Kia ora Whakaawa, nō hea koe? Please share a little bit more about yourself, your upbringing and any defining moments that lead you to where you are today.
Ko Whakaawa Te Kani tōku ingoa, he uri ahau nō Tauranga Moana. Born and raised in Tauranga, my family spent a number of my early years travelling abroad to over 20 countries before returning to continue my schooling in Tauranga. My passion for the arts and design led me initially to fashion retail, where I had early insight into the design process, textiles through to distribution and management.
More years pursuing performing arts internationally brought me back alongside my husband Josh. Our parents were old best friends from a lifetime ago, so our marriage saw the strengthening and growth of lifelong relationships with the birth of our two sons, Taiki and Frankie.
We pursued every chance to chase each other's individual goals and dreamt a few together, one of them being to start our own blanket company and here we are.
Firstly, congratulations on Noa Blanket Co! The luxurious blankets are inspired by different Māori creative practices and stories, what do you hope this business brings to those who purchase from you?
The inspiration for Noa Blanket Co was born from our own desire to know more about ourselves and our identity, a journey we set upon following the birth of our boys. Realising the immense value it continued to bring into our lives and the great need for the next generation to be grounded in themselves - to know their stories of identity, providing stability in times of trial and a platform to launch towards their aspirations - we were motivated to create Noa.
What seemed to be a lost tāonga of yesteryear, the woollen blanket, an icon in New Zealand history, would provide a new space to tell our stories of identity in our own unique way - the renaissance of our shared heritage, re-inspired with Māori design in a textile intrinsically woven into our identity as a nation, wool.
Our hope is that our blankets share our collective stories with the world, sharing in turn the values and unique perspectives that underpin each narrative. Giving breadth to our vision and depth in our understanding of ourselves, each other and the world around us.
You have a natural eye for textiles and design, while Josh has a passion for traditional Māori knowledge and history. How does this play out in your day to day roles within the business?
Josh is a natural communicator, he’s a story teller, a skill apparent in his whakapapa. His passion for Mātauranga Māori and history provides a unique way of telling our stories in design, giving insight to our collective values that underpin them, life principles that are still well entrenched within Te Ao Māori. He has spent years in communications and strategic Māori engagement. Much like this space, sharing our unique perspectives and shared values is integral in creating and sustaining our relationships with people and place.
My eye for detail, design and colour gives us design direction and allows us to stay up to date with current trends, setting our design aspirations and approach. My management background allows us to plan and strategise ensuring we stay the course, even when its hard.
We’re both really social people, which helps with our relationships and networking.
In the beginning we did everything, from design, to production management, marketing, website design, distribution to social media, all from our small home.
We’re grateful to have our family and friends in some key roles now to support our growth.
"Much like this space [Marle Women], sharing our unique perspectives and shared values is integral in creating and sustaining our relationships with people and place.
The blankets are intended to become keepsakes, an art form reflecting unique stories and the first three collections have sold out within minutes, something Whakaawa says has been "so overwhelming."
What do you hope people see, feel and think when they receive their Noa blanket?
We hope people see a high quality product, grown, designed and produced here in Aotearoa. We hope they feel a sense of connection, a warm embrace of support, to feel enveloped in our stories creating a sense of belonging.
We hope to celebrate the ceremony of gift giving, instilling a sense of pride in giving to others and gratitude in our receiving of tāonga.
At Marle, we start our design process with the natural fibres and from there, we form our design brief then draw what the garment might end up like. Talk us through your process.
We’re proud to weave NZ wool and be produced entirely here in Aotearoa. We always start with the story, firstly the overarching kaupapa/theme for the collection, to identify some initial design principles and provide a brief for each design. Early concept sketches on paper progress to refine and give early indication of colour and form.
We then spend some time in R&D, alongside our expert technicians, to determine how we can best reflect this design in our weave. We research possible colours, yarn size, weave structures, detail and finishes. Final design development then allows us to run simulations and trials, sample blankets give us our first feel and an opportunity to review and make any changes before weaving and detailing.
Sourcing 100% New Zealand wool, milling and then weaving supports the concept of slow and conscious living, a value we hold dearly at Marle. How do you invite consciousness into your everyday?
Te Ao Māori is founded upon the idea that we are all connected, in relation to the people and natural world around us, those gone before and those to come. This understanding gives us an awareness of our part to play in sustaining and enhancing our relationships with people and places to ensure our succession.
Our cultural rites, customs, protocols and traditions are all based on the practice of developing critical consciousness, to know our place as a part of the community and the environment, not at the centre of it. Exercising values like selflessness, inclusivity, integrity, humility and compassion are central to our way of being.
We have aspired to create a critically conscious product, to source materials locally supporting our collective economic growth, conscious practices in our production processes to sustain our environment, and an inclusive approach to telling our stories, to draw upon indigenous knowledge in our design, utilising our own unique culture to reflect and acknowledge our shared values.
How would you describe your personal style and how has this evolved over the years?
I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to so many beautiful designers in their beginning stages where I grew an appreciation for beautifully cut garments and luxurious fabrics. My style has refined over the years and I find simple is best and quality, essential. I can't go past a tailored suit at the office, but I'm most comfortable in jeans and a crisp white shirt.
Marle is designed to add effortless ease to a woman’s wardrobe, how does Marle support you through your days? How does wearing Marle make you feel?
Marle continues to provide high quality garments with beautiful silhouettes and clean lines, making it easy to piece together an entire outfit. I feel the same sense of pride to support another locally produced designed NZ brand.
What is your most treasured object and why?
Would have to be my Greenstone Hei Tiki that Josh gave me for our 15 year wedding anniversary. I wear it all the time and for me it represents the most amazing thing we have ever created together and that is our boys.
Favourite home cooked meal?
Anything roasted and beautiful salads, best made together with my family.
At the moment it would have to be my Demi Top! Linen is one of my favourite natural materials.
Your non-negotiable daily rituals?
Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter?
Photographed by Claire Mossong