Just one year ago, Gold Coast brothers Ian and Paul Everest were named in BRW’s young rich list. They were amongst the top 100 wealthy young people in Australia, worth around $22 million. The pair were responsible for founding action and streetwear fashion brand Unit, which they built from the roots up in their garage in Benowa.
Paul Everest designed the shirts and his brother built their web presence, and their big break came when major surf and streetwear retailers began selling their apparel. They even partnered with Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee to produce a globally distributed line of apparel. They turned $600 into a $100 million turnover over ten years.
But in a tale of riches to rags, from the world of globe-trotting fashion work to grassroots artist, Paul Everest is now rebuilding, and he’s doing so with passion and a massive smile on his face. He was getting ready to launch his first solo exhibition and a new fashion brand when he spoke to Blank GC.
“In the end it got too big to control,” Paul said of Unit. “With the retail downturn in Australia Billabong went broke and we had a couple of customers in the US who went under who owed us $1 million. We couldn’t recover.”
“I worked so hard with Unit,” Paul said. “I killed myself designing and working.” And he’s not just being figurative. It was after a Christmas party that Paul found himself nearly dead, being rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
“You’re on the Gold Coast, you’re in the apparel industry, the action sports industry and the youth industry,” he said of his time in fashion and the fast pace at which things happened, including life itself. But he’s not wistful. There’s no hint of sentimentality as he relates these stories to me and there’s this glint in his eye as he speaks about the artistic expression he’s now making.
“Unit had kind of gone down a path that wasn’t me any more and my life turned to art. It was like this gravity pulling me towards it. I just loved art, making art, youtubing art, looking at artists, I just fell into it.”
“You know, I’ve had the boats and the mansions and it’s good to have done that, to have had that experience, because now I don’t have that dangling carrot, now I just want to live,” Paul said.
It was through the clothing brand that Paul learned to create striking images that appealed to an audience and while he doesn’t have a particular style or specific medium he focuses on, Paul does say that he’s spending time honing in on painting.
“I like to just find the medium that’s appropriate to the context of the subject matter. So yeah, sometimes it might make sense as a sculpture or a painting or a mural or installation.”
When Paul’s exhibition comes to the Dust Temple this Friday it will have a little bit of everything: installations, sculptures, paintings, as well as the infamous new Save Our Spit logo, based on the significant image of a man standing in front of tanks during protests in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989.
Paul produced the logo for the community group Save Our Spit and it has had a mixed response (Councillor Lex Bell spectacurarly missed the point when he said it reminded him of efforts to control beach erosion.)
Paul said his exhibition will attract people who wouldn’t normally go into a gallery.
“My art is very rich in dialogue,” he said. “My father was a scientist who thought art was bullshit and my mum was an artist who thought it was everything. So I grew up with these two themes in my life, and I always wanted to create art but I also wanted to put meaning in it,” he told Blank GC.
“My dad still thinks my stuff is crazy – but they are the x and y axis I grew up with,” he said.
There’s no question that a mix of science and art is prevalent in Paul’s work. His design work with Unit was very anti machine and he still likes to look at how society works and the reality we’re immersed in.
“It’s insane,” he said. “The way that power structures work and the way we live – it’s just insanity. It’s awesome if you’re an artist and living in an insane asylum – I love that the world isn’t perfect.”
Then he goes on to talk about the idea of death, birth, quantum physics. He mentions the work of some of science’s top brass around the fractal universe, binary systems, living in a probability field, a digital Eden. That kind of stuff he says opens his mind to art.
Paul has produced four or five million tshirts in the past ten years on the Gold Coast and he still has a tribe of helpers skilled in that process.
“Making tshirts? It’s one thing I can do well,” he laughed, when we spoke about his new fashion brand, also launching this Friday at Dust Temple.
“A lot of it is limited edition. It’s much more up market, basically bringing contemporary art onto tshirts. It’s not a lot of logo, it’s design design design. I’m essentially taking what I’ve done in the gallery and putting it on tshirts,” he said.
As well as being an artist, Paul is a family man. He and his wife have three kids – aged five, four and one. He speaks very fondly of his family and his wife who’s a journalist by trade.
“I think with what’s happened recently, it’s brought us closer together,” he said. “The kids side of things is brilliant – every day I go home and think ‘can it get any better than this?’ They just give you so much strength and drive.”
“I’ve learned the lesson that a big business isn’t a good business. If I can figure out a way to make art every day and still have somewhere to live and feed my kids, I’ll be very happy.”
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Paul’s exhibition launches this Friday 12 December at the Dust Temple, Currumbin Creek Road and runs through to the middle of January.