Sustainable style and the liberation of making: one couple’s quest for an ethical livelihood

Matt Akehurst of Liberation Jewellery worked as a scientist in microbiology for twenty-seven years before leaving to follow his passion. Now navigating through the world of small business together with his wife Julie, they place an emphasis on community, handmade, and reducing the environmental impact of their products. Their studio is based at home in the small beach settlement of Pines Beach, where they develop new designs that stand out from the crowd, selecting upcycled or ethically-sourced wood for each piece.


What do you make?
Liberation Jewellery is about re-inventing pre-used materials to create unique and modern jewellery.

How did you get into your craft?
All of my family are creators – painting, weaving, sculpture, cabinet making and wood carving – it’s in the blood!

Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
I have a Bachelor with Honours in Fine Arts (Sculpture), from the University of Canterbury.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I love using recycled wood as it has a story, a history, and it is made by the earth. You can feel it in your hands as you hold it, and you have the privilege to continue its journey.

Aaaaah my friend the scroll saw, it challenges me sometimes. Its delicate blade is capable of both turning with millimetre precision and straying off course as the density of the wood grain changes. It’s a dance!



Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
It usually starts with a rough sketch on the wood, then cutting it out on the scroll saw, then shaping. I don’t use a ruler, or laser cutting – it’s all eyeballed. A ruler has nothing to do with aesthetics or balance. The real trick is to get earrings to match – if you look closely at my work they are not identical but they work – that’s what handmade is all about. Forgot to mention sanding, sanding, and more sanding – then some polishing.

What inspires you?
Clean modern lines with a splash of colour.

Is there a philosophy behind your work?
We try to use as much recycled material as possible. I source my materials such as wood, perspex, bronze etc from off cuts from industries and artists such as Matt Williams (a sculptor in Christchurch). At the moment we are making a lot of jewellery from broken skateboards. The skateboards are sourced from Wayne at CW Works who makes awesome breadboards and knife handles from the broken skateboards, he sources the broken skateboards from a variety of skateboard shops. He has little off-cuts left over which are perfect for making jewellery. It’s about reducing waste.



Describe your creative process:
3am is the optimal time for good ideas – and sleep, however sleep loses! Anything new I make, my wife test drives. To get in the zone I might look at sculpture, paintings, architecture etc then it’s into the workshop, shut the world out, and create.

Describe your workspace:
A converted sleep out, a garage and the dining room table. The dining room table gets a bit out of control, especially in the lead up to big markets.

Five words that describe your mind:
Busy, determined, left-field, considerate, pragmatic.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Just walking around town and randomly seeing someone wearing my jewellery (including seeing one of my designs on TV).

What are you currently listening to? National Radio.

Recommend an album: Leftism by Leftfield.




What are you reading now? Practical Ethics by Peter Singer.

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Peter Singer: his clear, rational succinct messages on how to live in a more fair and ethical world.

Tell us about how you apply your ethos in other aspects of your life:
I once ran a 100km race – I thought would be a good challenge. It was hard, I mean really hard! Now I run a 4km circuit around my local beach and pick up rubbish – I’m known as the Rubbish Runner. I tally the numbers up, each run, and am currently at 19000 pieces in 220 days. I post my crazy pictures on my Facebook and Instagram pages. I have found all sorts – mobile phones, money… even rescued a penguin!

A favourite quote:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr Seuss.

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Do some markets to get customer feedback, and try and find the right market for what you are selling.



Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
Buying handmade and local seems like a great antidote to the excesses of mass production.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a Zerobag which is a reusable bag made out of parachute material it folds down into a tiny pouch. It’s awesome!

What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
We have the Encraftment Market coming up in November. We regularly do the Lyttelton Market on Saturday mornings and would love to try a few markets further afield such as Queenstown and Nelson. Love the customer contact at markets as you learn a lot. We are also venturing into a few more shops around New Zealand.

Look, prize draws! 🙂
Matt and Julie have generously offered two great prizes of their upcycled skateboard studs (see below). There’s one pair up for grabs each week of their fortnight long feature, so to be in to win make a comment on this blog post about what you enjoyed reading about Matt and Julie’s story and their ethical and stylish creations. The draws close at 5pm on Monday 8 and 15 October, and are open to New Zealand residents only.


