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Hong Kong Willie USF INTERVIEW
Recycling as a Lifestyle and a Business
Chris Futrell, Florida Focus
TAMPA, Fla. – Have you ever seen the building on the corner of Fletcher and I-75 with a bunch of buoys strung everywhere? This small business that many think is an old bait n’ tackle shop is actually Hong Kong Willie.
Derek Brown, 26, and his family own and operate Hong Kong Willie. The little shop specializes in preservation art. The artists don’t take preservation too lightly either.
“99 percent of everything that has gone into a piece of art has been recycled and reused,” Brown said.
Just as unique as the art is, so is the company’s name. Brown says the name was created by his father, Joe Brown, in the 1950s.
“My father being in an art class, being affected by a teacher, they were melting Gerber baby food bottles," Brown said. "The teacher interjected that Hong Kong had a great reuse and recycling program even then.”
Brown's father then took that concept and later added the Americanized name Willie to the end. And that's how Hong Kong Willie was born as a location that offers recycling in a different and creative way.
Hong Kong Willie artists are what are known as freegans. Freegans are less concerned with materialistic things and more concerned about reducing consumption to lessen the footprint humans leave on this planet.
“I’m sure everyone has their own perception of a freegan, possibly jumping into a dumpster or picking up something on the side of the road,” Brown said. “There [are] people who will have excess. There [are] also things that can be trash to one man, but art or a prize to another man.”
Brown and his family carry this practice through to their art. It’s his family’s way of life, turning trash, which would otherwise fill up landfills, into an art form.
The Brown family gets a lot of their inspiration for their art from the Florida Keys. In fact, this is where the deluge of buoys wrapping around the ‘Buoys Tree’ came from, the fishermen of Key West.
“It is Styrofoam, we understand that it does not degrade, but to blame the fishermen for their livelihood wouldn’t be correct, instead we find a usage for those,” Brown said.
Brown said there’s a usage for everything, even the hooks to hold the painted driftwood, which are also salvaged, to the wall are old bent forks. Everything’s reused here. Purses made out of old coffee bean sacks to “kitschy,” as Brown described it, jewelry made from old baseballs.
“Hong Kong Willie truly believes that a piece, whether it’s a bag or a painted artwork, it’s meant for one person.”