We laughed, we cried, we engaged in robust discussions and, eventually, our editorial team whittled down the huge list of amazing, inspiring humans and chose the following people as category winners of Idealog and Accenture's Most Creative People. Don't fret if you haven't taken out the top spot: The top three People's Choice winners, as voted by you, are also listed, and stories about these winners will be appearing on the site over the next month.
Most Creative in Food/Beverage: Garage Project
Whether it’s the experimental brews, the myriad recipes, the endless collaborations or the beautiful, bespoke illustrations for each variety they produce, or the character-filled brewery, Jos Ruffell (left), Peter Gillespie (right) and Ian Gillespie of Garage Project show that there’s still plenty of innovation to be found in the craft beer scene.
The Wellington-based craft beer brewery Garage Project has grown from its literal garage origins (and “glorified home brew kit”) to become one of the fastest-growing craft beer producers in the market: The company took the number one spot in the 2015 Deloitte Fast 50 with a spectacular growth rate of 664 percent growth over three years. So what’s the story behind one of New Zealand’s most relentlessly experimental, innovative brands?
“Brewing is one of the oldest professions in the world,” says co-founder Jos Ruffell. “But somewhere along the way we stopped innovating and pushing boundaries. All we have done is work to bring back some excitement and energy. Beer is the drink of the people, and the people want to try something new. The conventional definition of a beer drinker narrows the market right down, but if you remove that it opens things up to a much wider, more inclusive and exciting audience.”
Ruffell says that from the very beginning Garage Project decided to focus on trying as many new ideas as possible and actively working to brew – and market – in a way that goes against conventional industry and branding wisdom.
“That meant not starting with a core range, and also starting with a tiny brewery – one that made just 50 litres at a time! We used that to brew beers that would otherwise be risky if we were making thousands of litres at a time, and we could test lots of ideas very quickly.”
That they did, releasing over 30 new beers within the first year, a prolific rate they’ve carried on ever since.
“This year we are on track to have up to 65 new releases,” says Ruffell. “We started out experimental and that carries on to this day. Within that there were a lot of trials, and some errors, but we were moving swiftly enough to learn and move on each time.You only learn from doing, and many conventional breweries are not set up to try new ideas very often. As a result, they don't learn as often and as frequently as our team does.”
Whether it's launching a range of dog treats called Mashbone that use leftovers from the brewing process, or playing heavy metal to beer to see how it affects the taste and chemical composition, that mindset remains in place.
“It's never a straight line and you can never coast,” says Ruffell. “But you should do what truly excites you, even if it makes you a little nervous. Not everyone will love what you do, but that's okay.”
But most seem to. It's arguably the country's hippest beer brand and it recently took out the Champion New Zealand Brewery at the Brewers Guild Awards.
“We've had a number of unique milestones that have been proud moments, but any time someone tells us they didn't like beer until they tried something from Garage Project, it's hard not to relish that moment,” says Ruffell. “And it's incredibly rewarding seeing people join the team with no prior industry experience, and then see them develop new career paths around brewing and become passionate about beer.”
- Liz Urquhart
- Otis and Sarah Frizzell
- Nadia Lim
Most Creative in Film/TV: Bailey Mackey
TV producer Bailey Mackey is a good interview. When asked his biggest regret, “this article” is his reply.
It makes sense that the man behind The GC doesn't take himself too seriously. The wildly polarising show is just one of many productions Mackey has had a hand in. Others include Sidewalk Karaoke, Beneath the Māori Moon, The Game Chef, the semi-topical, fully satirical Brown Eye with Taika Waititi, Māori Television’s Anzac Day coverage and the Rise Up Telethon, and, most recently, the All Blacks documentary series for Amazon.
It’s the classic local-boy-makes-good-story. Mackey left school with no qualifications, but caught a break from Radio Ngati Porou in Ruatoria. “And it’s all been downhill from there,” he laughs.
Not really, of course, with jobs at Te Karere, 3News and a place in the writers’ room at Shortland Street following. He worked his way up to head of sport at Maori TV, became managing director of Black Inc, and ultimately, co-founder and CEO of successful production company Pango Productions Ltd and KAHA software, a cloud-based management tool for content producers.
“There’s quite a bit in between all those gigs,” he assures us. "Like being broke, getting the sack, opening a juice bar, closing a juice bar, multiple ‘no’s and years of constant failure.”
It’s a varied career, for sure, but when asked what sticks out, Mackey has trouble pinning down a highlight.
“I’m not sure I’ve had one yet,” he says, before reconsidering. “That’s not true. Mike Hosking calling The GC ‘the most vile piece of shit in New Zealand TV history’ was pretty up there. Such high praise from such a well rounded New Zealander only increased my stocks with all the peeps I hang out with. I’m a massive hit at the Tikitiki RSA and Kaiti Mall.”
One gets the feeling drawing the ire of Hosking doesn't bother Mackey much. After all, “we rip shit up”, is his modus operandi, and with Pango Productions starting to make serious waves stateside, that’s no exaggeration (Sidewalk Karaoke, which takes singing to the streets and was Māori Television’s number one show of 2016, is set to be rolled out in up to 30 different markets).
“It’s the golden age of content and there are just so many opportunities out there and there really are no borders. Right now, it’s just tough trying to fit everything in. I have deals in the States, Australia and New Zealand, so juggling all those opportunities is increasingly hard. Would love another me, that be real cool. Not sure anyone else would think so though.”
He sounds awfully busy for a guy who has threatened to retire at age 45.
“Man, I hanker to do nothing. Seriously, would love to just kick back down home on the East Coast in Ngati Porou country with no phone, no internet. Kick back and go fishing, diving and just help with more socially conscious projects. Plus, I don’t want to be the old dude whose ideas are shit and no longer relevant – that would suck. Or be the guy who no longer gets outs of bed and no longer gives a shit about what I’m doing.”
The chances of that seem awfully slim.
- Taika Waititi
- Aliesha Staples
- Michelle Walshe & Leon Kirkbeck
Most Creative in Hospitality: Mimi Gilmour
Restaurateur and entrepreneur Mimi Gilmour was born into the hospitality industry. But she's stamping her own mark on it, whether through the clever use of technology, new restaurant concepts, creative crowd-sourcing, or top-notch social media marketing.
Gilmour caught the hospitality bug from her mother, Emerald Gilmour, who ran Auckland's upmarket Club Mirage in the 1980s. By 16, she'd created her first hospitality business, styling, staffing and cooking for private dinner parties. After working the floor at some of Sydney's most prestigious restaurants, opening restaurants in Australia and Auckland, and co-founding Mexico, Gilmour felt ready for a new challenge. Six weeks later Burger Burger opened its doors.
That restaurant served 160,000 customers in its first year before expanding to a second location in Newmarket where it served a further 200,000 customers in its first year. In 2016, she opened another restaurant called Fish Fish in Ponsonby Central and Takapuna, alongside a third Burger Burger.
All her restaurant concepts aim to provide simple, honest, unpretentious and sustainably sourced, seasonal food (as it says on the website: “We truly believe food that is local and seasonal tastes better, and will always strive to support ethical, organic farming practices that protect this land, Aotearoa, we call home and the animals in it"). And they have also adopted the “no reservation” policy, which is much in vogue around the world these days. In all major cities you’ll find increasing numbers of restaurants embracing the power of the queue, with punters seemingly happy to wait up to two hours for a table – and still come back next time.
She champions creative energy within her teams, and Burger Burger also asks fans to share theirs, regularly running clever social media campaigns such as the recent uniform design competition or requesting burger ideas that are made into specials.
Gilmour says are plenty of areas where tech can produce efficiencies in hospitality, whether through customer interactions or with staff. Even so, there won't be too many robots in her restaurants.
“I just love hospitality for the fact that it is a face-to-face interaction between people.”
