"Even old furniture deserve second chances. Rescue them from the landfill’”
For a lot of people, especially in a country like the UAE, where most are so used to getting things brand new, there is still that little negativity attached to taking second-hand things.
Some people think that second-hand is not good enough. There are those who think that second-hand is only for charity cases. And then, of course, there are people who just simply don't want to take other people's hand me downs.
But there is one lady who's trying to change the way we view second hand by literally transforming one man's garbage into another man's treasure.
Gver Founder Lalaine Chu-Benitez had a chat with Muby Astruc - Founder and Artist at 'When Shabby Meets Chic' who teaches and equips people in breathing new life to old, second hand, and oftentimes unwanted pieces. Muby believes that we should be kind to the earth by saving resources and reminds us that we can all take part in a more mindful, sustainable, earth-friendly lifestyle.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Or you can watch the video here:
You have so much to teach and to share with our community out there. Let's start with your business. Tell us about ‘When Shabby Meets Chic.’
‘When Shabby Meets Chic started a few years ago as a way for me to help people understand the concept of transforming old furniture into art. Today, I am a retailer and I stock French Chic paints, brushes, and all of that. But I didn't stop there.
I started as someone showing people how to take things that exist in their homes, in their lives, and transform them into other things they like, something chic, instead of throwing it into landfills. For example, you got it from like a big box commercial store. And it's 10 years old. It's chipped. And you feel like throwing it away because it's so bad. No one's going to buy it. Transform it, instead. Whether your house is minimalistic or bohemian, you can use what you've got. Because what we don't use goes into landfill, and what goes into landfill, ultimately comes back to haunt us.
I started, transforming pieces – first, with my friends’ furniture. And it just went on from there, as people asked me to take the next step. So, I took the next steps, until that one day when this became something that I wanted to do as my livelihood and something I cared about passionately as well.
Did you always want to do this? Was this something that you planned? How do you go from being a journalist to an artist creating all these beautiful things?
I was a journalist for 27 years. And then I took a gap for a few years and I had my children. I just I think it's not that different because as a journalist, I was telling people stories and I had the pen as my tool. But today, as an artist, I'm still telling stories, but with these pieces of furniture that I've had, or that others had from other eras and homes that they’ve lived in. And the brushes are my tools. But my art remains the same. I'm still a storyteller.
Were you always an artist growing up?
You were you born who you're born to be. It doesn't matter what people say. I was told in high school that I couldn't draw a circle. That I could never be an artist. It doesn't matter what people tell you. Yeah. If you feel who you are, you know who you are.
So, you're supplying materials for people who want to transform their old furniture or second-hand furniture into something fabulous. Tell us what they can find in your store.
I started like a little girl in a candy shop. When I decided that this is going to turn into a business, I went online and I looked up all these sustainable brands that really cared about the environment; that cared about the people that use them, the health and the lives of them. And so, I zoomed in on a few companies and then I settled down with the ones that I have.
So, my products are certified as environmentally friendly. It's recyclable materials and they have no harmful chemicals. You can use it in your home even if you have babies and pets. There are no fumes; no chemicals like that.
I also don’t use animal-sourced brushes like hog head. It’s a thick brush but I'm cruelty-free. I couldn't imagine the idea of some animal sacrificing their life just for the industry. So, I found a Dutch artist who makes synthetic fiber brushes. He’s an artist creating something for other artists using synthetic and recycled materials. His passion got me, you know, and today his brushes are known worldwide as amongst the best in the world. So, I went and I started supporting all these brands that he cared about, things that I know that I want people to care about. It's not just about transforming a coffee table. It's how you do it.
For me, cruelty-free is the biggest consideration. So that we continue to live in a world that stays kind.
On the materials - you've got paints, you've got brushes, also moldings?
Yes, we have silicone moldings. We're the only company, the only business in Dubai that has all of this stuff put together. All of the brands that I stock, you won't find them anywhere else in the country either. So, it's all here. You can come up. You can get it from me. Or you could order online and get it delivered to you.
You also teach people who are interested to learn how to work with the furniture and materials?
I do workshops, but I do a lot of teaching for walk-ins. Ask me a question and I’ll tell you. I have an open-door policy.
How do you feel about the negative connotation attached to acquiring second-hand goods? Some people think, “If I buy secondhand, that means I'm broke or I can't afford anything else, or it’s for charity, or second hand is not good enough.”
Well, there are some people who think that. But then I believe there are people like me as well in this world, you know, and I've been blessed to have a beautiful home. I have beautiful things. My children go to a lovely school. My husband and I run our own business and we continue to reuse and recycle and buy secondhand products, not because there's a lack of money in a bank account. The problem is not in my bank account. The problem is the world and the environment. The world is suffering. That’s a good reason contribute, not because you do or you don't have a certain amount. It's got nothing to do with social status. It's the choices that we make. We should care about this world because the wastage is just so obscene.
