As journalists, there are numerous terms that we wind up misusing, overusing, or even stripping meaning of altogether. The word hero is one which has found itself subject to all three. Upon flicking through a magazine or skimming the front page of a tabloid, it’s likely that you will find anyone from reality TV stars to the local mayor stamped with the coveted term. And — after a while of being bandied about with such lack of regard for the definition — it can lose its significance entirely, like when a diurnal word is repeated in quick succession so that it begins to feel as though it never belonged to the mother-tongue at all. In order to identify the real heroes in a sea of imitators, it’s high time we received a refresher course on the true meaning of the word, reminding ourselves exactly why we need them in the process.
The term itself goes back to the times of ancient Greece, a word initially derived from hērōs, literally meaning ‘protector’ or ‘defender.’ It runs rampant throughout all of Greek mythology, tales as old as time that are laced with figures so brave and daring, so cunning and quick-thinking, that their exploits still captivate our imaginations today. Hercules for example, best known for his mind-blowing feats of strength and stamina, was the super-powered everyman who conquered the 12 Labors. He has lived on in the fables and fairytales that have long been woven through our cultural fabric, resurfacing throughout the years via an array of different guises.
In the 1930s it was superheroes that took up the torch and charged on ahead. Superman came to life in 1938 as a glimmer of hope in a wartime era, before cementing himself swiftly and firmly as a universal icon. The bold, capital ‘S’ represented everything that the Greek heroes had before: bravery, fearlessness, honesty, integrity and immeasurable strength. Over 70 years later, superheroes are no longer confined to their saturated, quadrilateral cages, having spilt out from the pages of comic books before seeping into everything from blockbuster movies to Comic-Con festivals. All it takes is one look at the juggernaut Marvel franchise to see how heroes in one form or another are still embedded deeply within our culture.
We no longer believe in nine-headed, serpentine water monsters, or men with superhuman strength — yet our need for valiant heroes has not wavered. Even more so as of late, as we progress into an age where celebrities and media personalities unrightfully pry the cape from the real, more deserving heroes of our time. Fighting to revive authentic heroism is Philip Zimbardo, the American psychologist and professor emeritus most famous for his controversial Sanford Prison Experiment in 1971. Opting for a more uplifting approach this time around, Zimbardo has founded the Heroic Imagination Project, a non-profit organisation that teaches everyday people how to be heroes in their own right. With his newly crafted series of education programmes, he invites us to question whether heroes are born or made. Perhaps it is a mix of both.
Above all, a hero in its truest sense should encourage us to transform ourselves for the better while delivering a serious dose of hope. Outside of our immediate lives, the world can sometimes prove a difficult and devastating place rife with poverty, social unrest, famine, and serious armed warfare. Heroes should serve as beaming strips of light that tear open the darkness and remind us that, even when we thought all was lost, there are still people we can turn to for guidance. Profoundly good people who choose to do the right thing, selflessly and without an expectation of recognition, and in whom the true meaning of heroism lives on.
Alongside being the most awarded winery in New Zealand (a lofty achievement considering the vast and varied industry here) Villa Maria is proudly family-owned and has been since its inception some 50 years ago. It’s one of the reasons why time spent at its Vineyard Café, just out of Auckland City, is guaranteed to be a warm, inviting experience. That the idea of family has been central to this winery’s ethos since the beginning, has resulted in something of a trickle-down effect, where everything from the service to the care with which the food is created is imbued with a wholesome, comforting sensibility.
So when Villa Maria switches up its Vineyard Café menu — which tends to coincide with the changing seasons — we start making plans to leave our usual inner-city haunts behind, and head out to Villa Maria instead, for an afternoon spent perched on its picturesque terrace, glass of award-winning wine in hand, sampling the latest menu offerings with high expectations.
And rightly so. With Villa Maria recently introducing its new winter menu, it’s easy to see why we deem the winery such an enticing destination. Between dishes that showcase some of the freshest local produce, like the artisanal cheese platters, the warming venison pie starter, and the deliciously tender beef short rib, two new additions, in particular, stand out.
