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Cookie Cutters wins sweet Best Awards

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A collaboration between a design team and a Kaumātua organisation has taken home gold and silver awards at the Best Design Awards 2021.

MWDesign and Rauawaawa Kaumātua Charitable Trust joined forces to create the Kuki Reka Kani cookie cutters, which won gold in the Toitanga category and silver for Public Good.

Not only are the cookie cutters winning awards, but they are also providing lucrative fundraising for the non-profit charity, that provides a range of health, social and community-based activities and services for kaumātua in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton). 

Two of the designers on the MWDesign team, Georgia Fulton and Mike Williams, say it was a dream to work with the trust and they formed a great working relationship.

“Initially, they came to us with an idea to create Māori designed cookie cutters, because they were
needing to raise some money to upgrade the facilities for their kaumātua. One of their buildings is badly damaged and needs a major upgrade.,” Georgia says.

That process involved lots of cups of tea, biscuits and going back to the drawing board when the ideas didn’t quite gel.

An attempt to reinterpret the traditional gingerbread man and house didn’t quite make the cut. 

“We thought we could do a tiki and a whare. But of course, the moment we mentioned that, they were like – no, no, no, no, you’re not going to eat your ancestors, you’re not going to eat your ancestors’ house,” Mike laughs.

The idea for the cutters was inspired by the trust’s use of cooking therapy for kaumātua with dementia. Stimulating smell, taste and touch senses in dementia patients, the trust use cooking therapy to help bring back memories from decades ago. 

Successful in a Whānau Ora Commissioning funding application, the trust used the money to get the project moving.

Rauawaawa Kaumātua Charitable Trust CEO, Rangimahora Reddy, is big on establishing relationships in the community and a conversation with Gallagher Groups’ Keith Gallagher, put her in touch with MWDesign.

“I approached Keith and I just ran a few things past him, not necessarily the cookie cutter idea, but just said we’re looking at designing some things. Keith put us in contact with his research and
development manager, Rob Heebink. We spoke to Rob for about 10 minutes, and he just said Mike Williams is your man. So, good relationships are really important to shortcutting learning pains,” she laughs.

With the kaumātua at the heart of what the trust does, Rangimahora says it was really important that they were involved every step of the way.

“They were the ones who identified the different types of designs that might work. There were a lot of conversations in this process and like all good things nothing happens overnight without a lot of support.”

As well as looking great, the design team were given the brief to create cutters that were user-friendly. The trust wanted the cutters to be gentle on elderly hands as well as providing a large grip for children to hold. 

They may seem like humble cookie cutters but there were technical issues to solve, including creating a weighted grip for hands not as strong as they once were and how to ensure the dough didn’t stick to the cutter.

A weighted aluminium dowel was added to the grip and the patterns reflect the look of a chiselled whakairo rākau (wood carving) which, as well as being beautiful, aided in the cookie cutters’ functionality.

“It’s (the design process) not just about the design, it was also about the form of the cutters. Making sure they worked the first time and every time. When we were trying to figure out why these things weren’t working, we looked at some of the Māori carvings in the reference book we had. We realised there were the beautiful chisel marks and how the carvings had this beautiful relief work, and incorporating that worked perfectly for releasing the dough. That was that was a real ‘aha’ moment,” Mike says.

Georgia says the shapes of the cutters reflect traditional food icons, such as the pikopiko – the tender young fern shoots, kaimoana is represented by the pāua cutter and the kete (basket) used in food gathering. 

She also did a lot of work identifying the colours from sacred Māori places around New Zealand to use for the cutters.

“The colour of the kete reflects the tussock grasses in the Tongariro area, the pāua colour comes from Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the Wellington Harbour, and the koru is the colours of the pikopiko which were traditionally eaten.”

Nearly every project MWDesign takes on provides learnings for the design team.  Collaborating with the trust, including having the Rauawaawa kitchen and chefs available for testing helped immensely in the design and testing phase, Mike says.

“As a consultancy, there are always lots of things that we haven’t done before. In fact, almost every project is brand new. We just work through the design process, and you find somebody who’s an expert. Thankfully, the trust had some chefs who were a great help
to us.”  

All of the components of the cutters are made in Hamilton; the aluminium dowel used to weight the hand grip is made by Gloster Engineering and the cutters themselves are made by Active Plastics.

An assembly line takes place at Rauawaawa Kaumātua Charitable Trust with some of the younger whānau lending a hand to get the cutters ready to be sold through their online store.

Specialising in product design, research & development, making stuff for people to use, MWDesign have a process that includes creativity, design, engineering, prototyping, user research, ergonomics and more.

“Our extensive tool kit allows us to develop beautiful things that people love to use,” Mike says.

“Throughout all of our design methods, collaboration reigns supreme, often blurring the lines between user, designer and client. It’s our secret sauce for awesomeness!”

The cookie cutters were launched in November 2020 and since then the trust has raised close to $90,000.

Rangimahora says the building upgrade is in its second stage and the trust hopes it will be up and running by January 2023.

“Our cookie cutter money has primarily gone towards the build, and it’s a $2.4 million build. That’s what they’re (the cookie cutters) doing, they’re helping raise this building.”

To get your hands on some Kuki Reka Kani visit buyreka.com/collections/kuki-reka-kani.

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