Ben Talks

by Wilhelm Philipp

Ben has been a friend of the shop for a few years now since moving from New Zealand 10 years ago. He currently makes customisable wood/metal clothing racks and record stands for the everyday person. He works closely with local artists and is available for commission, get in contact with Ben to decorate your house or work space. We travelled to Ben's workshop in Preston to get a behind the scenes look at his process.

Who are you + what do you do?

Kia ora, my names Ben Stratton and I’m a boilermaker working on Wurundjeri country. Currently I’m making furniture and doing commission work for artists and designers from my workshop in Preston.Where were you born + when did you move to Australia? How long have you been living/working in Melbourne?

I was born in Eltham which is a small rural town in South Taranaki, New Zealand. Eltham is famous for its cheese factory, my mum works there. Originally I moved to Perth once I finished my apprenticeship when I was around 21 years old. The first job I got was at a place called Dingo Engineering, mostly working on mining equipment. Perth didn't really work out for me in the end, so I moved back home where I worked in Waitara, Taranaki as a pipe fitter for a year or so. I then made the decision to move to Melbourne with my girlfriend at the time. That was 2011, ten years ago.What are some notable differences between New Zealand + Melbourne?

Aside from the obvious in nature and culture, in which both have their own beauty, there appears to be a lot more opportunity and money in Melbourne, or at least it seems that way.

What does your craft mean to you? What first got you into the trade industry? What area do you work from?

My craft means a lot to me, I can't really imagine doing a whole lot else. When I dropped out of high school I had just turned 17 and was without much of a plan. My dad said he had an old friend, Michael who had a business welding up cow sheds, cattle yards and also repairing agricultural machinery. Dad got me a trial and I ended up doing my apprenticeship there. Michael was a great boss and is still the most inventive fabricator I have seen work.
Tell us about the process of your craft.

I'm just trying to make quality, built to last accessible things for the everyday person. Most people can't afford to buy well built furniture so they end up buying flimsy and disposable Kmart or IKEA products that last a year or two before they're broken and rotting on nature strips waiting to go into landfill. I hope I can offer everyday people an affordable alternative, with style.You make stands/storage for vinyl what are some of your favourite musicians?

This is probably going to be my longest answer! At the moment they would have to be: Navy Blue, Children of Zeus, Godtet, Madlib, Dudley Perkins, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Erykah Badu, Ivan Ave and Mach Hommy.

There’s a label back home called YGB, Years Gone By (formerly Young Gifted and Broke). Anything they put out I listen to pretty hard. The Mara TK album Bad Meditation, Avantdale Bowling Club by Tom Scott and Bird of Paradise by Karnan Saba & Hone Be Good are all amazing, they're still frequent listens. I've been listening to a lot of Average Rap Band and @peace lately as well, I think it helps me feel like I'm back home. Music is a big part of my life and I'm lucky to have a job where I can listen to it all day long. I usually start with some Yusef Lateef or Bobbi Humphrey in the morning and then it can go anywhere as the day goes on. PBS and NTS are my favourite radio stations. Slow focus is a really good show on NTS for unwinding after a long day, I’ve been listening to that a lot as well. Sometimes silence is good too though.You also make clothing racks what are some of your favourite brands/items of clothing?

My Favourite brands would have to be Dickies, Xlarge, Brick + Mortar, Butter Goods and Polar Skate Co. As far as my favourite items go….I think they would be my old Brick + Mortar shop tees especially the OG Coffin Syrup and Funeral French ones. I love the weight of the new Coffin Syrup shop hoody too! I’ve been welding in my Butter Goods TV hoody from 2019, so it’s pretty beaten up but I like when clothes are really worn and thrashed, it gives them character and makes them feel like they’re yours. I’m not precious about keeping clothes in mint condition. After a few months my new hoodies and tees become work clothes and that’s when I enjoy them most! It also means I can justify buying more fresh ones!

Where can people find/contact you for your work?

Groove Fab is my business name and my direct source of contact is through my Instagram at @groove_fab, I do have some slick business cards that my girlfriend’s father, Brian made for me though. My workshop is at 86 Albert Street, Preston. I don’t have a sign yet. So much to do.

How long have you been wearing the Dickies 23214 Loose Fit Cargo for in the workplace? How do they hold up? What was their appeal to you?

As soon as I discovered the 100% cotton cargo at the store I knew they were my pant. That must of been a couple of years ago now. I used to wear the loose fit double knees and the carpenters which are good but not as comfortable as the full cotton cargos.

I love the extra pocket space, the cut and the softness of them. They probably don’t last quite as long as the poly/cotton pants do, knee rips are common but there’s no going back.Any last words or shout outs?

Firstly, a massive shout out to Brick + Mortar, having yourself and Wilhelm coming through to my workshop really means a lot to me, so thank you both. I’m not sure if you know this but Brick + Mortar was my first real sense of community when I moved here. From meeting new homies while hanging out skating the spot on Greville Street, (RIP to that spot and RIP to our brother Skip who we lost 5 years ago the other day) to Tuesday night chess club, exhibitions and in store gigs, or coming through to pick up a new tee and saying what up! These are some of the best days I’ve ever had here and help to make Melbourne my home away from home.

Shout out to Richie at Redsteel, where I still work a couple days, he’s taught and helped me so much. To Andy @award.built who I share my workspace with, I’m always picking his brain for that timber knowledge, which I lack. Shout out to my girlfriend Gussie who I also share my workspace with, she’s an amazing artist doing sculpture and drawing, her passion and grind keeps me inspired and motivated. Thank you to everyone who has acknowledged, encouraged and supported me over the years, it means so much. And lastly love to my family back home, hopefully see you soon.