Her goals are for Burger Burger to be the most extraordinary place to work for under 25s in New Zealand, open a heap more restaurants and serve the equivalent of the population of New Zealand in one year. And, given her success so far, you wouldn't bet against her achieving them.
- Giapo Grazioli
- Al Brown
- Mimi Gilmour
Most Creative in Art/Photography: Toby Morris
Auckland based illustrator, comic creator and all around renaissance man Toby Morris never really had a plan.
“In a broad sense the only path I’ve really taken has been the path of trial and error,” he says. “I guess I've just been feeling it out as I go, figuring out what suits and what makes sense. I suppose that's probably what happens to a lot of creative people.”
Morris is certainly one of those.
Artist, writer, editor, publisher and the brain behind comic sensation The Pencilsword, which has until recently been published on thewireless.co.nz – not to mention current father of two – he’s spread his focus wide and has an output many inspiration-bereft creators would envy.
He published his first comic at age 13 and since then has drawn two books, produced over 20 comics and worked extensively within the New Zealand music industry, creating artwork for The Phoenix Foundation, Liam Finn, Beastwars, and A Low Hum.
“Yeah, it’s quite varied what I do,” he admits. “I do lots of commercial illustration work [including plenty for Allbirds] and I do the comics that are more personal and I've been doing kids books the last couple of years. I've professionally worked as a graphic designer and an art director too, so yeah, there’s a lot going on.”
While he has no trouble getting his work in front of people, he’s perhaps best known for his ‘On a Plate’ comic, a biting social critique about inequality that went viral and was read by millions, with multiple bootleg translations popping up all over the world.
“That's been a crazy experience for me and was probably the big turning point that gave me the confidence to quit my job and actually try to turn this into a career,” Morris says.
Comics with a conscience, says Morris, feel like home.
“I got really inspired by comic journalists, people like Joe Sacco,” he says. “A lot of what I write about is political or social issues these days and it's really just things that are on my mind or things that I spend a lot of time thinking about. I guess I've found a way in comics to try and make sense of complicated things or at least a way to try and explain things that might otherwise be really daunting topics. Comics can be a really effective way of talking about those types of things.”
Cut n draw- haircut and a portrait at Boss Barbers, New Lynn till 4 pic.twitter.com/yyA9djVAg0— Toby Morris (@XTOTL) October 6, 2017
Geography plays a part in his approach, he says, with the isolation afforded by the country offering the perfect environment to produce highly idiosyncratic work.
“Work that tends to be quite personal and quite strange seems to fly in New Zealand, especially in comics,” he says. “The fact that we're so far away from the Marvels and the big commercial machine, that's not really an option for comic creators and that leads people down a far more creative, far less expected path from what would be considered ‘commercially viable’.
“You're not going to strike it rich, so you can make something that's meaningful or personal to you. We're very lucky in New Zealand in that respect.”
And here's hoping that luck holds out.
“I feel like I'm still evolving and I’m still trying new things,” he says. “I don't want to be just doing the same thing over and over again. I think it's quite cool to try things and have different avenues that I'm exploring as I go. That's usually how it works. Some things pan out and some things don’t.”
Spoken like a true creative.
- Andrew J Steel
- Gina Kiel
- Toby Morris
Most Creative in Music: Nigel Stanford
‘Renaissance man’ may be an overused term, but for Nigel Stanford, the moniker really does fit.
The Wellington-born composer, musician, and entrepreneur has done a bit of a lot. He’s made his money on the web (including running Trade Me when Sam Morgan went on sabbatical), he’s dabbled in filmmaking and creating his own studio, and now he’s gained worldwide recognition for pushing the boundaries of music and science. Even NASA and the European Space Agency – who know one of their own when they see one, apparently – has used his music.
His 2016 video, CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music, has gone well and truly viral, having been viewed more than 13.5 million times on YouTube.
According to Stanford, however, it still took some time to find
“By the time I hit high school, I was in a class full of lots of other smart kids, but I had no idea how to study,” he says. “I didn't find it enjoyable and I stopped trying. Looking back, I needed a lot of direction but was pretty aimless. I don't think it was the fault of the school.”
The only things he did enjoy were music, art and technical drawing, so, with few other options, he left school early to study design.
“I didn't really thrive at it and never went on to do the degree. After a while I tried photography, and architecture courses, but never followed through on them either,” he says.
Not having completed any tertiary education, Stanford spent years scraping by and doing odd musical jobs – programming karaoke backing tracks, making mix tapes for aerobics instructors, and playing in “bad cover bands” – and things showed little sign of improving.
“At my low point, I was pretty malnourished and had a brain seizure, ending up in hospital,” he says.
Though still interested in music, it was the web where he made his fortune. Creating social sites and running Trade Me – “my first and only real job” – when Sam Morgan left town.
Though a musician at heart, he had no problem committing to the work, he says.
“When I was at Trade Me the car park across the road had a man operating the gate, and he left work at 10pm. If you left after then, it was free to get out - I'd throw the ticket on the floor of my car. Eventually I cleaned the car, and counted about a hundred tickets. I'd worked a 13 hour day almost every day for 6 months.”
When Trade Me was sold to Fairfax in 2006, Stanford cashed in to the tune of $70 million.
Stanford had kept making music all the while, and when he “eventually” scored a record deal, he set about making records in earnest.
His viral success, CYMATICS: Science Vs. Music, sees Stanford conducting a series of visually stunning and 100 percent real sound experiments, set to a thumping electronic soundtrack. His latest experiment is even bigger, with a week long shooting schedule and 40-strong crew.
The result, AUTOMATICA: Robots Vs. Music, sees him further exploring the intersection between science and music, this time with giant robotic arms playing - then destroying - musical instruments and the soundstage itself. Think T-1000 meets Pete Townsend for the YouTube generation.
It’s part of an ongoing pre-occupation, Stanford says, with sound-visualisation.
“Any creative person is a sum of everything they have ingested in their life,” Stanford says. “You then mix it up subconsciously – or consciously – and create something new. For my videos, I like to explore different ways to visualise audio. The science experiments and robots provide a good way to look at sound as it happens. It’s probably due to a mild case of Synesthesia, a mix up in the brain between audio and visual processing.”
Mix up or not, the muse is bearing fruit for Stanford and the mainstream is beginning to take notice. He’s now won a NZ Music Award for best video and even made an appearance on the Billboard charts.
“It's also funny when famous people Tweet about you,” he says. “I've had some Hollywood A-listers contact me to say they dig what I'm doing, which is kind of cool. Oh, and I got to write some songs with Desmond Child, who wrote a ton of huge hits that I grew up on.”
Working with music royalty or not, Stanford doubts that what he is doing is ‘cool’, per se.
“The truly breakthrough art is always outside of what is currently cool,” he says. “I think my only advice or philosophy for others is to create things that you love, and don't listen to anyone else's feedback. The secret is not caring whether you ‘make it’ or not and just creating things you like. Have that be your end goal.”
“No one knows anything,” insists Stanford, and for him, it seems the creative process is well and truly where it’s at. His current plans include to continue creating music videos exploring the relationship between sound and visuals, as well as a project involving software that will be able to compose music all on its own.
But that’s subject to change.
“I don't have a big defined goal,” he says. “I'd just like to keep making music and videos. And I'd also love to produce other artists,” he says. “I have lots of ideas, I just need to focus.”
- Parris Goebel
- Sam Gribben
Most Creative in Government/Politics/Economics: Justin Lester
Businessman and local government politician Justin Lester may just be the perfect mayor for Wellington. Seated in New Zealand’s most creative city, Lester is, arguably, the country’s most progressive mayor, making a name for himself by embracing the digital economy, the arts and sustainable living.
Lester knows startups. In his mid-20s, he co-founded local food business Kapai. Now he’s applying the enterprise lessons he learnt there – sustainability, entrepreneurship and giving back to the local economy and community – to his mayoralty.
“Wellington is the most compact, cosmopolitan city we’ve got in New Zealand,” says Lester. “We have a unique lifestyle and people love living here.”
