Eight years after she started selling jewellery, Hamilton woman Nichola Te Kiri is eyeing the overseas market for her clothing and jewellery lines.
She has four employees, including herself, and four contractors for the business she runs out of a home studio, and is set to open a pop-up store in central Hamilton.
Te Kiri had to press pause during the Covid-19 lockdown, and some aspects of the business have changed since, but demand shows no signs of diminishing.
“I want to go international and I’m definitely in a growth phase.”
She is part of the Kāhui collective, who are working on expanding their brands overseas, focusing on Asia. They are talking to NZTE and MFAT, and last year Te Kiri was part of a group that visited major centres in China and met with manufacturers and others including retail giants Lane Crawford.
Covid-19 currently means almost 90 percent of her sales are online, some overseas. Previously, 60 percent of sales were at events and in her Casabella Lane retail store.
She has not renewed the Casabella Lane lease, but she continues to use pop-ups, including in Wellington, and is set to open one in Hamilton’s Ward Street in the leadup to Christmas.
Te Kiri is part of a Māori economy thought to have an asset base of about $50 billion nationally and contributing $12 billion to national GDP.
In the Waikato region, Māori-owned assets were worth approximately $6.2 billion in 2012. Almost half were collectively owned, while 54 percent were owned by Māori entrepreneurs and employers.
In GDP terms, Māori contribute $1.82 billion out of a total $22.8 billion in the Waikato region – about
The variety of the Māori economy is on display through the hugely successful Buy Māori Made platform founded by Michelle Paki during Covid-19 lockdown.
Craig Barrett, board member of regional development agency Te Waka, says it is exciting to see the range. “It’s been really exciting to see how many products and services that we are involved in,” he says, citing professional and IT services as well as trade – along with the typical primary produce base.
Waikato region Māori are asset rich in agriculture, forestry and fishing, property and business services, and manufacturing, according to a 2019 report.
Taking the plunge
Nichola Te Kiri has always been creative, and it was a friend’s prompting in 2012 that encouraged her to start selling what she was making. The friend, Tracey Whitiora, started a Facebook page for her. Te Kiri provided the product, Whitiora photographed, uploaded and promoted.
Things evolved and in 2016 Te Kiri took the plunge and went full time on the business, now called NTK Made Ltd. Family played a big role, with her mother doing the books and sisters helping make jewellery. Te Kiri also soaked up all the learning she could, attending courses and making a decision to be GST registered. “I wanted to get into those good habits.”
From the start, she had a strong understanding of who her customer was – Māori wahine aged 25-45 – and she went to conferences and markets, from Wellington to Whangarei, where she knew her customer would be.
Ever the goal setter, in 2016 Te Kiri challenged herself that the following year she would enter a competition for Māori designers that would potentially open the door to NZ Fashion Week. She finished second in the emerging category first time round, first in avant garde the next year, and second last year.
That has seen her present at Fashion Week. “I was a bit starstruck the first time because there’s so many celebrities there. I was like, wow, this is what fashion is like – and it was the first time I’d ever done a collection. It was pretty awesome.”
But there was also business to be done. Her mentor Kim Hill had told her beforehand she needed to leverage off the experience.
“Normally you’d go to a fashion show to pick up buyers of your garments. I went there to network. I went there to get my name out. I went there to learn.”
She also got onto the Fashion Week database, and invitations followed for her to attend shows around the world, which has seen her travel to Hong Kong.
To come up with her designs, Te Kiri says she draws on her heritage, culture and environment.
This year, coming out of lockdown around the time of Matariki, she created a design focused on a star, Hiwa-i-te-rangi. “She’s like the one that you wish upon your hopes and dreams for the new year. And I felt that really pivotal at that time.”
She has also done more designs based on the stars, including the male star Tupuārangi, which relates to food gathered from the trees. For summer, she is doing one based on the summer maiden, Hineraumati.
“So I use a lot of my culture and the stories that we tell. I use those traditional passed-down narratives, but I interpret them into my own korero, I suppose.”
Te Waka is seeing the huge variety of local Māori businesses not only through platforms like Buy Māori Made but also through a database it is building of Māori businesses. Craig Barrett gives the example of Māori farriers shoeing horses. “We’re actually involved in a whole range of different things, we’re not just working on the farm, we’re actually providing a lot of services and products to the farmer as well – we just didn’t know.”
