A creative network of young country women

Bex Hayman (left) and Sarah Douglas: spreading the word about products made down on the farm from the kitchen table.

Words: Cheree Morrison 

From two sprawling high-country stations on either side of the Waitaki River, two young and creative rural ladies Sarah Douglas and Bex Hayman are empowering and connecting like-minded women. Their Facebook page Young Rural Ladies, created in winter 2015 is a place to trade recipes, farming stories and share DIY projects. They recently launched The Marketplace, a new online store (youngruraladies.com) that stocks the products made on farms all over the country.

“The audience loves it as they are buying from like-minded women. We’ve created something for ourselves and it also helps support small businesses,” says Sarah.

Meet the selection of creative female go-getters selling their wares at the Young Rural Ladies marketplace

Elise Rutherford, photographer

Photographer Elise Rutherford (25) knows what it takes to be a rural woman – she literally wrote the book on it. As a fine arts student at Canterbury University, she photographed and wrote an ode to women in agriculture called Inside Out. Growing up on a North Canterbury deer farm provided plenty of inspiration for her love of photography, and her camera is never far from hand when she’s at Craigforth Farm in Pigeon Bay, Akaroa, where she lives with her partner Angus.

Whether working on the farm, shearing or on a motorbike, the camera is her constant companion.
An aspiring National Geographic photographer, Elise’s images are of rolling landscapes painted with the seasons, of solemn sheep in stockyards and well-wrapped merino tiptoeing through crisp snow in Omarama. She sees herself as a storyteller, telling tales through her images of farming life, beauty, grit, hard work and moments of ease. eliserutherford.com

McLean & Co, weavers

Photo: Melissa Pronk

Rod and Sue McLean never planned on becoming artisan weavers. It all sort of fell into their lap – as much as three 100-year-old cast-iron looms can. The Oamaru couple became the owners of the rare Hattersley Domestic Weaving System (the looms) in 2006 after a chance meeting with their previous custodian. “The lady before us wanted to sell them to someone who would honour the tradition, understand the looms and love them. She knew I had a creative background in embroidery and that Rod was a plumber and therefore good with fixing things – we were the perfect fit.”
During the following decade, Rod not only completely restored the machines but also discovered all there was to know about the looms, which were once used in the rehabilitation of World War I soldiers in the Isle of Harris in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. Sue joined him full time in 2014 and together the couple weave, sew and sell tartan and woven items under the brand McLean & Co.

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“We’ve found a real niche market of people looking for traditional fabrics – but something different,” says Sue. “We’ve taught ourselves everything through trial and error, using whatever wool we can afford. And now we are able to work full time, taking commissions and creating beautiful textiles. More people are moving away from mass-produced and want something with soul that’s locally made.” It was the demand for the distinct that encouraged Rod, Sue and friends to open an artisans’ collective called Crafted in Oamaru’s historic precinct. It’s also how they came to find The Marketplace – the McLeans are currently weaving the Dome Hills tartan for Sarah and her mother-in-law Cindy from the wool of Cindy’s black sheep. “It’s such a wonderful time to have a small business. We may feel like we are working in isolation, but we are all connected.” mcleanandco.nz


Kate Guthrie, Undercover

Life is busy for Kate Guthrie. When not coaxing Batman the cow out of the chicken coop, wrangling her seven highland cattle or contracting to one of Blenheim’s many wineries, she’s hard at work on Undercover, where she designs and sells children’s sleeping bags. After spending 15 years working in the wine industry in Central Otago and Queenstown (including planting vines at Bendigo Station and as a vineyard manager for Gibbston Valley), Kate shifted to Blenheim. “We purchased a run-down property up the Brancott Valley that was such a mess that nobody else would touch it. Luckily my husband’s a builder and went about transforming it.”
Six months after the arrival of baby Louis, Kate began to ponder business ideas. “I wanted to go back to work, but I didn’t want to do 40 hours a week and I wanted a challenge – to be in control and independent. I kept thinking about my childhood and family camping trips to Lake Benmore and how I wanted my son to experience the same thing. The idea for the sleeping bags evolved from there.”

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Produced in Auckland from fabrics designed in the United States, the sleeping bags are “glamping for little people” and are very convenient for traveling parents. “They’ve been used not only for sleepovers but for training children to sleep in big beds, and to stop others rolling in the night. I love that they are practical but can still put a smile on someone’s face.”


Jo Jack, woodworker

Seventeen years in the police force has taught Jo Jack a thing or two, but showing up to her first meeting of the Balclutha Woodworkers Society with homemade fudge? That was just common sense. It was just the thing to help sweeten the older male members – she was, after all, in need of their tips and tricks of the trade.
It was Jo’s father who handed her her first carpentry project – she had her eye on a friend’s designer side table but when she asked her father for his help, he passed her the hammer and told her she was making it herself. “He made me realize that I could make things – and how to work things out.”

It was a skill that became useful when she moved to Balclutha after her long spell as a police officer in Wellington and Christchurch – joining the farmer that she’d met (and since married) and starting a family. It was when the youngest of her three girls turned two that she began to brainstorm ways to increase their income.
“I had often whipped up wooden toys and items up for friends and family, so I started making a few extra to see if there was interest. Now I’ve just had to hire a local schoolboy to help out – I just can’t keep up.”
Her niche is rustic home décor – birthday boards, initial boards, height charts and more are handcrafted in macrocarpa from the family farm or local suppliers. And she’s always on the lookout for her next project – building a straw bale home is the ultimate dream.

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“My power tool collection is growing. I just bought a biscuit joiner so my mind is working overtime as to what I can create next. What I do know is it will be natural, unprocessed and made with so much love.”

Dana Johnston, artist

Dana Johnston has always loved to draw. As a child growing up in Papakaio she handed in school assignments with illustrations in every empty space – white gaps made her fingers twitch. Art became part of her career – as a sign maker in Oamaru for the past 15 years, she’s hung her works on shopfronts, the sides of cars, and on signage, yet that tingling feeling in her fingers, the yearning to pick up a pencil, never really went away. “Drawing’s always been something that I’ve returned to, it makes me happy,” says Dana. She dabbled in portraits and sketches, often recreating her photographs in graphite, but it was Bex and Sarah who convinced her it was time to turn a hobby into a side business.

“I created some marketing sketches for The Marketplace, and they asked me to come up with a product for the store. I wasn’t sure what to focus on but friends kept telling me the same thing – no one can go past a baby animal. Not the cute cartoons that they were tired of seeing in the kids’ stores and all over nurseries – actual animals.”

And so The Innocence Collection was created; six pencil sketches replicated as both prints and ceramic tiles. All are based on Dana’s photographs of local baby animals – a rabbit, a duckling, a lamb from across the way, a kid from Motueka, one of her bengal kittens and her bestseller, the long-lashed calf now retired from modeling and living the good life in Dana’s Hakataramea Valley paddock. facebook.com/danajohnston.artist


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NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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