Lara Knight – 28 February, 2020
Global marketing and delivery have transformed us. Choice, convenience and price are mainstays of 21st century purchases, despite environmental and human costs.
So how do we shop sustainably without losing quick and easy? Ryan has a vision for a sustainable retail future and chatted to us about his journey.
Tell us about The Reimaginarium.
The Reimaginarium was launched late in 2018 to prove that second hand isn’t second best. My wife and I founded the space as a way to showcase some of the best reclaimed goods from across Australia.
I produce a range of reclaimed goods including furniture and vintage Bluetooth speakers, and it occurred to us that there was no real central location for such items. We firmly believed that secondhand, repaired, restored and reimagined goods can be just as good as new ones (and better) and can be just as appealing to people, but they need to be made just as accessible and convenient.
We wanted a space where we could show reclaimed goods the same amount of respect as new ones, so we created one. With the help of Renew Geelong we set up a retail space in Moorabool Street and began to carefully gather the work of re-creatives from across Australia that met our standards – beautiful functional goods with a minimum of new materials.
From humble beginnings in a corner of a shared space, we now have our own dedicated shop front and support over a dozen Australian re-creatives while proving to the local community just how good reclaimed can be.
You were a product design engineer in your previous career. Why the change to reimagined retail?
The change was an evolution rather than a revolution. Since I was a child I have loved to work with old materials, from picking up bicycles off the hard rubbish and rebuilding them as a teenager, to hand painting suit jackets while I was at uni. I wanted to apply design and engineering principles to the reuse of waste materials in order to make reuse more efficient and predictable, and therefore more accessible. The development of our vintage Bluetooth speaker line came from this idea – identifying an available under-utilised material, and working out how to make it meet modern needs with the minimum of new materials.
With the launch of our Bluetooth speaker range we had real trouble finding outlets where it made sense, and came to realise that spaces with a focus on reclaimed goods were few and far between. We knew that there were some amazing creatives out there making great products, but they lacked a convenient outlet. Launching The Reimaginarium was an attempt to identify these incredible goods that were already being made, and present them in a way that would appeal to the broader public, by making them convenient and accessible.
We love the bluetooth speakers from old radios. Are they your creations?
They certainly are, and as mentioned they are really what kicked our space off. I have loved the look of old valve radios for years (and I’m not alone, look at all the imitations from Bush and others), but I’ve never really had an excuse to own many. Their wiring is often beyond economic repair, and if they do work their reliability and safety is highly questionable. I had a Bluetooth speaker at home that I loved the concept of, but not the style, and it occurred to me, why can’t a beautiful old radio do all the same things as a Bluetooth speaker? They certainly have most of the essential parts.
After substantial planning I developed an electronics package that I could integrate into old radios with minimum new parts and maximum reliability. Our amplifier and wiring connects to the radio’s original speaker, we keep a working volume control, instead of manufacturing a new power supply we provide a power cable that will plug into your existing spare phone charger base, and instead of an inbuilt battery that same cable will plug straight into a phone battery bank for hours of listening pleasure. All of the function of a new Bluetooth speaker, but with perhaps 10% of the new parts by weight, and every one built saves a beautiful old radio from becoming landfill.
I’ve been lucky enough to build speakers from radios that are over 90 years old, as well as ones that have had one owner from new. It is always a privilege to be able to build a speaker from a family heirloom that is being passed down through generations.
What has been the most challenging custom piece to come through the shop?
That’s a tough question. Even some of the simplest projects can throw up unexpected challenges, but as a designer and engineer the challenges are a large part of the fun. I’ve turned lawnmowers into coffee tables, wardrobes and car guards into TV units and chests of drawers into sewing tables.
Some of the most unusual work I do is collaborations with my mother, Michelle Mischkulnig. Once or twice a year we will tackle a chair or daybed together, working her freehand embroidered artwork over a vintage frame to create a truly unique piece of furniture.
One of my favourite pieces to make and use other than my Bluetooth speakers is transforming derelict sideboards into TV units. We have one at home which we love, and I am just about to start on a new one for the shop. Worn out sideboards have no value in their original form, but they are often made from amazing timbers, and with a little care and patience they make fantastic lowline entertainment units.