Barrett acknowledges that downturns like that caused by Covid-19 disproportionately affect Māori.
“But we are resilient. And we have the concept of mana motuhake and rangatiratanga – that we will determine our own future,” he says.
At the Tainui Economic Business Summit, held in Hamilton at the start of October, economist Ganesh Nana said while New Zealand was blessed compared to other parts of the world in terms of the impact of Covid-19, the outlook was gloomy.
He told those at the summit, hosted by Te Kōhao Health, the Whānau Ora collective and Tainui Raupatu Lands Trust, that Treasury had forecast a further 70,000 would become jobless. Nana predicted the recovery would take longer than the Treasury forecast.
“We have to look at who’s the most vulnerable, who are the least resilient, and make sure that we are putting the supports around them.”
Nana said it was a sense of community that had got the country through the past few months, and that sense of connection would remain important into the future.
“Because make no mistake, this is going to be a marathon effort.”
The power of procurement
One area where the Government can play an important part is in its procurement practices – and in the tech sector the impact could be immense.
Mike Jenkins, chief executive of Waikato-headquartered tech firm The Instillery, sees current practice as a major barrier to new companies such as his, and one which is changing only slowly.
With procurement panels created before firms such as The Instillery existed, startups including Māori businesses find it hard to compete for government agency ICT contracts.
“If the government truly is motivated to support not just the Kiwi economy but Kiwi community and family, our big challenge to them is that they’ve got to embrace social procurement,” Jenkins says.
“Social procurement is a lever that they can pull – and it’s in a Cabinet paper that’s already in front of them. And even if they said they would do 2 percent of government ICT procurement to New Zealand Māori-registered businesses, that’s 2 percent of $1.8 billion. That is a huge injection to those communities.”
Despite the barriers, The Instillery has continued its meteoric rise as the fastest growing Māori ICT company in the country.
It has cracked this year’s TIN100, making it one of the country’s 100 largest tech exporting firms. The Instillery has come in at number 68, and has been identified by the industry-leading report as one of 10 to watch in 2021.
In a year of notable achievements, The Instillery also won Microsoft Cloud Partner of the Year and the ARN reseller Innovation Awards Cloud Partner of the Year for 2020.
But the seven-year-old firm also faced challenges, including bringing together two companies after its acquisition of Origin last year, which added cyber-security capability to its existing cloud-based offering.
“This year hasn’t been without its challenges,” Jenkins says. “Probably professionally, I’d say for us as a leadership team, it’s been our most challenging, with Covid and really refocusing on our people, what we stand for, and who we are.
“I think, culturally, it was a really testing time. That’s something I’m really proud of – that we’ve come out the other side where we are.”
The Instillery has more than 180 staff in offices around New Zealand and 200-plus clients, including some offshore.
As with social procurement, Jenkins is frustrated by inaction over access to digital opportunities for Maori and Pasifika people, despite endless well-meaning talk about the digital divide.
That has seen Jenkins and product and marketing manager Ryan Joe involved in the creation of the Elevation Aotearoa’s Future (EAF.Kiwi) initiative.
“The reality is, you’ve got to put indigenous and particularly Māori mentors up in lights,” Jenkins says.
“You need a platform to be able to put up people that look and sound and have the same background as you, and have the same challenges, and show them that it’s viable, it is possible – and it’s more than those two things, it’s exciting and it’s actually going to lead the Kiwi economy out of here [post-Covid].
“It’s not perfect but it’s a start and we’re seeing epic support from businesses across New Zealand.”
Te Waka’s Craig Barrett says social procurement is a key component of Te Waka’s Māori economic strategy.
He says for every social procurement dollar that’s invested, there’s a $7 return. “And so it’s actually a really powerful mechanism to use to help empower a local
Māori businesses are more likely to employ Māori, and access to contracts means the money will flow through to their people. If central and local government take the lead, the private sector is likely to follow. He says some PGF funding and national projects are starting to include social procurement targets that put the onus on the head contractor to source appropriate subcontractors, while Te Waka and other organisations like MBIE have a role in supporting businesses to get into a position to access contracts.
Another component in Te Waka’s Māori economic strategy is engagement with iwi and understanding how Te Waka can help connect them through its own relationships.
Barrett points to the influence of Tainui Group Holdings’ role in the Waikato economy in providing infrastructure for others in the Māori economy to build on.