The first is the duck confit — a classically comforting option for winter — which is served Balinese style with the beautifully fragrant meat accompanied by creamed parsnip, bok choy, pickled cherries and Grandmariner jus.
The other highlight (although really, picking only two is almost impossible) is the fresh halloumi salad, served with juicy segments of grilled orange, sweet baby beetroot, roasted pumpkin and cucumber, and finished with a sesame dressing.
To up the stakes on both dishes, opt for the Villa Maria wine match and revel in a culinary experience the like of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city.
No one throws a party quite like those in the cabaret, and this year’s Auckland Live season dedicated to all things diva is set to be no exception. From über-talented songstresses to make-you-blush drag queens, this line-up is inarguably the best The Civic has ever seen — but there’s one show, in particular, that really has us feverish with excitement. Yummy, the multi-award winning ensemble from Melbourne, will be making their Auckland debut on the 13th June, bringing an ample dose of unbridled sass and sequined flair to our shores.
Winners of Best Cabaret at Fringe World 2019 and Best Production and Best Ensemble at the 2018 Green Room Awards, Yummy has already won over international crowds and is a group known for its wild cult following. Unlike anything you will have ever seen this side of the Tasman, the powerhouse performance combines music, circus, burlesque and jaw-dropping drag and ties it all up with a fuschia feather boa. It’s a show that is tongue-in-cheek, to say the least, with an outrageous bent that leaves onlookers both scandalized and unable to turn away. The unbelievable cast is made up of performers who have earnt their accolades near and far, and includes the likes of ringleader and founder, drag star Valerie Hex, gymnastics prodigy Hannie Helsden (La Soirée), burlesque queen Zelia Rose (who joined the iconic Dita Von Teese during her worldwide burlesque tour) and eclectic drag newcomer, Karen From Finance.
An eccentric collective that has already wowed Australian audiences, it’s safe to say that Yummy’s imminent arrival has us on the edge of our seats. And with three chances available to soak in the spectacle — the show is on from Thursday 13th June until Saturday 15th — you would be a fool to miss this cabaret extravaganza.
It’s ten o’clock in the morning in Auckland, and I’m sitting in a conference room waiting to video call with one of New Zealand’s most successful entrepreneurial exports. He’s in San Francisco, so when my screen flickers to life to reveal him in a similar room, it’s lit with a three-pm glow. Perhaps it’s because we’re competing with the lackadaisical nature of his late-afternoon time zone that the technology we are relying on refuses to work. Or, at least, that’s what I think as he shrugs apologetically through the screen after a few failed attempts to switch the sound on.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Tim Brown says, his first words after the two of us decided to cut our losses and chat over the phone instead. It feels like a somewhat ironic start to an interview with someone for whom tech innovation has played such a pivotal career role. If you weren’t already familiar with Tim Brown, you wouldn’t have been able to remain in the dark much longer. With Allbirds, his Silicon Valley start-up now reportedly valued at an eye-watering US$1.4 billion, the former professional football player (Brown’s previous career saw him representing New Zealand as the captain of the All Whites) alongside his business partner Joey Zwillinger, is being hailed as a pioneer in the realm of sustainable footwear, having created a shoe that, soon after its launch in 2016, Time Magazine dubbed ‘the most comfortable in the world.’
“It felt like a bit of a nod to all the hard work that had been done with our material innovation,” Brown tells me, speaking about how this initial accolade for the brand was a significant moment in his entrepreneurial journey. “We launched three years ago with four employees out of the garage of my business partner’s mother-in-law,” he explains, underlining how, despite the appearance of very quick success with Allbirds, it hadn’t been an overnight triumph. “It was a bad idea for seven years before it was a good one,” Brown chuckles, citing the years of research and painful trial and error it took to create the shoes that Allbirds is now renowned for. And it has to be said, they certainly live up to their reputation.
