Today I’d like to introduce you to a very creative husband and wife team who have done what I’m sure many of us would like to do – to run a business according to one’s passion.
Sam Messina and Ellie Beck never intended to start a business together but with Sam already tinkering with old skateboard decks destined for the bin and turning them into shelves, jewellery and accessories, they very quickly realised that he was on to something. But turning a creative idea into a profitable business isn’t always easy. It’s hard yakka.
But that didn’t stop them. Nor did it stop them embarking on other endeavours. For while Sam’s getting creative and covered in sawdust, Ellie not only does the business side of things but also runs her own creative workshops and events involving screen-printing and textiles. Oh yeah, and they have two small children and are in the process of building their own house and studio! Literally.
Here, Ellie offers a real insight in the realities of setting up and running your own business and how, with perseverance, passion and a vision you can make it happen, be successful and still manage a work-life balance!
Please introduce yourselves. Tell us about your backgrounds, how have you ended up where you are today and how much you love skateboarding?
We are a husband and wife design team, Sam Messina and Ellie Beck. We both come from creative upbringings, where we were encouraged to explore and pursue our naturally artistic talents. Due to life’s funny ways we both ended up working in retail, with Sam spending many years working in the skateboarding industry at retail level, as well as distribution and design positions.
Skateboarding has been a passion of Sam’s for more than 25 years – something that he both enjoyed and was extremely talented at. At certain times, it was all-consuming in his life. He will probably be skateboarding up until the day his legs no longer work for him! I, however, have never been a skateboarder and have no desire to throw myself in the air with a hard piece of concrete underneath! Both our children enjoy skating, and we wish we had more time – and a better local skate park – for them to develop the love that Sam has for this sport.
Sam used his passion for skateboarding by working with skate companies and shops and spent time teaching and skating with others. He kept all his own boards and even has memories of what trick he was doing when each board was broken. After seeing the decks stacking up at home and being thrown out at the retail shops and warehouses, Sam started experimenting with ideas for how to reuse them in new ways.
Apart from using them as shelves for his collection of skate shoes, Sam used his self-taught skills building skate ramps into making pieces of jewellery and accessories. With the idea of showing skateboarding to outsiders in a different light, we decided to make pieces that would connect with a design, fashion-focused – yet eco-friendly – audience that appreciates handcrafted pieces and loves something unique and unusual.
Skateboarders are often seen in a bad way in general society, as they don’t live by the same rules as others. For me, being a non-skater but an observer of skate life, I wanted to give a new perspective on skateboarders; to show them as a supportive community who share and connect and give back to others. We both hope that through our own small actions, and people wearing a piece of skateboard on their arm, they’ll look at the next skateboarder they pass in a new way.
Deadwood Creative has been an evolution of our creative designs and makings. We work around our two small children and our house / studio building, making small business work as best we can and trying to maintain a quality of life where we enjoy time off from work and head to the beach or take an afternoon off it we need or want to.
When and why did you begin exploring/ working with skateboards?
Sam has been working within the skateboard industry for more than 20 years, and always made little pieces out of skateboards for our home, as well as designing and constructing skate ramps. In terms of making the first bracelet, it was an idea in Sam’s head long before he had the tools to turn it into a real piece. When our children were born, I started spending more time actively creating an at-home design handcrafted business (back then it was in hand screen printed organic fabrics and sewn items). So, it was probably eight or nine years ago, that the first skate pieces were made and worked on.
Where do you source the skateboards from?
They come from skate shops that collect them for us. Mostly skateboards are thrown out when they’re broken or damaged as they’re no longer able to be ridden. We use whatever decks come our way. The colour combinations are a happy accident and Sam has to work around each deck individually as they are all broken in different ways, making a mass production cutting process impossible.
Can you tell me about the creative process and how you go about making each piece?
Each piece is determined by each skate deck, to a degree. Some decks are more damaged than others, so each one has to be salvaged as it can. Due to the curves and shape of the deck, there are limitations as to how Sam can cut each piece. Being a technical drawer, Sam comes up with ideas and then sees how the piece of wood will fit or playing around with the offcuts of other pieces. Every little bit of scrap is saved for a one-day idea. Our kids are sometimes part of the design as well. They have fantastic creative minds, and love giving input into ideas and colours and such.
Each piece really is a time-intensive process. From the first cut, through to sanding on the belt and hand sanding. Everything is hand-shaped, cut, drilled and then finished with at least two coats of our non-toxic coating that brings out the colour and protects the pieces from daily wear.
What have been some of the challenges you faced in setting up your own business?
I’d say the basics of limited funds to invest in the tools we need. We are lucky to have carpenters in our family who have lent us tools to use and we’ve slowly built up the machinery we use. Although Sam is always dreaming of the next piece that would make his process easier! Working around small children is a challenge, in that you have limited time.
A lot of it has been trial and error – learning the mistakes, seeing the mistakes and changing. We are self-taught in most of what we do, from using the machinery to building websites and wholesaling our products – this takes time to research and get right (or better each time).
What’s one piece of advice you would give to others wanting to do the same?
If you mean making wooden jewellery out of recycled wood – it’s hard work, there’s constantly sawdust everywhere, and your hands are sore from hand-sanding to achieve that perfect shiny smooth finish. If you mean by a handcrafted business – my piece of advice is to make sure you love it. The financial rewards aren’t the reason to start your own business. Sure that can happen, and does, but it takes a lot of work. A lot. You’ll be working for more than 60-80 hours a week, and you think and breathe your business. It’s all consuming.
So, find something you love – not the current trend that everyone else is doing – something you feel so passionate about you want to do it all day every day, and you’ll need to talk about it too. But also, be able to evolve and to realise that your passion might not be everyone else’s passion.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time? Ha! Currently we’re building our house and studio – so this is taking up any time Sam has when he isn’t making skate pieces. My own creative practice involves textile crafts, workshops and creative events. Crochet and hand stitching, as well as experiments with natural dyeing, are part of my days. We live in the rainforest, so we make sure to spend time walking or bike riding, visiting the creeks and dam, sitting on our verandah during lunch breaks or after school with the kids and watching the wildlife around us. Actual skateboarding time for Sam seems to diminish amongst the daily routine of small business, making, designing and family life.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
I guess our biggest ‘wow’ is how much people love what we do. The amazing customer feedback and comments really makes us happy. We didn’t really plan (when we first met) to be working together, from our own home and studio in the beautiful forest (where I grew up), and to be making something so special out of these pieces of wood that Sam had spent many, many years of his youth smashing onto concrete!
Also, who’d have thought that skateboards were so pretty with all their rainbow-coloured wood and that turning them into pieces of wearable art was such a fun and satisfying thing to do. That even though I don’t skate, I get to wear these cool things every day.
Thanks so much for your time, Ellie, and I’m really excited to be able to showcase some of your skateboard necklaces and bangles in the store very soon!
You can follow Ellie’s creativity at her blog http://petalplum.blogspot.com.au/ and follow them both on Instagram @petalplum and @sammessina.