What began as a whānau fundraiser and part-time passion seven years ago, is now a fulltime business and Bridgette Keil, owner of Koukou Creations, is excited that Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu WAVE funding has helped make her dream a reality.

Bridgette (Ngāti Tamaterā), established Koukou Creations back in 2015, when she developed a Māori-themed colouring book to sell online, in support of her young cousin, who was representing Aotearoa at the World Indigenous Games in Brazil. She was working fulltime as a graphic designer but when people started asking her for more Māori-themed products, she was happy to extend the range.

“I’m a stationery nerd so being a graphic designer working in a print house, I knew exactly how to create a quality product.  After lots of cold calling, I was able to get the colouring book stocked in New York, Australia and New Zealand resulting in enough sales to help my whānau and fund my cousin’s trip.” she says.

Invercargill-based Bridgette, who originally trained and worked as a Project Manager and Draftsman in Christchurch, finally ‘went solo’ a year ago, after 14 years working in the graphic design industry.

“Resigning from fulltime work felt scary but with all the work I was doing for Koukou on top of my day job, I was overcommitted.  I often worked past midnight and weekends to get everything done but I finally realised what was important, and that I had to take the leap and invest in what meant the most to me – my Māoritanga.”

Bridgette had worked hard to save a ‘security nest egg’ to help get through the first year of self-employment and with WAVE funding, she and her husband Logan Keil, have been able to acquire the equipment needed to take the business to the next level. That has included converting an old sleep-out (purchased and transported from Darfield) into a sleek garden studio space; purchasing new equipment, furnishings and software, and invest in onsite training of a previously-purchased laser cutter.

While Logan still works fulltime at Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter, they both have hopes he will eventually be able to join the business fulltime, taking over the e-Shop and laser cutting.

“Te Pūtahitanga has taken the set-up pressure off me and it’s given us time to plan our development carefully. It’s meant we don’t have to cut any corners and it’s helped us build a whole atmosphere around the Koukou Creations brand,” Bridgette says.

“Funding has been such an enormous blessing. It’s meant I haven’t had to sidestep the principles of Te Ao Māori that are core to who I am, in order to get my business off the ground. Those values are what guides me and drives my design style, upholding the integrity and mana of my tīpuna.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of in this journey as my business evolves – standing strong in tikanga Māori, my Māoritanga and wairuatanga.”

Whether it’s graphic design, corporate branding or the e-shop side of the business, Koukou Creations is first and foremost a Māori entity enriched by Bridgette’s own acknowledgment of Te Ao Māori and she’s grateful for WAVE funding.

“Te Pūtahitanga funding has given me a sound foundation for starting my business and it’s fast-forwarded our development, in ways that would otherwise have taken years of saving to achieve.”