The distinguishing feature of Allbirds shoes is their revolutionary fabric. Made from superfine New Zealand merino wool, Allbirds’ signature styles are impossibly soft, water-resistant, temperature-regulating and machine washable and at the time of their release were, as Brown says, “something that really hadn’t been done before.” But rethinking the traditional footwear model has been Allbirds’ driving mandate since the beginning. “We took a contrarian approach to building a business in footwear based on years of seeing how the industry had done it, with a belief that there was an opportunity to do it differently,” Brown says, explaining how, while simple design and superior comfort were and still are key factors in the brand, it was the idea of sustainability that transformed Allbirds from a good business into a groundbreaking one.
“I think the realisation of the larger purpose of the business took some time,” Brown articulated, “but it’s been critically important to unearth because it’s the driving force — the difference between doing something really well and doing something great.” Although sustainability in the wider context of fashion has become a topic of increased discussion and debate, its zeitgeist-y nature making it the crusade of choice for fashion-weary Millennials, in the footwear industry, there has been a conspicuous ignorance of the issues. Globally, the industry emits a staggering 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, with an annual production of around 20 billion pairs of shoes. It’s as prolific in production and sales as it is detrimental to the planet, and, until Allbirds came along, there were very few companies endeavouring to change those statistics. Brown and his company is one of the few existing in the sustainable fashion space whose commitment to the cause goes beyond ‘greenwashing,’ to produce very real, tangible change. So much so, that Allbirds attracted early funding from a number of environmental bigwigs, like the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who made an undisclosed investment in the business last year.
The wool used in Allbirds’ original sneakers comes through organisations like ZQ Merino that work to ensure high standards of farming, environmental management and animal welfare. And after the first collection landed to much acclaim, Brown and his team released a second major material innovation that saw a slightly sportier range of shoes fashioned from South African tree fibre. Breathable and flexible, the brand’s TENCEL™ Lyocell fabric uses 95 per cent less water than traditional materials like cotton and is FSC Certified (meaning it meets strict requirements around forest conservation). The ethos of sustainability even extends to the smaller details. The laces in Allbirds’ shoes are made from recycled plastic bottles. The packaging is made from 90 per cent recycled cardboard. The eyelets come from a bio-based material created thanks to microorganisms that consume plant sugars. And Brown tells me that they have recently released another milestone innovation, in the form of an eco-friendly EVA which, in its synthetic form, is one of the most commonly-used materials in the soles of shoes. “It’s basically a green EVA made from sugar cane,” Brown explains, “carbon negative in its raw form.”
Notable beyond the astonishing science at play is the fact that Brown decided to make this pioneering new material (aptly named SweetFoam™) open-sourced to the wider industry. “I found out today that there have been an enormous number of other companies that have come to test it out and use it,” he tells me, “so it feels like a completely new model for how to do business in the footwear space.” It’s something Brown says reminds him that Allbirds is just a “tiny drop in an enormous market”, and although it’s true, it feels compellingly humble considering the significant waves that his “tiny drop” has initiated.
Perhaps this comes down to his work ethic. Explaining the painstaking development process of SweetFoam™, the entrepreneur tells me, “we spent two years working on it and eventually released it as a flip-flop,” quickly clearing his throat before correcting himself, “jandal.” It’s a slip of the tongue that reminds me of Brown’s inherent Kiwi-ness. Regardless of the Silicon Valley origins of his business, he still embodies the archetypal traits that have long given New Zealanders the ability to punch above our weights. They are traits like a dauntless work ethic, a quick humour and a propensity to be humble and it’s clear that part of Allbirds’ success lies in the fact that, in many ways, it embodies the same values as its co-founder. “I think the Allbirds brand has been built with a Kiwi sensibility,” Brown says, “going after something very, very serious, like sustainability, but not taking ourselves too seriously in the pursuit of that challenge.” And he’s right. The quirky, cartoon motifs that weave through Allbirds’ branding combined with their cutesy environmental puns make talking about a subject as dense and often discouraging as the future of the environment far more approachable.
