Mollies Make & Create was established by Antonia Marino from humble beginnings. She started teaching herself furniture up-cycling in the early 90's when their daughter was just a baby.
Back then she learnt by stripping furniture down and putting it back together. She's still unsure which came first -- the upholstery or the furniture painting -- but the upholstery was the hardest to master.
Antonia spent hours scouring through library books to learn traditional techniques -- there was no YouTube or local classes available back then!
Deconstructing and reverse engineering weren't just fancy words, they were how Antonia managed to keep her sanity. With every chair she stripped Ant matched the individual techniques with chapters in books, marking the pages with scraps of the fabric.
Her first project was a wingback chair. Silly silly girl.
Visiting local upholsterers gave Antonia a taste of the male-dominated industry as it was back then. Their refusal to sell her basic upholstery supplies or offer snippets of advice just fueled her stubborn, determined nature. Antonia became an expert in recognising which of the materials were recyclable and how to substitute others. Thinking she was clever, at the time Antonia rewashed horse hair in pillowcases and recovered old buttons with fabric. It wasn't until years later she discovered that many techniques she learnt through trial and error were actually commonplace.
Despite working full time in both the finance and the insurance industry, Antonia found plenty of time to paint furniture and perfect her upholstery techniques, and within a few years she became rather good.
Another revelation came about 3 years later. With every armchair she completed Antonia noticed patterns and similarities between the layers, materials and techniques. A rosetta stone emerged showing a golden recipe of construction.
Ureka! Antonia discovered what she'd later coin "Mix and Match techniques".
In most cases, common construction techniques made up 80% of each chair, with 20% being specific to the style. Two chairs that appeared completely different to Antonia suddenly started looking the same when the elements were separated. Upholstery was like a baker's basic cake formula where like-for-like ingredients are substituted to create a completely different treat. This was a game changer for Antonia and allowed her to step it up to a more professional level.
Deciding to turn her furniture hobby into a business was bittersweet. In 2005 Antonia quit the corporate rat race to become a full time artist creating oil paintings and metal sculptures. She loved producing art and made a successful living out it, but her furniture up-cycling was yelling louder.
Antonia knew that to be successful in business you need to do one thing and do it well. So she wound down her art business in favour of custom bespoke furniture for private clients. She provided reupholstery services but the majority of her business involved furniture spray painting which was her main love.
A few years ago Antonia made a decision that would change the face of her business forever. Immediately after surgery to her spine and both hands she decided to stop creating and start teaching. This was the start of Mollies Make & Create. She spent hours during her recovery designing prototypes and curriculums; and when she was strong enough she perfected her teaching technique and streamlined her lesson plan.
Her “Beginners Upholstery Workshop” was born and it has since become the most beloved quick-fire upholstery training in Auckland, with students also travelling from around NZ and as far as Australia to attend.
Starting in 2016 Ant has started to train other "Mollie Tutors" around NZ to teach the Beginners Upholstery Workshop. This enables more students to experience the wonderful world of upholstery!
Antonia recognised early on that battles aren't won by a single soldier. It takes an entire army. Antonia's husband Lyall joined her full-time in 2015 and their daughter Stevie took over as full-time manager in 2018.
The current Mollies tutoring team is Antonia for Auckland, Maureen in Gisborne, Leigh in Wellington and Lisa in Nelson.
Mollies Make & Create work closely with Te Aro Potama Transitional Unit. The unit provides support to young special-needs adults who have recently graduated from college, by teaching them life skills such as independent living, employment preparation, community participation etc. Mollies provide work experience opportunities to Te Aro Potama students, to help them to develop their employment, social and responsibility skills.
The philosophy of Mollies Make & Create is innovation, creativity and sharing.
They have a bucket list of goals that is dynamic and fluid. The list keeps reducing and increasing as their goals are achieved and imagined.
Greatness doesn't come from waiting for something to happen or copying the competition. It comes from carving your way into the jungle.
And that's exactly what Antonia and her team are doing.
Last week a lovely fella was driving past Mollies Make & Create and wanted to know what we did, so stopped in. I gave him the lowdown and I got this reply, “But why do you teach upholstery? Why are you willing to give up all your knowledge and trade secrets to total strangers?"
I simply said: “Like you I make a living from doing my job and part of my job is holding workshops."
Boy was he really unhappy with this answer, honestly he was almost grumpy with me! "Surely you are giving up potential work for yourself? You are teaching people to overtake you in the market!”
I pulled up my soap box (which was fitting since I’m only 4’11” and he was a million feet tall!) and told him exactly why I do it.
First I said, "I don’t teach, I share.
I’m not an expert in any particular field but I am an expert of what is in my brain right now. It is this that I offer.
I’ve learnt my crafts from scratch, by myself, through hard work and stubbornness over many years. I started my first business when I was 16 sewing leather patchwork clothing on my mother's sewing machine. The day after my 18th birthday I moved out and bought a sewing machine suited for leather-work. By 20 was teaching myself upholstery.
I learnt everything by taking things apart and putting them back together again. There were no classes or YouTube back then! If I had someone to teach me, think of how great I could be!
Which brings me to now.
I share my knowledge because if someone is willing to learn, I’m willing to help. If I can share all my triumphs and failures over the years it will inspire them to give it a go themselves without fear of falling down once in a while. Because you will, it's what you do with that experience that matters.
If someone wants to learn badly enough they will find the answers with or without anyone else's help.
Like I did.
So why not become their light, their champion and help them to fast-track to their own greatness. "Why not be part of their journey instead of flattening their tyres."
I finished off my conversation with -- "I don’t know everything. But I share everything I know. That doesn’t mean I’m overtaken in the market. It means the market is a more dynamic place."
He left feeling somewhat frustrated with me, but I felt my point was made.
I hope he pops back in again soon to sign up for my beginners upholstery workshop...