are supporting, connect with the customer through story. Even in production (our tees are sewn by a NZ company that works with women helped out of poverty and slavery in India and then screen-printed in our garage) our clothing is probably my favourite! Our Cause range has so much potential to build positive relationships and social/conservation effects.
Another thing we struggle with is competing in a largely imported and unfairly traded market. This is where the communication of value and production come in. Which can be a challenge! In saying that, not many of us can afford to make the right ethical decision all of the time. I’m sure we’d all buy organic, fair trade and locally sourced if we could. However, social enterprise and fair trade are on the rise and there are some brilliant brands doing brilliant things! We love Kowtow, Little Yellow Bird & OKI (kids) as great ethical choices. The more the merrier in terms of making a positive difference to the clothing industry and those who help us manufacture our goods. We have an incredibly supportive audience who help to keep us on track and reaffirm the choices we are making (thank you!!!)
What was the biggest change in habit for you in working towards a more sustainable lifestyle?
Well… I grew up without a flush toilet or mains electricity and water in the North West of Scotland. I’m the girl that will come out of the supermarket piled up with food because I forgot my bag and refuse to take plastic. So my roots are in that lifestyle (thanks Mama & Papa!). Upon moving to New Zealand and leaving home, we definitely got onto that whole ‘buy a house, fill it with stuff’ bandwagon. Admittedly, it’s mostly art and we have all second hand or homemade furniture. Now we are in the process of trying to trade it in so we can have a smaller space and a bigger life! We’re currently living in a room under my parents’ and dreaming of travel. Long-term it will be learning to build and live in a tiny house - the way of the future. I’m sure that will have it’s challenges but will be more like going full circle back to my roots.
Your favourite summer spot? We live in Picton in the Marlborough Sounds so it’s a pretty damn good spot to be in! It’s our busy time for Paper Rain but we still need to make time to kayak, hike, surf and paddle-board. These activities will be a priority this Summer after a heavy workload in the last year due to our wine-barrel longboard Kickstarter production. There’s a great swimming hole and some beautiful beaches, a backyard with a brick wood bbq etc. Last year’s earthquake actually helped form a new surf spot at Ward Beach and we love heading down there. In short = we’re spoilt for choice in Marlborough!
Favourite/secret spot in your own neighbourhood? Governor’s Bay near Picton and sitting on top of the water tower in Waikawa Bay with a cider looking out over the Sounds.
Describe your favourite piece of clothing/art/technology.
It’s a three directional tie between the three artworks hanging in our one-room ‘apartment/basement’. A large print of beautifully decaying Black Tulip Magnolias in mason jars by our photographer, Rachael Brown (see another beautiful flow image by Rachael below), an original pencil illustration of the word ‘TODAY’ by Sara Blake (reminding us to live in the moment) and an incredibly intricate drawing of a tattooed girl with a kingfisher and a baseball bat by our long-time guest artist, Faunesque.
And lastly, how do you have your coffee?
Haha! If you ask the barista who works next door to our Picton store, he’d say “depends on the day”. Sometimes I have a tulip flat white, sometimes a long black and sometimes a long black with cold cream, or extra shots. Always strong. Wills drinks a flat white.
To find out more or contact Indigo & Wills at The Paper Rain Project, head to www.thepaperrainproject.co.nz or search for @thepaperrainproject on Instagram & Facebook.
Aucklanders, you’ll be pleased to know that you can meet them in person at their Ponsonby Central pop up for another week. Until the 12th of November.