But Brown is keenly aware of his mission and the urgent need for change beyond simply encouraging people to reconsider the environmental cred of their trainers. Recently, he announced the Allbirds Carbon Fund, and with it, the fact that Allbirds was transitioning into an entirely carbon-neutral business. The fund has seen a self-imposed, internal carbon tax put into place, related to every tonne of carbon dioxide Allbirds emits (from the sheep on the merino farms to the lights in the office). Proceeds from the fund are put towards supporting various emissions reduction projects, and with every pair of shoes bought, the Allbirds customer can decide which of these projects they would like a portion of their purchase put towards. It’s an unprecedented move and something Brown says he feels particularly excited about. Alongside the fund, Allbirds recently released a new style of shoe that feels like a culmination of all the work Brown and his team have done so far. Made from the company’s tree-derived material with soles of comfortable SweetFoam™, the Tree Breezer slip-on flats are an entirely new look for the brand and signify a definitive new chapter in its development.
But despite the incredible breakthroughs, the widespread recognition and the external acknowledgement of his success, Brown doesn’t come across as someone who could ever rest on his laurels. When asked what kind of advice he would give to other young entrepreneurs, Brown insists the importance of trusting your gut and listening to your instincts. “I think the idea of challenging conventional wisdom and doing something that people haven’t thought of before necessities that people will probably think it’s a little silly,” he says, underlining how in the beginning he had to forge on, relying on a mix of bravery and confidence in the face of numerous people maintaining that what he was trying to achieve simply couldn’t be done.
On the cusp of welcoming his second child, I asked Brown about the idea of legacy and what he hoped to leave behind for his children and in turn, theirs. “When Joey and I got together we genuinely imagined a business that we would tell our grandkids about,” Brown replies, “a business based in sustainability and one that was, hopefully, part of the leadership in a revolution of the way things were made.” It’s a vision he’s on track to achieve. But for all of his success and for all of the ways he is shaping the conversation of sustainability in fashion, Brown is just one person who has set out to make a difference in a world where people striving to do that in a meaningful way are few and far between. And if that isn’t heroism in action, I don’t know what is.
To read more about Tim Brown’s inspiring journey with Allbirds, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Denizen magazine, out now. Or click here to subscribe.
n the history of mankind, only two private companies have ever succeeded in delivering satellites to orbit. One is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the other, Peter Beck’s Rocket Lab. And on the evening of Sunday the fifth of May, the latter launched its sixth successful flight to put satellite number 28 into orbit, from its launch site on the Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay. “It was a wonderful, wonderful launch,” Rocket Lab’s CEO and founder says enthusiastically. It’s the day after, and I’m speaking with Peter Beck on what I can only imagine has been a day of celebration — Sunday’s launch had been a particularly important one. “We had the U.S. Air Force as a customer,” Beck explains, “the payload mass was really high and we had a lot of new technologies on board.” But despite the high stakes and the fact that thousands of hours had gone into the launch, on the phone, Beck seemed eminently cool in a way I eventually came to recognise as his default mode. Calmly explaining that by succeeding in its latest mission of putting three new satellites into orbit, Rocket Lab had maintained its 100 per cent launch success rate, revealing an almost unprecedented statistic in an industry where, as the entrepreneur says, “you’re fighting physics the whole time.”
With his company, Beck is on a mission to deliver frequent, reliable and affordable launch services for small satellites, facilitating growth in an industry he sees as vital to the development of life on Earth. Explaining the huge potential of increasing the number of smaller satellites in space, Beck underlines the possibilities as everything from “global internet coverage… to better crop monitoring, to being able to monitor illegal fishing… so many things that make a real difference.” The fact that satellites are shrinking in size is really just a reflection of the technological advancements of the last decade. “If you put a satellite on a table and started pulling it to bits,” Beck articulates, “you would basically find everything that’s in your phone.” Looking at my phone, it was hard to imagine it whizzing around the Earth, suspended in the vast expanse of space, but in Beck’s explanation, satellites shrinking down to the size of shoeboxes was an inevitability. Where he and Rocket Lab came in, was in facilitating their deployment into low Earth orbit at an unprecedented frequency. “We have the ability to launch from our Mahia site up to 120 times a year,” Beck reveals, highlighting one of Rocket Lab’s core benefits. “The launch vehicle offers the democratisation [of small satellites],” the entrepreneur explains, pointing to how his Electron rocket had been designed specifically to deliver small satellites to precise orbits on their own schedules (something that, until Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket and the company’s private launch site came along, hadn’t really been a possibility). “You can’t build these networks without a small vehicle,” Beck says, “that is the key to unlocking all of the potential.” With Electron, Rocket Lab has established itself as a pioneer in the new frontier of satellite deployment. Made entirely in-house by the company, Electron has opened possibilities for private companies, research organisations and governments to get satellites into orbit faster and more cost-effectively than with traditionally, large launch vehicles that launch infrequently and at 10 times the cost. Beck’s foresight has created room for exploring previously unbroached possibilities and his groundbreaking facilities are turning those things into a reality.
