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Creative business booming in south

Ceara Lile and Mario Gregor in their newly opened Featherston business. PHOTO/ GRACE PRIOR

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Examples of Mario Gregor’s tattoo art. PHOTOS/FACEBOOK

Featherston has a new creative addition in the works with Mario Gregor and Ceara Lile opening their two joined businesses, Konstantin, a fine art tattoo studio, and Perpetua, an
eco-fashion studio.

The two businesses are named after Gregor’s grandparents in Slovakia, as an ode to family and community.

Gregor and Lile just finished putting together Konstantin Studio last week, and are already booked out for the next six months, with 50 people still waitlisted for their tattoos.

The concept for Konstantin and Perpetua studios came to them while they were on a motorcycle trip in the far north towards the end of summer in 2018, Gregor and Lile had always wanted to work together from when they first met, and finally had the opportunity to do so in Featherston.

Setting up their creative businesses in Featherston meant selling up shop in Wellington, and moving on from Gregor’s popular The Gallery Custom Tattoo, to a “slower pace of life”, as Lile put it.

Their “joint playground” is set to be “fully open by Christmas”, Lile said.

Lile said “small towns can only survive with creative businesses” and that “Featherston will become a destination”.

Both Gregor and Lile grew up in semi-rural settings, with Gregor growing up in Soviet Slovakia, and Lile growing up in New Zealand.

While Gregor is already fairly well known in the tattooing world, Lile is just starting her eco-fashion business after a long hiatus from the industry.

She said that even from a young age, all she ever wanted to do was sew and create with fabrics.

Lile studied fashion but quickly left the industry when she came to realise how unethical and unsustainable it was.

She wanted to bring back slow fashion, where investing in quality ethical and sustainable pieces was a given.

“Slow fashion is basically handmade,” Lile said.

Lile enjoyed working with eco-printing, a process where you use plants to print on to fabrics to create unique designs.

She mostly planned to use sustainably and ethically sourced silk and cotton, something that could be hard to source on a large scale.

She remembered what the fashion industry was like before fast fashion, “when I was a kid, because I grew up in the 80s, once a year you’d go and buy new clothes”.

She talked about having hand-me-downs, “or if your clothes were new, when you’d grown out of them, they’d go to your siblings or cousins”, and having shoes that were “at least a size too big, with cotton wool stuffed in the toe”.

What Lile grew up with was “quality, and it lasted for ages”.

Also lasting for ages are Gregor’s fine art tattoos, although Gregor, “didn’t want to have anything tattoo related on the store sign because of the stigma”.

Gregor said his mother wanted him to be an accountant, but he became an engineer instead – it was “about job stability”.

Gregor didn’t necessarily intend to become a tattoo artist – he said New Zealand “got him into it”.

He started tattooing on himself after practising on oranges and pig skin, but struggled to get an apprenticeship. After four years, Gregor made his way into the industry and has never looked back.

Gregor wanted to see a shift in the stigma around tattooing; in some places, it isn’t so common or accepted.

“It’s an art form, just on the skin” Gregor said.

He has been tattooing since 2012, and opened his first shop in 2015.

Tattoos weren’t common or affordable in Slovakia, but in New Zealand, Gregor found a medium for his work.

He has done tough work in his life, but to him, “this is tougher”, spending long days in the shop, and coming home only to do more work ready for the next day’s appointment.

Making the move to Featherston allowed the couple to work side by side with a “slower pace of life”, Lile said.

“You still work just as hard, but the pace of life is slower, and there isn’t the three-hour daily commute.”

Featherston’s “rough undertones are beautiful; it stops it from being too perfect”, Lile said.

She thinks “Featherston is in a beautiful growth phase”, where they have found a sense of community through opening their businesses, something that just doesn’t happen in the faster pace of Wellington.

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