WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

Inhabiting a sunny top corner of the Arts Centre, Tessa Peach’s store Frances Nation has recently celebrated its first birthday, marking a full year of trading quality wares by New Zealand makers.

Tessa searches all over the country for the pieces she sells in Frances Nation. Stock has to be made in New Zealand, it has to be useful, and it has to be good quality.

“I wanted it to be very clear that everything in the store is made in New Zealand. I write notes which say where each item is from. Customers can have that assurance and the shop becomes a showcase of the high level of makers in this country.

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“I tend to pick people who are committed to one craft, or industry. For instance, the brushware company we work with has been around since 1886. I like finding relatively young makers who are doing good stuff too. There’s definitely a resurgence in craft as a career.”

Tessa works with a network of industry specialists – woodturners who will fix things, blacksmiths that sharpen knives, and more.

“I go from the far South to the far North. I might go to a province and find just two objects that I think will work for the shop. It’s about quality. There’s an incredibly high level of workmanship going on, and I think it’s just not something that’s celebrated as much as it should be.”

Tessa explains that there’s a “huge desire to connect to others, always”.

“What we’ve lost with our standard way of shopping is a connection to others. I’m interested in the social aspect of smaller local retail. Trade can be incredibly beneficial to communities. It can be a way to connect everyday objects to your community.

“For example, the potato masher I sell is made here in Christchurch. It’s a very robust masher – the type you might find in your grandmother’s kitchen, made from solid hand-turned rimu and quality grade stainless steel. It will last beyond your lifetime.”

Tessa encourages consumers to be discerning when it comes to their purchases.

“It’s about making choices to make change. Consumers have a lot of power. If we start demanding something, we can change whole economies.”

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Part of Tessa’s skill set comes from a short stint in London working with Leila McAlister at Leila’s Shop – a boutique grocers in Shoreditch. She says she loved the community aspect of working in a grocers, where you could “stay in one place and have people come to you”.

She’s also worked as a freelance spatial designer, helping to plan and organise events and commercial interiors – which meant she could design the shop’s fit-out herself.

“I like arranging space. It’s what I was taught to do. I am interested in display, detail and decoration. The store has beautiful natural light. It’s visceral, physical, tactile. I think that is what I was missing with my design work.”

The local response to Frances Nation has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I opened quietly, and the majority of business has been word of mouth. I’m surprised how quickly it’s taken off. People come especially to find the shop.

“The thing about these quality wares, is that there are really dedicated hard working people behind them, with a love for what they do and beautiful lifestyles to suit. This is what the shop supports.”

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan