20 Aug 2015

A street where anything goes

9:13 am on 20 August 2015

It’s been just over a year since Sarah Lancaster opened her sewing lounge in St Kevin’s Arcade. She explains what it is about K Road that makes her feel truly at home.

Listen to the story as it was told at The Watercooler storytelling night or read on. 

About six months ago, I was sitting down on a seat in the Britomart park area waiting for a friend. It was that hustle-bustle 30-minute window between 5.30pm and 6pm.

I love a good spot of people watching. Making a conscious effort to have my phone tucked away in my bag, I just sit and watch the happenings.

But it wasn’t soon after I sat that I started trying to make myself invisible.

Everyone was walking by and looking at me, or rather straight through me. There were groups of greys and blacks, suits and heels everywhere, shiny shoes making me notice the scuffs on my old grandpa ones, perfect placement of blusher on cheekbones and perfect-combed hair even at the end of the working day!!

I. Felt. Like. A. Clown.

Could my tote bag cover up my checkered trousers? Could my only semi-colourful jacket cover my super-colourful blouse? I took off my big blue hat and stuffed it into my bag.

It was then on that seat that I realised how at home I truly feel on K Road.

It's a street where there is art on nearly every wall, music heard on nearly every part of the street. Where there is colour on feet, legs, booties, and on backs, on hair, and on faces. Rainbows of colour. And those rainbows don’t look for the gaps between people to rush through, they look for the people and they smile.

Whether you choose rainbows or not, clothes are something we use or come into contact with every day. They are our own billboards in a way.

I should add a disclaimer here: It’s best we do not judge a book by its cover. I wholeheartedly agree, but we have the opportunity to communicate and read through what we chose to adorn our bodies with every day. And I have seen no other community embrace this quite like the people of K Road.

If you are like me, you may only buy second-hand clothes (every time someone says “hey, great skirt”, you can reply with 10 reasons why buying from op shops is better for the world). Or maybe your t-shirt just reads “FREE THE CHICKENS”. Or you like to run places all the time so you just wear your sneakers and jeans every day. Or you sewed your own dress and enjoy knowing that you made it yourself.

It’s been just over a year since I opened Sew Love, a sewing lounge in St Kevin’s Arcade.

Whether you choose rainbows or not, clothes are something we use or come into contact with every day. They are our own billboards in a way. 

On visiting up from the Coromandel, I had spotted an empty shop, and then told my parents the news. They then emailed my extended family: “Sarah is going into business on K Road”. 

You can imagine the response from the uncles and aunties in Taumaranui, Morrinsville etc. The outside or "south of the Bombay" perspective is quite different to what is actually the case.

But come move-in day, walking up the steps into the arcade, my parents both were moved to tears, and they said: “Sarah, this is just the perfect place for you!”

It’s incredible. And I am so so glad to provide this opportunity for my parents to come from small-town New Zealand to Auckland, to K Road and experience it as best they can.

Meet my neighbours who have skulls everywhere and not just on Halloween. We try Rasoi triangles, or as I’ve recently learned "samosas" and now I can send dad to Lim’s with an ingredients list.

So I opened up Sew Love, which is a sewing lounge where you can learn to sew and love the earth. It’s like an internet café, with sewing machines set up instead of computers. If you want internet I have to hotspot my phone.

Everything inside is recycled. All our fabrics are from op-shops or donated from elderly sewers. The tables are made from old doors, the screws in the wall are off our childhood dinghy.

It’s been so exciting seeing people coming in with local op-shop finds wanting to hem things up, or take off sleeves. Instead of fixing a ripped lining, just replacing it with something wild and crazy. Instead of a school poster, making a fabric collage cushion.

I love that this community truly speaks my language. Not just repairing, but adding things on and making it look 10 times more awesome and unique.

That’s it: this community is not being afraid of being unique. Of being you. And celebrating you. Whoever that might be this week. Anything really goes.