Do you have any treasured upcycled or vintage pieces at home?
While there have been plenty of items that have passed through The Reimaginarium that we really would have liked to keep for ourselves, we really enjoy finding new homes for items and knowing that they will be treasured for years to come. When I was first asked this question I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to give much of an answer, but now that I reflect on it a huge portion of our home fits the bill.
I have a passion for old cars and have a couple of exciting projects hiding in the shed (both of which I will hopefully electrify one day), and as part of that passion I have a huge collection of old automotive books and magazines, some of which are displayed on a beautiful little mid-century set of shelves that were designed by and made for a local Geelong architect.
The computer that I am typing this on sits on top of a pair of extension leaves from an old dining table acting as a monitor stand, which in turn sit on an old drafting table acting as a desk. Our dining table is in desperate need of a sand and refinish, but is a beautiful mid-century extension table bought off Ebay many years ago for $3. My 2 year old daughter’s bed was her mothers when she was the same age, and the chair that sits next to it was my grandmother’s favourite for decades.
Our TV sits on top of a large timber Bluetooth speaker which doubles as a centre channel for our surround sound, which in turn sits atop one of those beautiful sideboard TV units I mentioned earlier. In front of that is a glass-topped bow-top trunk as our coffee table, and we relax in a well worn club lounge.
When I get around to riding I ride a 1960’s road bike fitted out with 2000s era wheels and gears, although I still have my first big vintage purchase, a 1976 Myer Speed long frame 3 speed dragster stored away alongside a matching 16” version I bought for my daughter.
All of these things tie into the ethos we use when choosing goods for the shop – they’re beautiful, they’re functional, and they’re definitely not new.
The Reimaginarium is curating a 3 day pop up during Geelong Design Week around ‘a vision for a sustainable retail future’. Run us through the event and why you think better ways to consume are so vital.
As I mentioned earlier, The Reimaginarium was launched after identifying a need. There are lots of people out there who want to live a more sustainable life and reduce their impact on the environment, but most of the time the choice that is best for the environment is not the one that is most convenient for us, so we cut corners.
If your fridge breaks tomorrow will you get it repaired? Will you spend the next week contacting private sellers of secondhand fridges asking for dimensions, age and condition, and hiring a trailer to collect it? Like most of us you are more likely to drive to Harvey Norman, pick a new fridge, have it delivered and pay it off over the next 2 years interest free. But what if there was a retail store that sold completely reconditioned fridges, with a full online catalogue, delivery, and the same warranty as a new fridge, you would likely prefer to shop there wouldn’t you?
The same goes for furniture and most other goods, we love to shop reclaimed but we often struggle to do so. If we can make shopping reclaimed as convenient as shopping new, not only will we greatly increase the uptake of reclaimed goods by those who wish to shop this way, but we will make reclaimed goods attractive to people who don’t even realise their environmental benefit.
Our 3 day pop up is about presenting what an ideal reclaimed retail space could look like, what sort of goods and services could be available, and why it would appeal to the community.
What have you and other makers been preparing for this event?
We have some amazing work from across Australia coming in for the retail space within our pop-up department store at The Hangar in Armstrong Creek. Equally as exciting, we have demonstrations and workshops on site from some of the most exciting local re-creatives.
On Friday Urban Upcycle will be inspiring kids to get creative with waste materials, and MINT Furniture Revamped will be showcasing just how much chalk paint can transform a tired piece of furniture. Friday night we will be hosting a discussion about the store concept and how we can make it possible in the Geelong community.
Saturday we will be having beautiful vintage based lamp shades made on site by Patturn Studio along with elegant sea-glass jewellery by OMG Seaglass Design, and on Sunday Good Cycles will be providing $5 bicycle maintenance while Geelong Repair Café helps make the community’s treasures useable again.
If that isn’t enough, Feed Me Bellarine will be providing food and drinks all weekend long. You won’t believe what they can create from leftover food. There’ll be plenty of tasty drinks to enjoy on-site or take home, all made from food that would otherwise have gone to waste.
We believe that this model can have a real impact on the environment and on how people see reclaimed goods, and we encourage you all to come along and share in our vision.