Despite being an American company, (its official headquarters are in Huntington Beach, California) Rocket Lab has factory facilities and a launch site in New Zealand, and its founder is, of course, a New Zealander. Telling me, in his slight Invercargill twang (an ‘r’ sound that only another Kiwi could pick up on), how he founded Rocket Lab in 2006, it was a decision he explains as the culmination of his life-long fascination with space. “When I was very, very young,” Beck tells me, “my dad would take me outside and we would look up to the stars. One time he pointed out a satellite to me, explaining that people had put it up there, and that the rest of the stars were suns, and that those suns could have other planets around them, and that those planets could have people on them.” It was a moment Beck cites as having ignited his obsession with what lay beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and marked the beginning of his journey into space.
You might ask, as I did, how one equips oneself to face the complications of space with as much self-assurance and success as Beck has. For starters, he never lost sight of his vision, explaining how even in high-school (which was when he started making rockets, by the way) his career advisor had called his parents to tell them that Beck’s aspirations were simply not achievable, and that really, he should aim for a career in engineering that was a little more grounded (literally) in reality. Refusing to let small-mindedness deter him (an ethos he maintains to this day), Beck decided to undertake a trade, starting an apprenticeship at Fisher & Paykel as a tool and die maker and honing his aesthetic sensibilities by spending time in the company’s design office. From there, it was a string of jobs — one for a super yacht business where he learnt how to manage big projects, another for a government research lab where he learnt about advanced materials, structures and superconductors — all while continuing to build his own rockets on the side, that prepared him for the discipline he would need to build and run a company. “My plan was always to work for NASA or one of the big aerospace companies in America,” Beck tells me, but when I realised that they weren’t doing what I felt was important and that needed to be done, I came back to New Zealand and founded Rocket Lab.”
Launching his first rocket into space in 2009 (making Rocket Lab the first private company in the Southern Hemisphere to do so) Beck tells me that it took a few years of building credibility in the industry before he could start calling on Silicon Valley investors to raise the nearly half-billion dollars needed to achieve his vision (an eye-watering sum). But his journey to reach the level of undertaking the successful launches he does now, was incremental. “Like any start up,” Beck tells me, “it was a 10-year overnight success,” and considering the numerous barriers of entry posed by an industry as vast and scientific as ‘space,’ the fact that Rocket Lab is not only launching its own Electron rockets but is launching them with consistent success from its very own site on behalf of customers as significant as NASA and the US military, almost beggars belief. “Space is incredibly hard,” Beck says, delivering what is possibly the understatement of the century, “usually it takes a country of resources, energy, effort and finances to do what we’ve done… and history is littered with failure.”
It isn’t hard to imagine why so many, companies and governments alike, have failed in their attempts to achieve anything close to what Rocket Lab has. “Physics is always a bit of a pain,” Beck chuckles, outlining how the nature of his work constantly teeters on the edge of what is scientifically possible. “Then from a regulatory standpoint,” he continues, “before we even began we had to convince the governments of both New Zealand and the United States to sign a bilateral treaty and the New Zealand government had to get a whole new set of legislation passed into law, before creating a space agency.” It’s a series of exceedingly complex barriers to overcome, to simply be allowed to start a business, not to mention, as Beck reminds me, having to (once the laws allowed) find and build a launch site and a number of tracking stations around the world.
