Hayley Lowe and her nine-year-old daughter have created a successful brand together.
Haley Lowe (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Raukawa) was born to be an artist. “Since I was little, I’ve always created things. Both Mum and Nana had drawers and cupboards of things like ribbons, cards and wrapping paper, and I have fond memories of opening them up and making all kinds of art.”
This creative spirit is ultimately what led Hayley and her nine-year-old daughter, Mereana Wairua, to found their incredibly successful business O Te Motu Creations – but it certainly wasn’t a direct route from artistic child to business owner.
While Haley, 45, has always created in various ways, she trained as a teacher in 2004 and worked for eight years in both primary and early childhood education. It was great, but local government beckoned, and she went on to spend many years in roles such as Enviroschools facilitator and senior community advisor. “It all ended up being pretty stressful and I burnt out. I totally lost myself without even realising it was happening and ended up very sick with depression.”
Haley had hit rock bottom and her husband was concerned. At the same time, he’d been talking about them heading north to Hokianga where he comes from, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
As luck would have it, a role came up for him as sole charge police officer in Kohukohu in Northland, so Haley, her husband and daughter Mereana moved away from Auckland, while their older children remained in the family home. “I feel like our tūpuna were guiding us towards what we were supposed to be doing,” says Haley.
One day while enjoying their new life, Mereana’s bike tyre needed fixing and Haley took out the inner tube. As was her habit of creating things when she was young, she wondered what she could make from the material and ended up fashioning a pair of beautiful feather-shaped earrings from the flexible black material.
“They actually came out really well and I felt a surge of pride I hadn’t felt in a long time. We had just started homeschooling Mereana and she loved them too, so we took it on as a project together. I made some more for friends, and the requests just kept coming,” says Haley. “Everyone loved the earrings and Mereana relished the challenge, and soon took on the role of Boss Kōtiro. She has the final say of who stocks us and shares her vision for where we’re heading – we respectfully listen and follow her lead. There couldn’t be a better way for her to learn maths, communication and problem-solving skills.”
Eventually a couple of stores in their village asked if they could stock them, and that was the start of O Te Motu Creations’ growth. Two and a half years later, they are stocked in 33 places around New Zealand, sell worldwide online and are due to open a shop, OTM EcoWhare, in Papakura.
This business has well and truly brought Haley back to life after her burnout. But perhaps the biggest reward for Haley and Mereana are the emails they get from women who have worn their earrings and felt a sense of pride they haven’t felt before. “Our biggest reward is knowing we’re showing our aroha for Papatūānuku by diverting waste from landfill, while also creating a taonga that empowers wāhine.”