He says he wants to make Wellington the centre of a new, thriving country-wide digital economy. And to do this he and the council are backing local ventures through programmes such as startup incubator Collider.
“We’re aiming to incubate and support the next generation of entrepreneurs who want to grow startups from here,” he says. “We want to make sure people have access to mentoring, where they can talk to other individuals in a similar sort of space and have the opportunity to partner and grow their ideas in that way.”
While the economy is obviously crucial, so is culture – and Lester is a big believer. He donated his $60,000 car allowance to the arts budget when he was elected and, as part of the capital of culture initiative, an additional $500,000 of funding was made available for new events, access to venues and public art in Wellington. Lester, who leads the council's arts portfolio, wants to partner with arts and event organisers to take Wellington's creative scene to the next level.
And for all those who dare to question Wellington's most creative city tag, Infometrics measured the proportion of a city's workforce that was involved in creative and artistic occupations and industries. In Wellington, it was 6.4 percent, while in Auckland it was 4.8 percent.
The city, which already has the lowest carbon emissions per capita in Australasia, is also focused on introducing more sustainable and efficient transport options. Electric car-sharing service Mevo launched in Wellington in December and plans to add 50 A3 Sportback e-trons across 64 charging stations in the next 12 months. Studies have shown that 30 vehicles can be taken off the road for every share car on offer. Lester says the council is prioritising 100 car parks for electric vehicle chargers and car sharing.
“We want to encourage more sustainable transport and further establish our leadership in this area.”
He’s also pushing for a greater council commitment to building a smarter city. The council has been working closely with Japanese tech company NEC in a pilot data collection programme. A 'Living Lab' field test has now been concluded in Cuba Mall, where cameras that can detect “screaming, smell paint fumes from graffiti, and sense people in groups who might end up in fights” were set up, and 3D cameras and wi-fi sensors were deployed to collect anonymous data to track the level and type of foot and vehicle traffic. Eventually, they’ll be able to measure air and water quality too.
If that’s not enough, he’s also got a pretty admirable stance when it comes to homelessness.
“We have this great crowdfunding system called tax, and rates ... Wellington City Council has 2,400 social-housing units, but it’s not enough. We’ll build 750 social and affordable homes over the next three to five years. We’re looking at partnering with third parties to build affordable private homes next to our social housing, or we’ll just build affordable housing ourselves.”
With a focus on progressive, sustainable ideas to solve problems – and a commitment to supporting the economic value of creativity and the arts – Lester is helping sustain Wellington’s unique combination of culture, commerce and conscience.
- Chloe Swarbrick
- Ludo Campbell-Reid
- Shamubeel Eaqub
Most Creative in Media: Duncan Greive
Since founding The Spinoff in 2014, publisher and editor Duncan Greive has watched it grow into a hugely popular, entertaining and innovative media company. While many legacy players continue to struggle to adapt, Greive has been on a tear, experimenting across multiple platforms, embracing creative ways to fund editorial and presiding over an increasingly big bunch of brilliant bastards.
When The Spinoff launched back in 2014, its TV-themed content was originally proposed to be housed within Lightbox’s website. However, with the potential of contravening the SVOD’s contracts, a dedicated standalone website was created. Fast forward a few years and publisher and editor Duncan Greive was tweeting – almost incredulously – about The Spinoff’s record 973,797 visitors this April.
Greive commended his team for embracing both the editorial and sponsored elements of the site – the latter of which he believes has been particularly important to the venture’s success. Visit the site and you’ll see a fair share of its work is “brought to you by” or “made possible by” one of its sponsors, which include Spark, Lightbox, Kiwibank, AUT and Flick Electric. It’s a media platform as well as a content agency, Greive says, and the financial model he established has been the bedrock of its expansion.
“I do think that this is the future for journalism at least – unless you’re going to rely on government funding or philanthropy. Selling your ability to create content people want to read is really critical.”
While there is an element of government funding and philanthropy involved in The Spinoff’s model (the latest being a section called Ātea, which is devoted to Māori issues and communities), the brands that work with The Spinoff know they need to trust the team because they’re not going to write: ‘Hey, this is a great brand, here’s why…” Instead, it takes a more sophisticated approach and Greive gives the example of a series he launched with Garage Project, in which The Spinoff team sit down and share a beer and conversation with fascinating New Zealanders.
“Increasingly that’s what we’re seeing the smart brands doing. You can talk about your brand sometimes but being there as a facilitator of something worthwhile is a much better place to sit,” Greive says.
But that comes with its own challenges and with such a plurality of clients, it’s almost on a weekly basis that The Spinoff publishes something a partner might not agree with.
“That’s going to be life,” Greive says, and admits the team will call clients and give them a heads up if there’s potentially conflict. But he says if the story warrants it, people will often take the hit and if they want to leave, it creates an opportunity for another client to step in.
“If we were just seen as toothless, no one would consume what we create,” he says.
Feeding The Spinoff’s hungry pipes with content and keeping its sponsors happy is not a task to be taken lightly, but Greive, whose own brilliance still regularly features on the site in text, video or audio form, says he’s “not a fire-breathing” editor. He says his writers have autonomy, with the majority of the pieces created coming from them and he encourages the younger and older staff to talk to each other to shape the angles and subjects.
“I do have a vision for the site, and business more broadly, but I’ve worked with editors who operate in that [fire-breathing] style before and I found it bred in me a fearfulness when what I want from our writers is more fearlessness.”
That fearlessness flows through the site, and Greive says it aims to be funny where appropriate, serious when it’s not and “ideally a bit of both”.
That attitude has led to some of the country’s best writing, but also some of the most interesting media innovations. It now tells stories in a number of ways – via video series, short- and long-form journalism, provocative op-eds, live streaming, podcasts, Facebook Live, Spotify playlists, cartoons, poems, animation, events and interactive experiments (like Unsettled, which attempted to explain the housing crisis). The Spinoff App launched earlier this year is another means by which to engage audiences and attempt to fight against the dominance of the Facebook algorithm and it has also been calling on its audience to support its mission and donate to a long-form journalism fund. As the old phrase goes, the CEO gets the culture they deserve, and Greive’s obvious willingness to experiment in a new media environment has created a potent creative force.
“It’s about us trying to create something and take what we’ve loved about magazines and feature writing and criticism and commentary from the old environments of print and so on, but take advantage of the infinite possibilities of an online environment to create something that feels new.”
- Duncan Greive
- Jeremy Wells
- Jeremy Hansen
Most Creative in Design: Kelvin Soh
Award-winning designer, brand strategist and creative Kelvin Soh is carving his own path. So when you want something different, who you gonna call?
His work with Stolen Rum, Triumph & Disaster and publishing projects for DDMMYY and Le Roy magazine is often playful, experimental and the stuff of a brand strategist’s dream.
“We always try to zig when others zag,” says Soh of his work.
Soh is the founder and creative director of two companies – the celebrated design studio DDMMYY and a new venture, New New, a 360° strategic consultancy focused on consumer lifestyle products that he established with Stolen co-founder Jamie Duff.
So the phone is ringing then. A lot.
“Right now we're creating a brand for a crypto-currency coming out of New York,” says Soh. “And strategy for a plant stem cell-based skincare range coming out of London. Also a sports nutrition brand in New York that caters to the yoga and pilates community. We’re also doing a whiskey brand out of Australia.”
Soh says that it was publishing – in the broadest sense of the word – that served as his ‘gateway drug’ into the world of design.
“I was empowered by the sense of having individual agency, the ability to take something – whether that would be an idea, an album cover, a book, a magazine, etc. – and share it with the world.”
“While I started in the music industry by doing flyers, posters and album covers this eventually evolved into branding and packaging for product-led businesses. They seem at odds if you delineate them via a ‘culture’ versus ‘commercial’ lens, but the commonality is that I’m motivated by creating meaningful, interesting, provocative or simply entertaining things for people.”