Walking into Rocket Lab’s Auckland facility, it’s the video feeds from these tracking stations that are some of the first things I see. Entering the Mount Wellington headquarters is an experience as close to what I can imagine stepping onto a spaceship would be. A sliding door gives way to a white corridor, ringed with red LEDs that leads to a black wall reading, ‘WE GO TO SPACE TO IMPROVE LIFE ON EARTH.’ In the foyer, the red LEDs continue, lining the black walls and floor in a futuristic glow. From behind a soundproof wall of glass, visitors are given a glimpse into an operations room that looks like something straight out of Star Trek. Rows of computers flickering with various formulas and designs sit in front of a wall of screens, some streaming live feeds from tracking stations in Cork and the Azores, others showing the footage from Sunday’s launch and one with a world map that seemed to be tracing various satellites in orbit. On one wall, a timeline mural had been erected, chronicling Rocket Lab’s journey from its inception to now, ending with the recent announcement of a second launch site being built at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia (also the site for many of NASA’s rocket launches). In 2018, the timeline showed me how Rocket Lab had completed three successful orbital launches of Electron rockets with irreverent names like ‘Still Testing,’ and ‘It’s Business Time,’ that, although eliciting a snigger from me, were undertaking some really very serious business (the third launch included 13 satellites for NASA). In 2017, the timeline read, ‘Reached 1 billion dollar valuation and became a space unicorn.’ Only a New Zealander, I thought, looking at the mix of incredible achievements and funny interjections on the wall, could approach the seriousness of space innovation with such a dry sense of humour. At the back of the room, I noticed a circular plaque that commemorated the opening of the incredible facility in which I was standing. On it, noted the date, October 2018, alongside the person who officiated the opening, ‘William Shatner, a.k.a. Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.’ The plaque itself was even designed after the shape of the U.S.S. Enterprise (the TV show’s iconic spaceship). Learning that Beck actually designed most of the facility himself, it made sense. Standing in the foyer I was struck by the amount of passion, dedication and undying belief that someone would need to have to make all of this possible. By simply seeing space, not as an insurmountable, unknowable entity (like most of us do) but as an exciting new domain filled with untapped potential, Beck really has gone boldly where no man has gone before.
At its core, Rocket Lab’s success reflects its founder’s straight-forward approach and quiet self belief. He has a never-say-die attitude without any of the recklessness that usually accompanies that, which is part of the reason why, when you look at Rocket Lab’s steady reliability against the media storm that often surrounds its competitors, it’s Beck’s company that stands out as a leader.
Part of this is due to his inherent, Kiwi nature, with Beck telling me how “New Zealanders are very fair and respectful in business.” And it’s true. We do have a reputation for conducting ourselves with integrity and possessing an understated drive that has served people like Beck exceptionally well professionally. But the businessman also speaks to issues he has noticed with the culture of entrepreneurism in New Zealand. Issues he is working to change. “We don’t teach entrepreneurism in our schools,” he tells me, “nobody aspires to be an entrepreneur in this country like you aspire to be a doctor or a fireman… nobody says to you when you’re growing up, hey you can just follow your dream and do what you want to do — you can build a big company and do something that nobody has done before.” So for Beck, what his success allows him to do is use the experience, knowledge and connections he has gained with Rocket Lab, to mentor Kiwi entrepreneurs who he says have “no shortage of wonderful ideas or innovation,” encouraging them to approach their businesses with a big picture mindset. “I try to take really great New Zealand entrepreneurs and bring them onto the world stage where they can get proper funding and go big,” Beck tells me. And normally, where I would have been surprised that someone as presumably busy as Beck would set aside time for such altruistic pursuits, by that point, I had learned not to be surprised by anything.
To me, Peter Beck is a leader in the truest sense of the word. When I asked him who some of his heroes were, he didn’t skip a beat. “It’s going to sound a bit cliché, but it’s actually the team here,” he says, signalling around him. “The shit we do is unbelievable, and I see time and time again where our engineers do modelling that other engineers and experts from some of the biggest aerospace companies in the world said wasn’t possible… and our team works overnight and does it.” Citing his team as the best in their field (and really, they are), it’s clear that Beck’s ability to attract global talent, and people with passion that equals his, will ensure Rocket Lab’s success well into the future. “I guess I’d like to leave a legacy for humanity, really,” he tells me in the same straightforward tone he’d probably also use to say “I guess I’ll go to the supermarket now.” But that’s exactly what he’s doing by redefining our access to space and pushing the boundaries of possibility. “That’s the one thing space can do,” he explains, “if you can deploy infrastructure on orbit, you get the opportunity to affect millions and millions of peoples lives… Really, I’ll call it a success if the world we live in, in five years time, looks very different from this one. That’s where I’ll call a win.”
