– Words: Ryan Lewis. Photos: MJ Digital.
“That’s a tough one,” is the first thing Justin says in answer to my question. Justin Fox is part owner of Zen Garage, the newest Sydney haunt for a whole range of sub-cultures. “Since opening last December, there has been a lot of feedback about our function and purpose. Some have seen pictures and said that it just looks like a t-shirt shop, others have tried to figure out if it’s an actual garage; but really it’s our home.”
The Zen Garage team have spent a long time deliberating over the words on their websites ‘About’ page; “I suppose we’ve tried to nail down what the concept is exactly, but every time we try we’re closing our mind to what it could become.”
“Right now we’re an automotive lifestyle shop, and a community event space that the blurs the line between online and offline. We’re trying to stay open minded about ways we can continue to grow. It’s a really flexible concept, but at the same time if you don’t get it, that’s cool too.”
Tucked away in the back of a small industrial estate in Sydney’s inner-west, Zen Garage is not the kind of place you just stumble across. You have to know it’s there. The team working behind the scenes are as diverse as Zen Garage itself, and everything in the building reflects that.
One project that the team are collaborating on is this FD RX-7. The ultimate goal for it is Targa Tasmania, but no doubt it will show its face at all sorts of track days.
The process of stripping it down and building it back up to a competitive state has already started, and the finished product will be purpose built for racing.
Upgrades so far include Pedders coilovers, DBA brakes, K&N intake, and a Momo race seat. “We would love to add a proper workshop to the space this year with a hoist and more tools”, says Justin.
The road to having it all finished is a long one, but the FD’s timeless shape does nicely as an ornament in Zen Garage for the time being.
Off to one side of Zen Garage is where the magic happens. “Our office space is the incubator for a digital ad agency called Matespace. We work with forums and websites across various networks for gaming, cars and all blokes stuff.”
“We have so much access as an agency to very specific online communities, and we want Zen Garage to become a hub; a place for us to invite them offline.”
The retail portion of Zen Garage has been the most significant way for people to feel welcome to drop by. If you’ve already visited you will know all about it.
“Currently we’re stocking Illest, PlusSixOne, Thieves & Honour and 3 Fingers Neat apparel and accessories; plus ANJA Sunglasses, Petrol Eyewear, THRILLS bicycles and select automotive parts. We’re always keen to pickup more local labels.”
“We’re the first people to stock Illest in Australia, working directly with them. With growth comes our own branded stuff as well which we’re looking towards.”
Most people will already know the Illest brand as its name has become synonymous with USDM car culture.
New seasons of Illest merchandise never last long thanks to big demand from Zen Garage customers.
Some bits and pieces of Zen Garage merchandise have already found their way on to the shop floor including lanyards and t-shirts.
“I think generally speaking over the years I have developed a certain confidence with my aesthetic for the cultures of bikes, cars, skateboarding, motorcycles and things like that. Zen Garage in many ways is an extension of that aesthetic.”
“Zen Garage keeps everything under one roof.”
“Often I get a bit OCD about something and start off a new project, but when the passion drops off that project fades away. This way people can jump in from one to the other and it all sustains itself somehow.”
“Our gallery space is interesting. It was a small leftover room in the building, and we didn’t know what to do with it. I always wanted to be a curator of an art gallery, so we started our own with the idea of future art shows.”
“To start we tied it in with automotive photography. For most automotive photographers getting photos in a magazine is the pinnacle, but our gallery has given some amazing artists the chance to elevate and have their work on walls. ”
In the main area of Zen is a lounge area and a growing library. “The concept of our library is simple. We invite the communities involved with Zen Garage to feel free to come in and check it out. Magazines and graphic novels have been donated by various people.”
For those into Japanese cars, these DVDs will forever be sought after.
Motorcycle culture is close to the heart of Zen Garage, and the helmets stacked up aren’t the only sign of that.
Models and toys are littered all over the space. It’s like a grown up version of the dream bedroom we had as kids.
You’ll also find unused parts waiting for the right project.
HyperRev magazines are an invaluable resource for Japanese car modifiers, so if you can’t find the right one for your car maybe check the shelves at Zen.
The coffee table is just as well stocked as your local newsagent.
“We launched a Zen Garage tumblr account just after the website. With most businesses you would be concerned with how much taboo stuff you’re able to post, but our tumblr gives us the freedom to post up whatever.”
“It’s a window to the soul of Zen. You’ll see the dark humour and slapstick stuff that we definitely like, plus all the over stuff that we are happy to use to represent what we’re all about.”
Zen Garage’s ‘Project Deathtrap 2.0’ is proudly displayed on a stand in the space.
It runs a single cylinder, air-cooled, 50cc two-stroke engine.
Some issues fitting it all together made things difficult, but “with beers, sweat, swearing and some Dremel action it looks to be sorted.”
Important to Zen’s function as a community space is the games area featuring a ping pong table and Forza on the Xbox with Xtreme Gear race seats. Microsoft actually chose Zen for the Forza 4 launch party.
“The space has been used to host BBQs, music video shoots, car polishing days, a video game launch, the Advan awards night and even bikini shoots.”
“Every time we host an event we pick up another sub-culture. Zen manages to fit in quite well with all of them.”
“We will probably still get asked the same questions about Zen Garage, but we’re discovering who we are, so that’s okay. It’s really bizarre how our warehouse space and brand can support the existence of other communities. We now finally have that physical space where we can make the most of our network.”
As Zen Garage grows and comes of age we’re bound to see more unique ideas taking form inside and outside their building.
If you haven’t been there for a look with your own eyes, we highly recommend it. Head to 7/99 Moore St, Leichhardt.