So far, that’s proving to be a winning formula. In demand and undeniably cool, Soh says it’s all about the unexpected.
“I like playing games with the audience,” he says. “I don’t have a visibly consistent visual style because I prioritise concept, strategy and context. So my style is possibly more a style of thinking rather than a recognisable aesthetic style”.
“In the case of Stolen Rum it was about taking lazy, hand-drawn writing and putting it on all the labels, even though the category itself seems to want things to do with pirates, or gold trim. We’re almost interrogating the category we’re inhabiting by questioning the prevalent codes that exist there. Why should rum labels have gold things on them? Why is that a thing? Why should popcorn packaging have a picture of popcorn? Isn't it enough to say that it’s popcorn?”
Soh says that while we may lack some of the scale (and budgets) found in overseas culture centres, New Zealand offers its own unique possibilities, especially for up-and-coming creators.
“One of the things about New Zealand is access,” he says. “It's small. I've had the opportunity to try everything once, and some things more than once. As a designer in such a small place, you get the opportunity to try new things all the time – you don't need prior experience. It’s almost limitless, because it’s only limited by trust and it's a small enough town that you can develop that trust.We have a great bird's eye view because we’re small.”
Now he’s looking for his next challenge – completely changing his business model.
“Stolen Rum was the first time I took an equity position in the client's business. With Stolen, because I created the brand, the brand story, the packaging, all the ground level stuff, it was easily translatable to ‘x percent’ in that business.
That model is now the model we use with New New, in that we take equity positions in all the projects that we work on. On the crypto-currency project we’re doing for example, we’re getting paid in the currency we're naming. So that will be interesting.”
Interesting and practical.
“Well, I can't afford to live in Auckland with the current model, so it’s adapt and change to get the value out of what I’m doing. And I get to invest and work on things I believe in.”
- Imogen Tunnicliffe and David Moreland
- Juliette Wanty
- David Trubridge
Most Creative in Digital/Data: Lillian Grace
Data may not seem that creative, but finding ways to visualise it – and make it accessible to others – certainly is. And Lillian Grace is leading that charge.
Lillian Grace is on a mission to get New Zealanders thinking about – and using – data to do good things. And to accomplish that she’s created Figure.NZ, a not-for-profit data hub with the goal of transforming statistics into reliable and easy-to-access insights for all.
It’s an ambitious goal, one that started with Grace working as a high school PE teacher in Central Hawke's Bay, and “not very connected to the outside world”.
All that would change, however, when Grace made the acquaintance of Massive Software's CEO, Dianne Holland. Coming out of Weta, Massive was dealing in artificial intelligence-based 3D animation software (technology that would later win an Academy Award). Suffice to say, Grace was impressed by Holland and the feeling was mutual. She was offered a job and leapt at the opportunity. Later joining think tank the New Zealand Institute (now the New Zealand Initiative), Grace discovered a passion for social and political issues.
“I was still on this journey and the world was unfolding in front of me,” says Grace. “I started wondering if I would be interested in politics. I had met an MP socially and asked ‘Can I follow you around for two weeks?’ Within a few days I had answered my own question: ‘Absolutely not’.”
When the New Zealand Institute merged with the New Zealand Roundtable, she was ready for a new challenge.
“I was at a Rod Stewart concert in Hawke's Bay,” she says, “and I just put a picnic blanket under a tree and thought ‘I need to create a space to think’”.
Think she did, and “within about seven minutes” she had plotted out the fundamentals of an ambitious new project.
“I suddenly thought ‘Oh my goodness, if anyone wants to solve an issue or understand it, they have to either become an expert or pay an expert to answer a specific research question, to dive in and get the data out of these data sets that I had become so familiar with during my time at the New Zealand Institute’.” What if I could remove that whole strip of fat from the system? Instead of people having this almost impenetrable layer between their thinking and the figures that will actually help us understand, what if we could actually surface them in a way that everyone can use in their raw form?”
The idea was, as Grace says, “not to tell people what to think, but enable them to get that information and to follow their nose”.
She says Figure.NZ is there to make figures something everyone can use in their thinking, not just the experts.
“We see numbers as a language that hold our stories, and believe everyone should be able to understand those stories to better navigate and make decisions.”
For all the work that’s gone into building the technology, Grace says that the focus is still on how the data can be used in the real world.
“The building of the technology, the behind-the-scenes tech, the site, that’s not what we're really about,” she says. “We're about getting people to actually use it.”
To that end, it has just launched an entertaining online TV show with Stuff called Go Figure that aims to show people how little they actually know about the world and how many of their beliefs are based on perceptions rather than hard data.
“We have a comms team now and it is about us getting out there and working with organisations and people to popularise the use of figures. That’s where most of my attention will be now.”
1. Peter Howell and Brendan Howell
2. Dil Khosa
3. Danu Abeysuriya
Most Creative in Money: Kendall Flutey
Banqer CEO and co-founder Kendall Flutey is a web dev on a mission: to make young people more financially competent. So far she’s having more than a little success. Banqer, the ‘mock online banking tool’ that lets young students get smart about the way they manage money is a current darling of the startup community.
Flutey showed early aptitude for entrepreneurship – at age seven she was reprimanded by a teacher for selling subscriptions to a classroom newsletter to her classmates (at 20c a pop).
She showed less enthusiasm for the corporate world however, a mistake she fixed sooner rather than later.
“I’d been working as a graduate in the corporate world and it was increasingly clear that wasn’t the path for me,” says Flutey. “With no solid plan B I quit and never looked back.”
“You’d think that this was a poor indication of my future success, and there were a few more steps between there and here, but I see that as the starting point of significant change.”
Change she did, co-founding Banqer in 2014 and relocating to Christchurch in 2016. So far it’s going well, attracting interest from critics and investors alike. The company won the BNZ ‘Start-up Alley’ competition in 2015, has taken home the Best Innovation in Show Award at the Affiliation Fintech Showcase in Sydney, as well as the approval of the Financial Planning Association and confidence of major funders. Nevertheless, Flutey insists that her career highlights don’t revolve around big numbers or recognition.
“The big stuff that might make it to print or awards events are great but most of the highlights come from really simple moments. Talking to kids who use our software, new hires, cool little features, just stuff like that.”
Recently, as part of Money Week, it also created a very clever YouTube pick-a-path experience, which allowed users to see the repercussions of their spending decisions.
“What I love about running a startup is that every day you’re faced with some kind of challenge because every day you’re breaking new ground. As a result mistakes are part of the territory. We almost made a big mistake last year expanding too fast with the wrong people. People are everything to our organisation; be it team, partners, or our users. Once it was obvious these people didn’t stand for the same thing we did, the solution was clear, despite how difficult executing that was.”
Flutey says Francis Valintine, Lance O'Sullivan, Victoria Ransom, Stephen Tindall and Lisa King “ooze inspiration” and says New Zealanders have a unique approach to problem-solving.
“We have this culture of mavericks who ask for forgiveness rather than permission, which I both love and think is dwindling elsewhere in the world. Our size as a nation has to contribute to that kind of attitude, which is a big advantage.”
1. Anna Guenther
2. Brooke Anderson
3. Sam Stubbs
Most Creative in Manufacturing: Scott Kington and Greig Brebner
Through a combination of good branding and marketing, great design and a whole heap of word of mouth, Scott Kington (left) and Greig Brebner have made a name for themselves as producers of a new standard in functional umbrellas.
Blunt is a Kiwi company that produces umbrellas so strong they can withstand winds of up to Force 12 (117 km/h). They look great but they’re not cheap – from NZ$89 up to NZ$145 – and that’s all part of the plan.
“The idea came from Greig [Brebner] actually who I co-founded the company with in 2004,” says co-founder Scott Kington. “Back in 1999, he was a young design engineer and he'd headed off on an OE, over to the UK and, being in a new environment, he was observing it differently and being quite tall, he was walking down the road and all these umbrellas were coming at his eyes. He has his eureka moment of 'I'm going to redesign the umbrella', thinking it was going to be quite an easy process. It was 1999, five years later I met him and thought it was an amazing product that he'd had at that point. It was a prototype really. We thought, let's go and take on the world.”