To read more about Peter Beck’s incredible story, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Denizen magazine, out now. Or click here to subscribe.
Last Friday evening saw an assortment of geometric lasers, undulating light installations and a neon archway illuminate Shed10 as it prepared to welcome a crowd of convivial partygoers, descending on the venue to celebrate our 2019 Denizen Heroes. The annual gala, presented by Chivas Regal proved an evening to remember. Mind-bending light features, courtesy of Angus Muir Design bathed the expansive spaces in an intriguing, after-dark glow, while the rousing tunes of guitarist ARLI, Nathan and Jaimie Haines and The Sweet Mix Kids ensured that once formalities we over, hitting the dance floor felt the only appropriate thing to do.
A purpose-built portrait studio took over one corner of the gala, where photographer extraordinaire Olivia Kirkpatrick snapped perfectly composed pictures of attendees (see those photos here), and dotted around the space were various food stalls, including a Chivas gelato stand offering deliciously creamy Chivas-infused Miann morsels coated in chocolate.
With the Chivas Regal bar serving an array of tantalising cocktails (devised by drinks specialists Black Pineapple Co.) including the crowd-pleasing Chivas Collins, the Shiso Heroic and the New Old Fashioned, and a jovial spirit driving a collectively good vibe on the night, it might have been our fourth Heroes Gala, but it was certainly the best one yet.
When you bought your coffee from your local cafe this morning, what were you thinking about? You were probably thinking about the fact that the barista said your name wrong (again), or perhaps you were deciding which urgent call you would fake in order to escape some impending meeting. You definitely weren’t thinking about the cup that was holding your early caffeine kick, a robust, sturdy, familiar vessel, and these days, most likely made from plants. Yes, plants.
Food packaging has had a severe overhaul of late and it’s all down to one name: Ecoware. Eradicating oil-based plastic packaging with its range of sustainable corn or bamboo based alternatives, Ecoware has become the brand on the lips of every food business, whether that’s supermarkets, food trucks or airlines. And while the brand itself might be on the verge of household recognition, there are two people, Alex Magaraggia and James Calver, the childhood friends behind the operation, that should be receiving similar acknowledgement.
It was during university when Calver describes stumbling across his first major eureka moment. He was in the midst of a business degree, and as part of his event management placement, was expected to look after the waste disposal situation at one of Sanitarium’s Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlons. At some point during the event, he came to realise that both the recycling and landfill bins on site connected at the back, into one, singular bin. And although it was a moment that sparked within him a rage against the plastic industry, he still didn’t understand the gravity of the situation until shortly after, when he was surfing in the Mentawai Islands in North Sumatra. Ravaging what he describes as, “a remote paradise,” was tonnes and tonnes of plastic, swarming the once peaceful and ethereal atolls. “This made me realise that the problem with plastic was really, really big,” he explains, and he’s right.
Around 252,000 tonnes of plastic heads to our landfills every year, 252,000 tonnes of material that will take over 400 years to degrade — and even then it will never fully disappear, but merely disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces. The situation is dire indeed, and after Calver relayed the story to Magaraggia, they felt compelled to act. It was here that the ball began rolling on an idea that would change the course of both of their careers, and lives, for good.
The concept was simple. As opposed to the linear system of plastic — where products are made and, even if they are recycled, still end up in landfill — they would instead create packaging with a more circular ethos. Namely, compostable products crafted from plants that would biodegrade and, essentially, return to the earth from which they came. The idea wasn’t rocket science, Calver explains, but it was so alien to businesses at the time that “it sounded too good to be true.” And so for the next two to three years the young duo — then in their early 20s — created a number of teaching programmes to educate and inform businesses, not only on their products but on the growing issue of landfill. Striving to be taken seriously, Magaraggia describes these early years as comprising nothing but “hard work and persistence.”
