The hugely popular InnoNative market day, which sells 100% handmade and traditional Māori products, now has a more permanent home in Whangārei.
Tucked among the industrial workshops near Whangārei’s Town Basin is a whānau-driven shop making a name for its authentic indigenous products.
The InnoNative Market pop-up store occupies one corner of the larger business hub building which shares its name. Run by He Puna Marama trust, the hub facilitates a range of education and business programmes and services for Māori.
Last month, it had a swathe of new visitors as government ministers Shane Jones and Willie Jackson announced new funding for three Northland Māori development initiatives. Among those was He Puna Marama trust’s digital technology programme for rangatahi.
As officials and politicians filled up the building and tested some of the pop-up store’s home-grown products, two of its suppliers and supporters sat down with The Spinoff for a chat.
Rose Tipene, who oversees the trust’s finances and accounts, laughs as she explains the shop’s origins.
It came after two “very popular, very successful” annual market days in 2017 and 2018. She credits trust chief executive Raewyn Tipene for the idea. The focus is on authenticity, with a wide range of products including rongoā, soy candles, tī rakau sticks and kete, she says.
“Raewyn’s the visionary and she saw it as part of the ‘innovative economy’. We just get in behind and make it happen. We all had to make products. She [Raewyn] insisted that we come up with everything,” Tipene says.
“We formed a collective where our whānau all make different things, and we also brought in a lot of local artists and weavers – a whole range of crafts.”
Kaylem Harris, who works at the kura linked to He Puna Marama trust, says the first market day was an interesting endeavour. At the time, her daughter Maia was making rongoā for a kura project. The pair decided to keep going after Maia’s stall at the 2017 market proved a hit.
“I used to make rongoā,” Harris says. “My grandad made rongoā and his father made rongoā. Initially, I made rongoā for my children because I hated using the barrier creams and all those sorts of chemicals. I made it for my son, the very first batch. He’s 15 now.
“What reinvigorated that was my daughter had a kaupapa at school. They made rongoā and she really enjoyed it. She was the one who came up with the idea that we continue making it because it was relatively popular and she would donate a portion of the profit we made from that back to rawakore, not just homeless, anyone in need. So, we started doing that.”
Harris and Maia, who is now eight, sell rongoā under their Āio brand. It’s one of the store’s best-sellers.
Tipene says after the 2018 market day, there were requests to do a monthly market. With a collection of over 70 suppliers, many of whom are whānau and all of whom are from Whangārei and Northland, a pop-up store at the hub was presented as the best way forward.
“We want to keep it [the market] as an annual event because there’s so much involved. But it’s been so cool for our whānau. Because Raewyn said everyone had to get involved, it’s all brought us together.
“It’s bringing our people back to our old traditional knowledge and way of doing things. We’re learning at the same time.”
Harris adds the store’s eco-friendly approach is part of the wider kaupapa behind InnoNative. That kaupapa was important when she and Maia picked Āio as their brand name.
“Āio means paying homage,” she says. “And that was really around the teachings of our tīpuna, as well as acknowledging Papatūānuku because that’s where we get all our rongoā from. It is about ensuring that we continue all those practises so they’re not lost.”
And while the shop’s polished set up would rival any for-profit store, both women giggle as they recount the numerous “experiments” involved in formulating products.
“It’s about collaboration,” Tipene says. “We sit down and make our products and we have laughs and failures.
“I’ve got five daugthers. One got into soap making and I got into perfume making. And another got into tī rakau and mau rakau. It was a family thing for us. We loved it and still do. We’re still experimenting.”
Harris says looking back on old photos can be particularly entertaining.
“I mean, there were so many failures. Sometimes when I look back, I just think ‘Wow, look at that packaging. What was I thinking?’
“And remember those bath salts that we made once and they sort of blew up.”
Harris and Tipene says watching younger whānau members take to the products has been particularly rewarding.
The tī rakau ‘E Pāpā’ stick game is being played at the kura, which was popular when Tipene was young, she says.
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Harris also jokes that she’s become a “slave to the bossy eight-year-old in the shed” as she makes rongoā.
News the trust may be looking to expand its InnoNative economy and sell products in Paihia, Tutukaka and even Wellington Airport will likely add to the shop’s popularity, the pair say.
“It’s been really cool,” Harris says. “It’s all about uplifting and supporting whānau and engaging with them. It’s like our little umbrella that we all huddle under.”
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