The company launched in 2009 and Blunt umbrellas hit the overseas market a year later and has been in the US since 2011.With their sites set firmly on the international market, the group shied away from focusing on their ‘Kiwiness’ at first. Now however, that’s all changed.
“At first we didn’t want to be seen as being from New Zealand; it was about the product,” says Kington.“What we found at distributor meetings was the New Zealandness was a good selling point, especially in Europe and Japan, but not so driven in the US market. So we are using more New Zealand images in photos and design.”
If the Kiwi ‘angle’ gets people talking, all the better, says Kington. Word of mouth is a powerful tool and Blunt is very good at getting it, embracing online video and content marketing to show the quality of the product and creating limited edition runs of designer umbrellas from the likes of Karen Walker, Huffer, Dick Frizzell and US artist Michael C. Hsuing that almost always sell out. And with ongoing experiments into integrating new technologies into its umbrellas, they're set to get even better.
“Word of mouth gets us into markets,” he says. “We hit magazines such as Wired and bloggers to get reviews out there. Distributors looking for products will find you on these blogs.”
It's an approach that’s translating to real sales too, as Blunt continues to increase its share in the $1 billion per-year global umbrella market, and as consumers increasingly look to make purchases with sustainability in mind.
“I think we’re at the beginning of a cycle of people starting to value products instead of the cheap and cheerful throwaway,” says Kington. “A big chunk of the market is still nasty consumerism but [Blunt is for] people who appreciate good design and products that work.”
- Brianne West
- Indigo and Wills Rowe
- Scott Kington and Greig Brebner
Most Creative in Education: Alexia Hilbertidou
By anyone’s standards 16 is an early age to found an organisation like Girlboss, but for Alexia Hilbertidou, it’s par for the course.
“I always was entrepreneurial,” she says. “In primary school, I organised an animal toy drive to collect toys for the Silverdale Animal Shelter. I also asked the bakery for yesterday’s plain bread rolls which gave them to me for free as they were going to throw them away. I then added icing, sugar, and candy to the rolls and sold them at my school to the other students for profit.”
While still at school, Hilbertidou had begun to notice a disturbing trend.
“When I was 16 I was the only girl in my Digital Technology class,” she says. “At 17 I was the only girl in my Advanced Physics class”.
“As the only girl in those classes I felt isolated and alone and despite loving digital technology I struggled to maintain my belief that it was a place for me.”
That experience inspired her to found GirlBoss New Zealand - a community of young women passionate about male-dominated fields.
“Now at 18 I lead an organisation dedicated to changing these statistics,” she says.
“The GirlBoss mission is to inspire, empower and equip young women to develop their STEM, leadership and entrepreneurial skills in order to become the change-makers of the future.”
Now, through a combination of talent, tenacity, school workshops and careers expos, she’s convinced over 8,000 girls to join the network, as well as almost 400 mentors.
While it’s tempting to marvel at such an accomplishment from someone so young, Hilbertidou looks at it differently.
“I am very privileged to be in a position where I was enabled to start a business at a young age,” she says.
“One of the major pros [of being a young entrepreneur] is that most young people can afford to take risks as they don’t have to have a steady income to provide for their families.”
“Another pro is that many experienced business professionals are very supportive and will happily offer support and mentorship to young entrepreneurs.”
Simply put, Hilbertidou’s hell-bent on raising the profile of New Zealand women and for New Zealand to lead the global movement in the advancement of young women.
“I want not only every New Zealand girl to get access to our message and support but to empower a global community of young women who are stepping up and leading change within their communities.”
- Alexia Hilbertidou
- Jamie Beaton
- Michelle Dickinson
Most Creative in Health: Ben O'Brien
As the rise of the internet-of-things marches on, the next logical step is surely the so-far-relatively-untrodden path of wearables. To that end, Ben O’Brien of StretchSense is leading the way – in this country and further afield – with experiments involving AR, data input gloves and sports sensors to track information.
Founded in 2012, StretchSense, as its name suggests, makes elastic belts fitted with small, light, stretchy, wireless sensors that measure human body motion.
Described as “rubber bands with Bluetooth”, when placed on the body the sensors move with the wearer and measure the amount of movement by how much the sensor stretches. The data is then transmitted to the user’s mobile phone or tablet, providing real-time motion feedback for the user.
It’s pretty clever stuff and StretchSense sensors have now been customised and integrated into smart technologies all over the world. That includes gaming, sports and the burgeoning sector of e-health. StretchSense works with healthcare providers to provide precise information such as real-time motion and body shape data, to help develop new sensing technologies and to help users to take accountability for their wellbeing.
“Our goal has always been to stay ahead of the curve in terms of innovation,” says chief executive Ben O’Brien.
“It started academically about a decade ago at the biomimetics lab at the University of Auckland. We were working with this technology and after three or four years, around 2009, and people started approaching us and asking for custom electronic systems.”
“They had basically seen what we had done at conferences and they liked it and they needed technology for themselves. The phones started ringing and we started selling custom product, which was a really cool experience as part of a university lab.”
“It wasn't really an epiphany, it was just ... I like to say ‘blunt force trauma’. People keep saying, ‘Hey, we'd like sensors, could you do sensors?’ Then one day we sort of said, ‘Ah, let's do sensors.’ That's when StretchSense as a concept was really properly formed.”
Fast forward a few years and the entrepreneurial bug had well and truly bitten. But moving from the university environment to a commercial one had its challenges.
“We had all the support in the world from the University and from those around us but until you actually form an entity and go out there and do it, you hit a brick wall with investors, with customers, simply because they don't know what they're investing in or buying from.”
The group now counts Flying Kiwi Angels and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund amongst its backers.
Now, thanks to demand in the market, the company is expanding its sales efforts internationally with offices
in Asia, Europe and the US, with the first office set to open in America. It now has more than 200 “significant” clients in 28 countries – more than double the 80 clients in 15 countries it has in January 2015.
The lesson here, says O’Brien, is simple: Be bold.
“Quit your job and do it, is my number one piece of advice that I give to people,” he says.“There's a lot of people kind of trapped in this half-way land. Whether it's a university environment, or a large corporation they work for, or just you know, the status quo of their daily job. Yeah, quit your job is probably the first step.”
“You can go really hard, you can grow something really fast, and you can do some really, really cool things. That awakening took some time but once we realised just how big this opportunity was and how hard we could hit it, that's when we decided to go for it.”
- Lance O’Sullivan
- Simon Malpas
- Hong Sheng Chiong and Hannah Eastvold-Edwins
Most Creative in Gaming: Melanie Langlotz and Amie Wolken
Getting kids to go outside is becoming increasingly difficult with all the technology in their lives. But through good design and a unique funding model, Melanie Langlotz and Amie Wolken offer a glimmer of hope.
When Melanie Langlotz had trouble getting her seven-year-old stepdaughter to put down her video game and play outside, she didn’t shake her head, mutter something about ‘kids today’ and move on to something else. She started thinking. That was in 2011. Six years later, that thought process has resulted in Magical Park, the world’s first digital playground, which councils can subscribe to and kids can play for free in local parks.
Geo AR Games co-founders Amie Wolken and Melanie Langlotz, the creators of Magical Park, want to get kids off the couch and physically active outside through augmented reality mobile games.
“Councils choose a park where they want to have Magical Park activated and then tell their community about it,” says Langlotz. “It is free to play, has no in-app advertisement or in-app purchases, because we generate revenue through council subscriptions.”
So what did it take to get this augmented reality experience happening in the real world?