Buy Māori Made founder and Hamilton-based MBIE principal regional advisor Michelle Paki is also providing infrastructure – in her case, digital.
“She saw a gap in the market where we had our people, and we had skills, expertise and access to resource, but we didn’t have access to market. If you look at iwi, that’s really where we’re starting to develop in our own economy – access to market.
“She’s made it essentially frictionless and seamless to go through that process. So she’s bringing the buyer and the seller together.”
Barrett says post-Treaty settlement investment in people is starting to bear fruit. “If we continue to invest in our people, that’s what will pull us through, and assets come from there. But it is a challenge because we started further back. So we really need to work and we continue to encounter challenges across all levels because of that marginalisation. But you know, our people are resilient as well.”
The bigger picture, despite the impact of Covid, is positive, according to Barrett.
“I think this is a really exciting time for the Māori economy. We’ve always had people, now we’ve got access to capital and access to assets, which is providing more access to influence.
“This is where the exciting opportunities are coming in. Because we need to take it from a generational approach – the decisions I make here are not just for me. And when Māoridom take that approach, which we do, we’re not looking to just do the next quickest deal to try and trade our way through, we’re looking to set things up for future generations.”
Nichola Te Kiri says she takes a collective approach to her business. On a recent trip to a Wellington popup, she invited two other Māori creative business owners along with her. She could have gone on her own because she’s done Wellington before, but offered to introduce them to others, help them build networks and get the connection to the people whose space she was using.
“I think we get better growth if we go together, we feed back, we debrief together. And I was brought up that way, you know, you travel as a group. I see them as friends, and there’s enough of the cake for all of us to eat.”
Boost for Māori artists
Māori artists have been given a boost with a new standalone shop in Hamilton.
Te Kōhao Health Whare Taonga, which has been part of Te Kōhao Health since 2009, was shifted into a bigger space at the end of September, boosting the amount of product on sale.
“The idea is to make it viable and sustainable,” says Lady Tureiti Moxon, managing director of Te Kōhao Health.
Moxon says the idea has always been to have a place for Māori-made items readily accessible to the public.
The whare taonga provides a space for artists, many of them local, to showcase their creations and the store’s offerings are also made available online.
Any profit goes back to the community, Moxon says. “It’s not us lining our pockets with it, it’s more around developing opportunities for our budding artists, as I see it, to have a place where they can sell their things and be valued.”
She says it is also about providing a place where the artist can have the story of their journey told. “And that’s what we want. We want those stories.”
She says Covid has prompted people to think differently about how they do things and how they reach people. “And I think that’s a good thing. That means we’ve had a lot of businesses, Māori businesses in particular, starting up here, there and everywhere. And I think it’s just wonderful.”
Govt funding helps fast-track Ruakura
Ruakura inland port is set to open by mid 2022 after a $40 million Government investment in shovel-ready projects to help fast-track development of the Ruakura Superhub, comprising the port and surrounding logistics and industrial precinct.
“With this funding confirmed we are now, jointly with HCC, moving ahead to finalise contracts and invite tenders from qualified contractors for construction work on these upcoming projects in the current earthworks season,” Tainui Group Holdings chief executive Chris Joblin says.
The port development joins others by TGH, the investment arm of Waikato-Tainui. Work has begun on the $50 million ACC build on the corner of Collingwood and Tristram Streets in the city centre, while TGH is also set to build on the corner of Victoria and Ward Streets. Earlier this year a 40 room extension of Tainui Novotel was also opened.
The October announcement of shovel-ready funding follows June’s PGF announcement of $16.8 million for the port development. Together, they unlock $151 million of development projects by TGH, its Ruakura development partners and Hamilton City Council.
Ruakura is one of New Zealand’s largest developments, spanning industrial, commercial, retail and residential development areas. It will be anchored by a 30-hectare inland port. The Government’s investment will partially fund the critical transportation, bulk infrastructure and environmental protection works such as the Mangaonua Watercourse and a 10-hectare wetland.
Parekawhia McLean, chair of Te Whakaakitenga o Waikato, the tribal governance entity for Waikato-Tainui, thanked the Government for its decision to invest in the shovel ready projects.
“This investment is a major statement of confidence. We thank the Government, as this confidence will rapidly flow through to our business community, wider community and our iwi. It also mirrors the significant investment from Waikato-Tainui in realising the vision for Ruakura.”