How do you feel about people throwing away their furniture?
I can't entirely blame people because sometimes, a lot of the time, actually, people do stuff unaware. They are not aware of the waste that they're causing. You mean no harm. No one means to be a bad person. We just need awareness and education, which should be an ongoing thing. You constantly need people talking about these things. You need to have role models in society that talk about recycling. Because if people don't talk about it, other people never hear about it then.
How do you feel about the perception of other people that second hand is like garbage, or junk?
I have a whole community of over a thousand women and we all drive past the skips - the garbage bins, and we'll actually look to see if there's something we can rescue. In fact, a lot of the things that you see around you in my house are rescues. Rescuing is a big thing for us, whether it's people, animals or things.
And that comes with what I am talking about - education and awareness. Thankfully, schools are doing more about it. I remember in my son's school, they had a field trip to Sustainable City - mind you, these were five and six-year-olds. Though there were a lot of parents who said, “Why do you have to learn about sustainability at such a young age? Are they even going to understand what sustainability is?” And it took a lot of talking and convincing, but those parents eventually understood very quickly why it is important to talk to a five-year-old about sustainability, about reusing.
My husband, he's taught our little boys, they’re five and six. He's taught them this phrase “Buy me! Buy me!” So each time we walk down supermarkets, in toy shops where there’s a just plastic everywhere, he goes – “Buy me! Buy me!” in a funny way, so our boys they just walk past those. The know they're being hypnotized.
So really a whole big message. And I think people need to understand. Again, just repeating the messages that we were talking about earlier, there is life in old furniture. Do not throw things away. There is always a way of reinventing and transforming them into something beautiful. It's like us as people.
We go through our lives making mistakes, and we give ourselves second chances. A chance to transform. We always have hope of becoming a better person tomorrow. So why are we not extending that to the world around us?
You were talking earlier about a person that you met who was saying something about not being able to justify paying a high price for something old. Can you tell us about that?
Yes. This was a very, very long time ago. I was very new at transforming furniture. And at the time I was selling it and there was a woman who really wanted to buy something that I had transformed. But she said she had a problem with her husband. She said, “I love what you do, but unfortunately, my I can’t justify to my husband paying this kind of money for old goods. And I'm like, “What do you mean by old? Would you know how old the wood is? What is new wood? Like a seed of a tree? This tree's already dead by the time it comes to a shop. Yeah, it's paid its price. At least, honor it.”
I think we really need to change our mentality. It's not about old or new. It's also about how much effort was put into that; how much love was put into that. The artistic value or whatever. It's not just because it's new or it's old.
Does one need to be an artist to transform secondhand furniture into something chic like you're doing?
Art is subjective. I think we all have an artist inside of us. And as long as we have this passionate flair for things we love, we will feel art alive in us. You don’t need to be a trained artist. You just need to care enough.
I love your approach to design, how brave you are because you just get into it without any set plan in your head and that's very liberating.
For me, life comes with no rules. I make up the rules as I go along. And if I don't like it, I do it all over. It has to be like that. If it feels right, I'll go with it.
And it's not only painting furniture. It can be anything. As long as you're passionate about something, it doesn't matter how much or how little, you know. You're bound to excel, you're bound to learn and you're bound to know more and more because your passion will drive you to. And I'm a perfectionist but I don't care about rules, but I am so much of a perfectionist. But that comes out of my passion for it.
So just go on with it, guys. Don't be afraid. Take that brush. Put that paint on. And if you don't like it, you can always go rework it. Do it all over again like you would do in life. Yeah. If you fall and you get hurt, like if a partner walks out on you, you start life all over again and you do the same with anything in your life.
I really love the message that you're sharing with us today. Do you have any final words for our audience?
I think for me, the key to a successful life is a kind life. Live a life that's kind and be passionate about what you do. Don't be afraid of doing things that are a little bit different sometimes from what society expects from you. And if that little bit different means rescuing something out of the landfill, then do it. You end up saving the planet. And when you save the planet, you save its people. You save its animals. Ultimately, you save yourself. So, don't be afraid of going dumpster diving. Don't be afraid of reusing. Don't be afraid of saying no to that additional bag of plastic.
Don’t be afraid to be different. To make the changes. Everyone has their reason for choosing to be socially aware and environmentally conscious. I do it because of the dog that I have loved. I used to be a person that didn't care that much. I wasn't really aware. One day this little dog rescued me. And looking into his eyes. I knew he is the epicenter of every creature out there and my actions. So, I have to stop a cruel lifestyle. I had to change. I owe it not only to my dog, but also to the planet, to all of that. Because it's a fact that what you do eventually always comes back to you.
Website: When Shabby Meets Chic
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