Q+A with Gem Adams of Blackbird Goods
We got to peak behind the (linen) curtain into stylist and shop owner Gem Adam's life and learn about how value based goods (like secondhand, ethically and locally made goods) are the base for all of her styling, purchasing and manufacturing ventures - both for work and personal. And how the heck does she have time to do it all?
Q. When did you start thrifting?
Since before I can remember, my mum was and is an avid op shopper, so I have very early memories of it. She also worked at an auctions which I used to go with her to, my parents actually built our family home almost completely out of re-used items from said market, from windows and doors to old brass hospital taps, so it 's definitely in the blood.
Q. Do you remember the first piece you bought?
I know it's not the first thing I ever bought, but I have very vivid memories of one particular item. I must've been maybe 11? Anyway, there was this one op shop/second hand clothing store in Whangarei, it had massive bins of clothes you had to rummage through, I found this forest green, 1970's leather jacket, lapels, mid thigh with leather covered buttons and a nipped in waist, it was amazing.
Q. Over the years we have seen you and Nathan have multiple businesses and side hustles - all of which seem to include second hand clothing or second hand goods in some way. What is it about second hand that draws you in?
Ha! We sure have, Nathan and I have worked together since the moment we met ( nearly 13 years ago in the US, when I went to work for his band ) and both grew up op shopping and loving vintage and second hand. (Nathan just told me a story about how he used to skate to op shops when he was 15 to find cargo pants or skater jeans, amazing! haha) In fact, we used to hunt down op shops on our days off when we were on tour in the US and Canada. We used to bring it home and sell it at festivals and markets (where we met Crushes!), alongside jewellery we made, T-shirts we designed and then eventually in our shop on Karangahape Road 'Hunter Gatherer'. Then of course when we started Blackbird Goods we focused more on homewares and denim.
Anyway, we've never really been super flush, opting for lifestyle over money, and I always thought it was normal and everyone loved thrifting and found things easily. As I got older I realised A) it wasn't that normal or particularly "cool" when I was a teenager and B) people didn't find it easy to find stuff! So seemed like a natural progression to find beautiful things and make a few bucks doing something we loved. Then it just became something we did, part of who we were and what our business is, something I think we will always do. I have also always been a bit romantic and a total sucker for imaging where and who they came from before me.
Q. Blackbird Goods has their own apparel section. As a conscious consumer, and a mindful curator, how did you navigate the ethical aspect of production and manufacturing?
It's something we sort of fell into. I had made myself a kimono years ago, and when we went to Vietnam we used a tailor to get some personal items made, and on a whim I thought we should get some copes of my kimono made, I sold them on a little pre-Blackbird Goods online store of vintage pieces and items we picked up in Vietnam and Thailand. We've been making kimonos ever since, with the addition of some simple tanks I designed, and then a few kids clothes this year. Every time our items have been made by tailors, the last three years by the same tailors in Bali. We have kept in small, we know them, they know us, they have watched Margot grow up from a four month old! Keeping it small has meant we can control the quality, and we know that our workers are being paid what they should and being treated fairly, both of which are so important to us.
View this post on Instagram
Meri Kirihimete from our whānau to yours! Thank you for another amazing year of support! We really can't tell you what each sale, message, or acknowledgement means to us and our growing family. We hope you have a safe and happy Christmas and new Years celebration, be kind to one another, and keep our beautiful whenua clean. We will be taking a wee break from social media, making the most of the Hawkes Bay sun, and the last month as a family of three! The shop will be ticking along, thanks to our amazing team. Gem, Nathan and Margot x Shop of course open til 5 tonight. Shop hours in our highlights.
Q. You have such a full life. Two young tamariki, a shop, the styling hustle, and an active home renovation. Where do you go/shop when you need new things?
It is definitely full! We still frequent op-shops and thrift stores, although I am a lot pickier about my clothes now-days and can't pull off what I could in my 20's (haha), I also like to keep a fairly small wardrobe, so only buy what I really love. My favourite jeans are from a local thrift store, and my favourite wool turtlenecks. Other than that, Trade Me and preloved instagram pages! I buy a fair few of mine and the babes clothes on there. It means I can buy brands I love, at prices I can afford and also continuing the cycle of wear. Otherwise Minha in Napier stocks wonderful NZ brands, or online tends to always be the easiest way for a work from home/stay at home mum in Hawkes Bay!
Q. What aspect of fast fashion irks you the most?
I think the complete disregard for the future, for people and for Papatūānuku. Fast fashion appeals to a part of you that's hard to resist; it's cheap, it's "on trend", making you feel like it doesn't matter, just buy it and get rid of it when you don't want it anymore. Meanwhile people and land are paying the price. Fast fashion makes you feel like there isn't another option, it's either that or super expensive brands, but it doesn't have to be. There is thrifting great vintage finds, buying second hand or preloved items, clothes swaps and hires, and investing in one perfect jumper instead of needing a draw full. It's a constant battle, but one worth fighting for!