“The concept behind Magical Park is new to most people and New Zealand's angel investors are not necessarily hot on the gaming space or keen to take the risk of investing in new entertainment technology,” says Langlotz. “We were lucky to get into two business incubators that helped us fund two prototypes to take to market. We attended S-Factory [part of the Start-up Chile programme] in South America and Lightning Lab XX in Wellington. We have been ‘bootstrapping with very short laces’ as our board adviser Rudi Bublitz says.”
While investors may be slow to understand, others are beginning to take notice. Magical Park was a finalist in the New Zealand Innovation Awards last year and buy-in from local government is beginning to take off, both here and overseas.
“In March this year we ran a Parks Week campaign in New Zealand and Australasia with only three weeks preparation time to spread the word and get councils to come on board.”
Within those three weeks councils signed up 176 Magical Parks.
“They were just trial parks, but we had over 24,000 people come and visit our Magical Parks – despite some very bad weather in New Zealand during that period. Kids played our Magical Park game for over 1,200 hours during the week, so we were really excited about that!”
It’s been a steep learning curve, says Langlotz, especially when faced with the prospect of trying to gain attention in an already crowded app marketplace.
“There are over two million apps and games there and unless you get featured or have had a successful title it is hard to stand out. So we pivoted slightly and developed a ‘digital playground’ councils could subscribe to and families would find out about through council advertisement. As a result it doesn't matter anymore if we get featured or discovered on the App Store, because people go to the App Store to search specifically for us. That makes a real difference.”
The games are delivering on the promise, too. More than 1,600 children and families have covered over 974km exploring a magical fantasy world in their local parks between December 2016 and June 2017, with data showing average sessions clocking in at 30 minutes, with kids running 500m to 2km during a session.
“We are very proud of having built the world's first digital playground,” says Langlotz. “Both my co-founder Amie and I love seeing kids having fun playing our game and watching them run around without even noticing that they are exercising. We launched in March 2016 before Pokemon Go and with kids' safety in mind from the start, and I think we’ve managed to build a game that is based on ethical values and offers something positive to the community.”
- Amie Wolken and Melanie Langlotz
- Jarek Beksa, Alex Garkavenko and Jeong Su Jeon
- Benjamin Dunn
Most Creative in Retail: Mai Young
Having developed a reputation for being that ‘crazy dog lady’, it was only a matter of time before Mai Young left her corporate gig to focus full time on making as many dogs as happy as possible. And her clever retail concepts are doing just that.
Banker, corporate lawyer, crazy dog lady.
Mai Young, founder of canine-focused subscription box service Bark Bag, knows how to mix business with pleasure.
“I've always been interested in business,” Young says. “I had a career in the corporate world, in banking then as a lawyer, before starting Bark Bag. Bark bag is something that I was looking for but couldn't find so decided to leave my corporate job and follow my two passions – dogs and retail. I just saw a gap in the market.”
Young, a self-confessed subscription service fanatic (“Who doesn't love receiving parcels in the post, even if it's just your groceries?!”) thought the concept of to-your-door retailing was solid, but felt there was room for improvement.
“I loved subscription services but I didn't love the lack of customisation,” she explains. “I wanted the assurance that everything would be great and suit my and my pup's needs.”
So she decided to do something about it, and quicker than you could say ‘Sit, Ubu, sit’, Bark Bag was born. Almost.
“Trying out different ideas is all part of being a new startup to find what works and what doesn't,” says Young. “We tried out a bunch of ideas such as offering static bags that have a fixed set of products instead of our usual custom selection. However, this wasn't a very popular option and it confused our messaging to customers that we were all about custom boxes, so it was a learning process.
“One of the hardest things starting out for us was to get the bigger suppliers to take us seriously as well as trying to compete with already established brands which had bigger advertising budgets and got to set the narrative,” she says. “As a result we had to work twice as hard to educate suppliers and customers on how we were different and not have them immediately pigeonhole us. I don't think there's a secret to our resilience beyond my stubbornness!”
To whatever degree she is stubborn, she’s enthusiastic in equal amounts. If you’ve got a dream career or just a good idea, Young says there’s no reason not to test your idea in the market, sooner rather than later preferably. And she's walking the talk in that regard. As well as Bark Bag, Young is also co-founder of e-commerce group Canine Collective, which brings together a range of different independent online pet retailers and service providers under one website. Young says there’s a natural sense of community among those operating dog-related businesses in New Zealand and operating as a group allows the businesses involved in the collective to take opportunities that would be too difficult or expensive for a single SME business.
She set it up alongside Gretchen Hamlen-Williams of dog accessories retailer Wolves of Wellington (their dogs developed a rapport at a pet expo in Wellington) and they have big plans. Early this year, the pair created a 50 square-metre Auckland pop-up store that hosted a VIP shopping night with wine, cheese and a Q&A with a vet. There was also a “doggy degustation” night, and a ‘Pawty in the Park’ dog play session at Western Park in Auckland’s Freemans Bay. Eventually, Young says, the collective hopes to stage pop-ups around New Zealand.
“Don't be afraid to give it a go, especially when you're young,” she says. “You've got nothing to lose, whether that be applying for that dream job or starting up your own business. Don't be afraid to back yourself and your vision. If you're passionate about it, back yourself and put yourself out there. And don't be afraid to ask for and accept help. You'll be surprised at how amazing the community is out there.”
For Young, that welcoming community is one of the things that’s made Bark Bag so successful and what makes New Zealand such a fertile testing ground for good ideas.
“I think New Zealand is great for innovation and creativity,” she says. “The ‘number 8 wire’ attitude is ingrained in Kiwi culture. People are really supportive of new ideas and having a crack at coming up with a solution to a problem they can't find on the shelf. I've found fellow New Zealanders love supporting local, which is a key part of our business.”
For now, her plan is to continue growing the Bark Bag business, tweaking the company's technology base and refining the subscription model, before broadening her offer further down the track.
“I think customers are demanding and expecting more from retailers and subscription services now, including being able to customise the service to their preferences, so that’s something we’re focusing on now,” she says. “Because there’s more competition in the market, businesses need to stand out from the crowd, and that means offering customers unique experiences and services they can't get elsewhere. I'm keen to continue finding more unique ways to offer that to our customers and then, hopefully, customers of other services too.”
- Rachel Hansen
- Jay Goodey
- Donielle Brooke
Most Creative in Tourism/Events: Dr Miles Gregory and Tobias Grant
Shakespeare's back. And he's better than ever – thanks to two men with a mad vision to recreate a pop-up, scale model of a famous theatre and put on a series of productions.
It’s a lit-major’s dream. A to-scale, “down to the inch” replica of the famous second Globe theatre, taking Shakespeare to the masses around the country, across the pond and even further afield. It's no dream though. It’s a real life Kiwi-conceived success story courtesy of Pop-up Globe founder Dr. Miles Gregory (right) and his business partner Tobias Grant (left).
It makes sense that there’s a storybook beginning somewhere in there. In 2014 Gregory was reading to his daughter one night from a pop-up storybook, containing a pop-up Globe Theatre. She asked him: “Daddy, can we go there?” To which he responded: “Well, London is a very, very long way away darling. I don’t think we’ll get there anytime soon.”
The idea stuck, however, and now the Pop-up Globe plays to huge appreciative audiences all around New Zealand and Australia.
“It is extremely rare in history that large Shakespeare companies come into being without funding,” Gregory says. “The biggest challenge in theatre is that you get no money from the box office until the play goes on, and it’s the making of the play that’s the most expensive part. We made two productions, built the theatre and hired 50 staff and we had to do that with very tight resources. ATEED gave us a small amount of funding in the beginning – which was very gratefully received – and that’s the only state support we have ever had. Also, we are not rich people Tobias and I.”
But they are committed.
“I set my house against a loan. Tobias used all he had. And we used that to get through to opening night. But that led to us having to get everyone we dealt with really on our side and prepared to help us.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone pulling off a production the scale of the Pop-Up Globe with anything but overwhelming goodwill. Each production cycle means putting together two or more shows while the building is still being finished.