Although there are not many sheep on K Road following particular trends, nearly every day we get the same request for something.

There’s a number one top love for everyone on K Road. They are loyal to this garment through and through. Artists wear them covered in paint, baristas wear them with coffee coated bums. Fixie cyclists, freelance graphic designers, musicians wear them too. Skinny black jeans. Particularly skinny black jeans with ripped crotches.

I could count hundreds of repairs. Some have up to 10 patches on them and we call them black nappies. They just never ever die!

I love the dedication and loyalty that people have to their favourite pair of black jeans. And we love being able to repair them and hearing the tales about these jeans adventuring about the place. It makes me so happy knowing that instead of taking up space in landfill, they can continue to party on.

There’s a number one top love for everyone on K Road. They are loyal to this garment through and through. 

Now these ripped crotches are more than just a quick handjob to fix (as I’ve recently accidently called it). But they always enter the shop with a good dose of classic crotch humour. Trending at the moment is … “you certainly know you way around my crotch” ... “You got into my pants pretty quick” and don’t forget, “Sarah always does a better crotch job in the mornings”.

Other than all the sewing antics, and crotch jokes, I have really enjoyed the conversations and connections made over the Sew Love cutting table. Sew Love is just a place with creative resources and, nearly every day, me.

But what makes it really hum is when people from this eager curious community come in and pull up a chair. Our cutting table has been a place that people from all walks of life come together and have conversations and acknowledge each other. They share and laugh and learn from each other, and it's all done over textiles, clothing. And most often tea.

I’m pretty good with remembering names, so I always ensure everyone in the room is introduced. Then it’s straight in with styling advice for each other.

I don’t think I have ever heard the "and what do you do for a job" question. It’s all about who you are. Chats about values, about making, about fears, about creativity, passions, sustainability, skill swaps, and exciting things that are happening in our city. 

And most often, how can we get more people saying “no thanks” to plastic bags.

I personally have met some incredibly inspiring human beings, who I now call my friends, and I am so grateful for the fact that I never ever feel like I go to work on my own. Having the arcade family always looking out for each other and checking in with each other means there’s no shortage of hugs.

Especially my awesome neighbours at Naked Empire. I love to dress like Solange - florals, stripes, rainbows and #peaceandlove - while my girl Samara only ever wears black and white and has 666 tattooed on one arm and the beast on the other.

We couldn’t appear more opposite, but we totally click. We get each other and inspire each other. We talk small business and fast fashion worries. We count down till Peter orders more chocolate raspberry tart and plan which cute guys visiting the arcade to send our 'secret admirer' brownie to.

Every day I step onto the street, I feel alive with gratitude, courage and playfulness like the amazing community of rainbows that smile back at me around K Road. 

We are a prime example of what happens when you smile, and they smile back at you - each curious as to the story inside that other intriguing book cover.

So, back to that evening sitting down in Britomart.

I made it through the rooftop party in the Westpac building and even coaxed out my felt hat again. But the next day I decided to leap to the extreme and test something out.

We get a lot of donations at Sew Love, but this one day amidst a bag of goodies we were given not one but three metre long lengths of black furry…basically, XXL anal bead looking things. Three of them. So I tucked 1 metre into the back of my pants and walked off to the post office with my slinky new cat tail.

All I got was giant smiles and then a few high fives when I returned to the arcade and then they just wanted to cop a feel for themselves.

You see, this is the street where anything goes. You can just simply be you. Express yourself and play around with your identity. Every day I step onto the street, I feel alive with gratitude, courage and playfulness like the amazing community of rainbows that smile back at me around K Road.

On this street I can fulfill my daily mantra. And I encourage you to try it on for size. I may not be the best sewer, and I may not be the best teacher, but I can always be the best me!

This story was originally told at The Watercooler, a monthly storytelling night held at The Basement Theatre. If you have a story to tell email thewatercoolernz@gmail.com or hit them up on Twitter or Facebook.

Illustration: Emile Holmewood of BloodBros.

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