When Lariah Rangitoheriri couldn’t find any te reo Māori decorations for her baby shower, she decided to set up her own whānau-based company in Ōtautahi, Kōtiro & Co Party Hire and Design.

That was back in February 2021. Today, Lariah (Tainui, Ngāti Ranginui) and her husband, Jordon Rangitoheriri (Ngāti Raukawa ki Waikato, Levili Samoa), work together to create colourful celebrations for birthdays, baby showers, hens’ nights, weddings, business launches and gatherings in Waitaha, and they see their kaupapa as a personal celebration of how far they have come in their own lives.

“We’ve both had quite hard life journeys. Jordon especially has come through an incredible amount of personal loss, hardship, and trauma. It has been a dark road for him, but our business represents the light at the end of the tunnel for us,” Lariah says.

“We’re doing this for our tamariki. We want to show them that it is possible to come through tough times and establish your own business. Now, our house is constantly filled with balloons and every day feels like a party. We are surrounded by beauty, and we always want to celebrate how far we have come.”

Kōtiro & Co is very much a whānau affair. While Lariah is the primary organiser and Jordon is in charge of event set-ups, they are helped by Jordon’s cousin Terore Taia (Ngāti Pikiao) and daughters Natahlia and Kaylee, who love to help with the balloons. The couple’s youngest daughter, Kahurangi-Jade, is still too young to be actively involved but Lariah says it’s inevitable that, like her sisters, she too, will grow up watching the whānau business grow and expand.

In their first year of operation, the couple staged several events and slowly grew their collection of Māori-themed decorations. But receiving Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu WAVE funding in July 2022 has fast-tracked growth and enabled them to build up their party hire stocks.

“We want to normalise te reo Māori and Pasifika party hire items and that meant we have had to custom make items like neon signs in te reo because they simply did not exist. Now we have been able to source our own neon light designer who works with us.

Funding has also enabled the purchase of a company vehicle, which is used to transport the hire items.

“We used to load all our balloon garlands into a trailer, cover them with a tarpaulin and transport them to a venue. One time we took a load to Rolleston and when we got there, they’d all popped.”

“Now Jordon can deliver them safely in our new van and that has been amazing. He is a big guy with facial tattoos and as a former senior gang member, he can seem a little intimidating at first glance, but when he rocks up to a venue with a van load of pink balloons, he really connects with our clients and that is a beautiful thing to see,” says Lariah.

For Kōtiro & Co, receiving WAVE funding has been life changing. It has allowed this whānau to accelerate their creativity and passion for this kaupapa while also role modelling to their tamariki that success is always possible, no matter what you have suffered or overcome.

“When we first launched on social media, the response was amazing and overwhelming. It can be scary setting up your own business and you have to push through those feelings of uncertainty. That’s where Te Pūtahitanga has been so incredible. Funding has been important, but the real magic is their ongoing support. Having a whānau and hapori that believes in us allows us to stay focused on our kaupapa. Sometimes that voice of encouragement is all you need to push through.”