“The working conditions on stage are normally impossible,” Gregory says. “We’re not working in some quiet studio somewhere. We joke ‘the theme song of Pop-Up Globe is a power drill' That combined with Shakespeare. They're not natural bedfellows.”
It seems to have been worth it though. Overall the group has sold around 260,000 tickets, the equivalent of 2,600 sold out nights at The Old Vic in London.
“Theatre is about great art and selling tickets,” says Gregory. “At its most reductive you've got to do those two things. That’s the key. It's fundamentally a commercial art form and that’s very unusual”.
Now, the plan is to scale. By February 2018 Gregory and Grant plan to have ten major productions running simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand. For Gregory though, it’s not about the numbers.
“The way that we make Shakespeare popularises it in a way that he would have understood immediately. In a digital age there’s something amazingly analogue about what we do. We’re looking to the past and finding analogue ways to disrupt – although I hate the term ‘disruptive’. We're just nice people doing a good thing. We’re not trying to rip anyone off. No one's doing this for money. No one goes into the theatre for money. Everyone who works with us does it because they love what they do every day.”
- Tim Alpe
- Hamish Pinkham
- Miles Gregory and Tobias Grant
Most Creative in Fashion/Footwear: Trish Peng
Trish Peng has a knack for grabbing headlines. Whether it’s a $20,000 wedding dress made of fresh flowers, or the record-breaking longest-train-to-ever-grace-a-New-Zealand-catwalk (25 metres by the way, all silk), Peng has an instinct for knowing what’s going to get people talking.
The now LA-based designer is also rapidly becoming a bridal dress designer to the stars, with her recent high-profile coup creating an intricate, handcrafted wedding gown for US actress Brittany Daniel (see pic, right).
But her success makes sense. Born and raised in Auckland, Peng knew from the age of seven she wanted to be a fashion designer. She taught herself how to sew, enrolled at Whitecliffe College of Arts & Design and hopped a flight to the States with the express intention of getting experience in the fashion industry. That she did, finding a place in the New York Fashion Week social media team, as well as at Saks Fifth Avenue.
She now shares her time between Los Angeles and Auckland and caters to clientele from around the world, creating custom-made handcrafted masterpieces.
For someone who creates such elegant pieces,
she sure talks tough. Her success, she says comes one simple lesson: Go “full force” in the things you want to do.
“When I began my design journey it took me three seasons to really buckle down,” she says. “Now I do what I need to do, when I need to do it. I live by these three elements: eliminate the illusion of fear, take risks and trust your work.”
She gains inspiration from the natural beauty of New Zealand, as well as a certain key figure in it, Trelise Cooper, who she worked under for four years.
“Then and now, she makes women feel beautiful through her bright femininity and aesthetic, which I admire as a boldly feminine woman myself.”
And of the landscape itself, she says she’s always felt a sense of connection.
“The beauty in New Zealand has inspired my collections – especially my latest floral collection – which I may not have done otherwise. I think New Zealand nurtures many creative talents.”
And if other New Zealand creatives are inspired, all the better, says Peng.
“I urge all Kiwis to expand their curiosities: travel, move, grow, explore.”
And she walks the talk. When asked where she plans to go next, the answer is succinct: “Everywhere!”
- Liam Bowden
- Tim Brown
- Matt Saunders
Most Creative in Architecture/Interiors: Nat Cheshire
Nat Cheshire isn't an architect. Just ask him.
“I’m not an architect,” he says. “With architecture there’s a registration process just like passing the bar exam for law. I haven't and I won't take that exam.”
What he does do however is run the prestigious trans-discipline firm Cheshire Architects with father Pip, an operation dedicated to “tearing the city apart and putting it back together again”.
“That means doing everything,” says Nat, “from masterplanning city blocks, right down to designing the buttons on the aprons of the wait staff and every part in between. We’ll code the websites too, if we need to. We’ll design the light fittings. We'll curate the entirety of the experience.”
So the ‘architecture’ moniker doesn't quite fit.
“Architecture, in its traditional form, is very much more defined and delimited and a bit more professional than I am. I just never fitted all that well into that camp.”
Nevertheless, he’s doing something right.
Since not taking his registration exam he’s built a reputation as one of New Zealand’s most creative and sought after urban designers.
Fresh out of architecture school he ran headlong into two projects – a bar and a restaurant – both located in a run-down old building in Auckland's Britomart. The result was sophisticated multi-level bar 1885 and Vietnamese favourite Cafe Hanoi, and an epiphany for Nat that saw him “destroy everything I’d learnt and decided about architecture”.
Since then Cheshire has established itself as a sophisticated 30-strong boutique firm, bringing energy and anarchy to central Auckland. His work has been awarded eight Best Award gold pins and numerous others.
What he’s most proud of however, is the studio itself. From humble origins – squatting in an abandoned building – and through a global recession, Cheshire Architecture is now a potent creative force, a “collection of monsters who are extremely good at what they do”.
“I’m proudest of that,” he says. “That represents hope. And the next bit. And what I’m living for.”
As for the nuts and bolts, don’t bother asking him what his style is.
“Barnett Newman had this great line,” he says. “Aesthetics is to artists what ornithology is to birds.”
Put another way, he finds the question of ‘style’ a moot point, especially in regards to his contribution to the look and feel of downtown Auckland.
“It’s just an extremely uninteresting way to talk about things,” he says, “because the stakes are just so much higher than that. It's a whole city. One and half million people’s hopes and dreams reside in that. And aestheticising that is just ... so small.”
And though he’s proud of his work in Auckland, he insists there’s much more at stake.
“Auckland is just the epicentre,” he says, “another ripple in the blast wave. Ultimately what needs to happen in most creative disciplines in this country is that we need to hit a line whereby studios like ours
can be extending that shockwave out into the rest of the world and doing so without becoming ex-pats of our own home.”
He says it's time for Auckland to lose the inferiority complex and stop settling for less.
“We’ve done enough learning from Melbourne and New York and London and Tokyo and Shanghai, to turn that completely around and say ‘watch this motherfucker!’”
1. Rameka Alexander-Tu’inukuafe
2. Lizzi Whaley
3. Vanessa Carswell
Most Creative in Social Enterprise/Charity: Chloe Waretini
Gardens are certainly nice to look at. And many come to Christchurch to do just that. But Chloe Waretini sees many more possibilities.
Chloe Waretini wants to turn Christchurch from the Garden City into the 'Edible Garden City'. And to do that she wants to create an edible food park with herb and vegetable gardens and orchards, a dome to grow produce, a food information centre and not-for-profit café too.
“This is absolutely not my idea,” says Waretini, self-described serial optimist and face of the undertaking known as the Ōtākaro Orchard Project. “It's a collective vision that has emerged out of many conversations held in the Christchurch community in the years post-quake.”
When the quakes of 2010 and 2011 hit, Waretini and a local food resilience movement was sparked into action. At that time, many Cantabrians realised just how devastating a supply chain disruption can be, seeing that most supermarkets only carry three days’ worth of food at one time.
“When we think about the crises cities face in the 21st century so much of it is about food – from climate change to diet-related illnesses,” says Waretini. “Because of the climate, soils and low population, in Christchurch and Canterbury we have a pretty amazing potential to be entirely self-sufficient in terms of producing all the fresh food we need from within the region. How many other cities in the world could say this? So to have a city that can feed itself – both through industry and edible public spaces – is a pretty amazing prospect that has caught on in the story of 'New Christchurch'.”
The plan is for a three stage development in Christchurch Central comprised of an edible urban park, a local, regenerative food hub/cafe and, eventually, a Danish-designed dome for more food production and teaching.
As with most things of this type, funding is an ongoing issue. Goodwill therefore is crucial, says Waretini.
“A lot of the time I think of being a social entrepreneur is the practice of working to meet gaps in financial capital with social capital,” she says. “When you don't have the money to pay for something, build a relationship with someone who can provide it for free. I love this community-weaving work, but it's still challenging to operate this way within the current economic constructs and how value is defined in the world.”
