George & Willy, makers of life tools
September 25, 2017
Words: Helene Ravlich/
Photos: George & Willy
To put it simply, George Wilkins and William McCallum make “life tools” — things that help people enjoy the every day, more. Under the moniker of George and Willy, the Mount Maunganui, New Zealand-based pair creates super practical things like pegboards, laptop sleeves, clothes drying racks and paper rollers — all of which are beautifully crafted, sleek in shape and refreshingly simple to use. George fills us in on what makes the talented pair and their team tick.
We both used to ski Mount Ruapehu on the North Island of New Zealand as kids, then ended up going to school and university together. It was during our last semester studying design at Otago University in Dunedin that we began working together, and things have sort of gone from there.What motivated you to make the move and start working together?
We both studied design as a minor for three years but didn’t really have any decent projects to show for our three years of work, so in our last semester we went hard and George & Willy was our final project. It was funny, as the paper we were doing was to make a commercially viable product, but we took ours to the next level and started actually selling things. We ended up getting kicked out of the university workshop for using campus resources for a commercial enterprise!Does working with a good friend get challenging at times?
The real question is: Would you rather work with strangers or friends? We would always rather work with mates, and that is the culture of George & Willy. It’s really just six friends working together as much as it is Will and I working together. We all get on super well and make sure it is a priority. It has its challenges, but they are hugely outweighed by the benefits and we make sure we all communicate and identify any challenges.
“We have always made good quality things that last, and that leads to using good materials.”
There are six of us in the team here and we all chip in on the design side of things. It happens as much during lunchtime as it does at any other time. Will and Jarred tend to do the design side of things, while the rest of us chip in with ideas here and there.Do you have a creative process as such – or is it more of an individual thing?
We like to think it is just how we live our lives. We once read somewhere that a business is just an extension of the people in it, so in terms of the creative process, it sort of just happens quite naturally within the business. This morning at smoko, Sam was showing us the shape of the surfboard he is making and Will was showing us some stools he built last night. We all just build things in our personal lives so it fits quite easily into the work culture. Most products start out as a gift for mates or things we need for ourselves that we can’t find anywhere.
We have always made good quality things that last, and that leads to using good materials. If you start with bad materials, it is hard to end up with a good product. So we never specifically set out to use the materials we do, they just ended up being the ones we liked the best.You like to spend time in nature when you’re not in the studio. What can you usually be found doing?
We do an annual staff trip to New Zealand’s South Island and head up the river valleys around Twizel for a week or so. We also all ski. Sam is always fishing, Jarred is always surfing and Alice is an avid caver, being from the Waitomo Caves region. Whenever the surf is good we like to take Sam’s boat, Reefrunner out for the morning.
“Most products start out as a gift for mates or things we need for ourselves that we can’t find anywhere.”
Mount Ruapehu has always been a favourite of mine. In some ways it could be called New Zealand’s worst mountain, but it is my and Will’s favourite. In my opinion you can’t beat a slushy day at Ruapehu — there are just rock features everywhere. When the weather is on it’s all go. The Southern Alps are also an all time favourite. There is nothing as impressive as heading up a river valley deep into the Alps...How would you best describe the concept ‘nature made’?
Almost like a post in a woolshed that has been worn smooth by hundreds of sheep running past it — that is truly “nature made”. And every time I go to the airport and see beagles sniffing people’s bags I think: How cool it is that there is no machine that could do that better than nature can!