31 thoughts on “Sustainable style and the liberation of making: one couple’s quest for an ethical livelihood

  1. Thank you Paula. Got to say we also love using recycled wood as well. We only have limited wood supplies of any one type of timber so our range always changes, and makes every piece unique.

  2. I absolutely love all your jewellery especially the skateboard earrings! As a greenie i appreciate recycling & also love to support local people & have given a few of your pieces as gifts & one day soon will spoil myself!

  3. I’ve worked with Matt in his other life as a microbiologist and admired his art, and his passion for cleaning up the beach! But I’ve learnt so much more about him and his work now from this blog – nice work!

  4. Your creations are simple and beautiful. One of my favorite pieces of jewellery is a wooden bangle . It’s so light even though it looks chunky . I get great comments every time I wear it and am happy to tell them it’s made locally and direct them to you .

  5. Your post came up in my Facebook feed after a friend had liked it and I loved the look of your jewellery. Will keep my eyes peeled to see when you do make it up to fabulous Nelson.

  6. I love your wonderful, recycled jewellery! I was gifted some earrings earlier this year and I absolutely love them. A story of their creation came with the gift and I think those are the best gifts to give and receive.

  7. It’s wonderful to hear all the feed back. One thing that I have noticed people comment about is how light our jewellery is, and how they can wear drop earrings all day without noticing them. Happy Days.

  8. I love the whole ethos of reducing as much waste as possible and making beautiful things in the process. In this story I particularly loved seeing the images of the process.

  9. Love the upcycled skateboard earrings- what a clever idea. As a lover of color your work really stands out with the pops of bright colors against the wood. Simply georgous.

  10. Hi everyone, its been a great week. Loving all the comments. Just found out a pair of our skateboard cufflinks are on their way to America with Hamish Brewer.
    This makes me so proud as he an amazing guy. For those who don’t know Hamish -Hamish Brewer is a born motivator. The New Zealander with an infectious energy served as principal of Occoquan Elementary, a school serving a large low-income and immigrant community. His unique leadership approach turned Occoquan from a struggling school with sagging test scores into one of the best schools in the state

    — check out his video –

  11. I love all your pieces Liberation, the clean lines and shapes with the dichotomy of wood and colour resemble everything that I love. Top that off with the recycled wood and repurposing makes your art the best around.
    My mum loves your ornaments and I love your jewellery and we often talk about what we have seen or got. Keep up the wonderful work

  12. So much to love about this story, but I think what I love most is how much it has surprised me – I have followed the Rubbish Runner on Facebook for some time but did not know he was also an extremely talented craftsman! So inspiring. Also love seeing such beautiful items being created from materials that might not otherwise be given another life.

  13. Love your work! I just stumbled across your blog and the line about “eyeballing” rather than using a ruler really resonated. My mum always sang praises of the beauty of handmade goods meaning things aren’t totally matchy-matchy or perfect, but they are human and have the energy of someone’s body and soul. Awesome creations _/\_ Lisa

  14. I love that you do rubbish runs, I do this with my two daughters when we go on walks😊 my 3 year old is great at spotting rubbish! Great to read about how offcuts are used to make beautiful jewellery, so innovative. Your pieces are gorgeous.

  15. Nelson would love to see your unique jewellery at the Saturday markets! I love your linear aesthetics with pops of colour and creative use of materials. I’m sure many nelsonians would agree.

  16. I really enjoyed reading this article and the best part is how you are using offcuts of already repurposed old skateboards – the littlest scrappy bits that would just get thrown away are showcased as beautiful jewellery! Very clever and careful craftsmanship.

  17. What a very inspiring read and amazing talent. I’m off to find a copy of a Practical Ethics! …. And to consider having my ears re-pierced for the sake of your gorgeous earrings 🙂

  18. thank you for all the wonderful comments. We love using off cuts of wood, plastic and broken skateboards – and meeting the people that supply the offcuts . Jane – we love Nelson and would love to check out the market sometime.

    Be Kind

    Matt and Julie

  19. I too worked with Matt and Julie in Microbiology years ago.
    I have so loved watching Liberation Jewellery grow. You guys have done amazingly well with your business.
    I LOVE the bright colours in your work, am so proud to wear the pieces I have purchased from you. I will certainly be adding to my collection.

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