So far it’s working. The Ōtākaro Orchard is receiving buy-in from central and local government, the construction industry, local business and community.
“My role in this project has been 'building and operating the community that can build and operate the project',” says Waretini. “There have been over 700 people actively involved in bringing the project this far over the past two and a half years. Plus over 60 businesses and organisations. This is such a gift, and is also a lot of relationships to manage!”
Not bad for a self-described “incredibly shy” youth. Waretini says it took the shock of an accident to bring her out of that shyness and spark her interest in activism.
“When I first left school I had my heart set on being an interior designer, a dream I'd had since I was eight, so I started at the School of Design at Massey University,” she says. “But a few weeks later I had a serious car accident that changed my life significantly – a near death experience that started me thinking about the legacy I was leaving on this earth. It awoke the activist in me.”
What followed was exposure to the workings of government, the study of leadership principles, landscape architecture, social enterprise and permaculture.
“I realised that what I wanted to do was create urban spaces that brought people back into connection with community and the natural environment,” she says. “Places that created cultures of engagement and stewardship”.
So that’s what she did and hasn’t looked back. By December the Ōtākaro Orchard Project will know whether its big funding push has been successful.
“If this gets the green light then we'll be going straight into getting our community involved in producing over 6,000 adobe earth bricks for the structural spine of the building,” she says. “I’m really excited about the elements of this project that will have the fingerprints of our community on them,” she says.
And after that?
“I'm currently working in Montreal with innovation consultancy Percolab prototyping the collaborative future of work and cities,”
she says. “My next big dreams are to become a mum and write my first book. Watch this space!”
- Lisa King and Michael Meredith
- Sam Judd
- Pat Shepherd
Most Creative brand: Allbirds
Co-founded by Joey Zwillinger and former ex-All Whites skipper Tim Brown, with design help from Jamie McLellan, high-flying Kiwi shoe company Allbirds has created something of a woollen monster by harnessing the unique and sustainable qualities of New Zealand merino wool, beautiful design and clever branding.
To say Allbirds is doing well is putting it mildly: since launching its Wool Runner around 18 months ago, Allbirds has grown its San Francisco team to over 50 employees; launched a store in San Francisco and another in New York, with plans for more (including in New Zealand); a few large media outlets have dubbed the Wool Runner the world’s most comfortable shoe; and it has become the footwear du jour of forward-thinking entrepreneurs, celebrities and investors both here and in Silicon Valley. Oh, and they’ve just raised another US$17.5 million (approximately NZ$24 million) in Series B funding, bringing total equity funding to US$27.5 million since its founding in 2015.
Allbirds says it plans to use the raise for research and development into more novel, sustainable materials and processes, as well as to expand internationally and grow its retail footprint.
“We see an opportunity to be leaders in sustainable manufacturing in an industry that has not paid enough attention to its impact on the environment,” says Zwillinger. “We have a deep commitment to sustainable innovation in a category that hasn’t changed in many decades.”
As well as beautifully designed shoes that live up to the hype and embrace the concept of ‘anonymous luxury’ (it released its slip-on Loungers early this year and is soon to launch a children’s range called Smallbirds), a lot of the success comes down to Allbirds’ skill in building a compelling brand and presenting that directly to the customer. The brand’s innate sense of curiosity, playfulness and exploration can be seen in everything it does and that attitude has led it down a very creative – and increasingly successful – path.
Its ovine mascot, Pete (who, like many of the brand’s illustrations, is created by Toby Morris) features prominently on social media and online and pops up to celebrate special occasions; its limited edition colours and city-specific collaborations create demand; its redesigned shoe box not only looks cool, it uses 40 percent less material than a typical shoebox; and its direct-to-consumer model cuts out the middle-men.
“When you build direct-to-consumer, you can control the brand experience, you can think about every touch point and the infrastructure for online business is immense,” Brown says.
That’s an approach that seems to be resonating with customers looking for an alternative to the mainstream, logo-filled, synthetic-heavy, slightly sweat-shoppy shoe market.
“It’s not about performance,” says Brown. “It’s about comfort and simple design, and a focus on sustainability. Everyone else is screaming and we’re kinda whispering.”
But more and more people here and around the world are hearing what they have to say.
- Garage Project
- Air New Zealand
Wildcard: Daniel Craig and Matt Genefaas
We knew we would leave some very impressive humans off our Most Creative People list. So, during the voting process, we asked respondents to add their suggestions. And the founders of edible insect brand Crawlers and minimal homewares and stationery brand Made of Tomorrow took it out.
As the globe’s population continues to swell and sustainable food production becomes an ever-more pressing issue, many are proposing insects as a practical food source with a troubling earnestness. Maybe the idea isn't so strange. After all, insects are already part of the daily diet of a billion people worldwide. And then you take a look at the product range at Crawlers and you remember, yup, it’s still strange as hell. But try telling that to co-founders Daniel Craig (left) and Matt Genefaas (right). Far from operating a gag store, they are bonafide believers, assuring everyone that bugs taste okay and can help save the planet.
“Two years ago coconut flour wasn't even a thing,” Craig says, “yet now you see it everywhere. It’s the same with us. I give it two years before the supermarket is covered in insect-based products. We’re already beginning to see it.”
Started four years ago, the company’s first incarnation saw them harnessing their artistic talents and making and selling decorative work – framed butterflies and tarantulas, domes displaying a range of invertebrates and a selection of fine art photography (they still create beautiful, functional objects through their homewares and stationery brand Made of Tomorrow).
“Then we were travelling in Thailand and we came across a farm that sold edible insects. We just thought ‘why not?’”
So much in business is about being first to market, and Crawlers certainly managed that. They were importing insects into New Zealand for a full two years before legislation was even considered.
“When we started there weren't any laws in place in terms of importing insects for human consumption, so we were just doing it, bringing in insects from our two farms in Thailand without permits and without health certificates. The MPI, Customs and New Zealand Law got together and actually created a law because I was the only one importing dead insects for human consumption.”
Now he’s got the permits and business is good. Insects are imported in bulk, then processed and packaged here. They sell crickets, silkworms, locusts, grasshoppers, mealworms, ants, scorpions, superworms and tarantulas, making it one of the world's largest edible insect ranges.
“We often take our ideas from everyday snacks,” says Craig. “We see peri peri flavoured something or barbecue flavoured something and just turn it into an insect thing. Chocolate coated tarantulas, peri peri crickets, chilli chocolate locusts – we just take the norm and turn it into something a little bit more cool, a little bit more out there.”
‘Out there’ it is, but with a potentially confronting product, Genefaas and Craig still rely on their artistic eye and think carefully about how they present their delicacies to the public, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Its branding makes the products more accessible and its product photography is world-class.
“We initially had all of our products in a can,” he says. “Being designers though we wanted to come up with something a little bit more on brand. We’re trying to get our packaging 100% compostable, so we’ve changed to bags. You know, to help out the planet.”
And for all the shock value of a chocolate-dipped scorpion or a brightly coloured cricket lollipop, helping out the planet is exactly what Craig is concerned with. Though Crawlers products have already found their way into several supermarkets around the country (the range is also available at trendy Asian restaurant Kiss Kiss in Auckland and online), Craig estimates that around 30 percent of Crawlers’ customers still buy the products for nutrition, with the remaining 70 percent made up by the gift market. But he’s hoping to reverse that ratio.
“In five to ten years time, all the big brands will be on board,” he says.“People are starting to understand the benefits of crickets and the benefits of eating sustainably. It's going to be huge. I can tell you that right now.”
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).
Idealog is part of ICG. We work with clients like Woolworths New Zealand, All Good, Huffer, Liquorland, Resene, Citta Design, TVNZ, Spark and FCB on their event activations, in-store, in-office or out-of-home signage, content creation and vehicle wraps.