It was coffee companies that were the first to start taking the pair’s message seriously. Described by Magaraggia as “young, vibrant and casual,” the coffee industry was very much like them, and as such allowed meaningful long-term relationships to be forged. From there, success ballooned. All they had to do was get one industry on side, and the rest would succumb to their proposal like a row of toppling dominoes. In 2018 alone, Ecoware replaced approximately 750,000 kilograms of packaging made from oil and now, its wares — whether produce containers, bowls, cutlery or coffee cups — can be found in a wide range of commercial businesses as far reaching as stadiums, hotels, food trucks and juice bars.
I ask if they can spill the beans on any juggernaut businesses they are working with, and, for a brief moment, I am met with silence. Throughout our interview, it became apparent to me how the pair — friends since the age of five — are cut from the same cloth in terms of ideals, yet still, they boast differences that ensure a balance of personalities. When answering my questions, Calver would speak honestly and openly, letting the sentences roll off his tongue without pause for thought. Magaraggia was more carefully constructed: as though many more decisions were required before he could convert his thoughts into words. Their manners were contrasting, but it meant that at no point during the interview I was met with no answer at all, until now. “That’s a tough one,” Magaraggia replied after a few moments. “It’s not that we can’t name names, because we do work with a few big market leaders in different areas, but to just name a few would be an injustice to the others.” “We try to avoid that question,” Calver chimed in, agreeing that, while they have the big names on board, “we wouldn’t want to do a disservice to the smaller, lesser known brands that got us to where we are today.”
That said, it would be remiss to not mention one or two of the bigger entities Ecoware now supplies. Partnerships with the likes of Auckland entertainment powerhouse SKYCITY, supermarket giant New World and Air New Zealand have seen a serious overhaul of large-scale, waste management systems and have given the brand exposure that has been far-reaching and meaningful.
Anyone in Calver and Magaraggia’s position could be forgiven for name dropping. It is, of course, how a lot of people in this industry — or any industry for that matter — get ahead. But that approach just isn’t part of the pair’s modus operandi. In fact, this is just one of many examples of their genuine nature and propensity to be modest that I’m presented with throughout our interview. Both down to earth and incredibly approachable, it is easy to see how their leadership would have been a defining factor when it came to Ecoware standing out against the rest, something Magaraggia describes simply as “a Kiwi attitude to business.”
The same goes for their commitment to educating others about their message. They are an intelligent, articulate duo — undoubtedly — but they never slip into condescending tones when asked to explain intricate concepts to novices like me. Even when they outline the current state of recycling — how it used to be an efficient municipal system until China, the place we were shipping all our recycling to, banned the import of most plastics — they speak in layman’s terms without being patronising. They educate without being righteous. “We’re not preachy,” explains Magaraggia, saying that, when it comes to recycling and the such, “nobody likes to be told that what they’re doing is wrong. It’s not part of our business — we could have potentially got more sales that way — but it’s just not us.”
Ecoware, it seems, is far more than just a packaging company, and Calver and Magaraggia are far more than just business-minded co-founders. They serve as teachers, environmentalists, friends, aids, supporters and so much more. So perhaps next time, when you are waiting for your daily flat white, you should take a moment to think more about the process behind the packaging you are about to hold and — perhaps most importantly of all — the forward-thinking, innovative, and humble people behind it who are, in the name of the environment, striving to deliver palpable change for the sake of all of our futures.
To learn more about Magaraggia and Calver’s inspiring story, pick up a copy of the winter issue of Denizen magazine, out now, or click here to subscribe.
I first encountered Paul Baragwanath on the eve of Anzac Day, on a crisp, autumn evening outside the St David’s Memorial Church in Grafton. It was the night of his anticipated Art of Remembrance event and as I arrived — admittedly, a few minutes late — the bundled up crowd had already taken their seats, the excitable hubbub simmering into a hushed, eager silence. Baragwanath, making his way to the makeshift stage, dished out welcoming smiles and chirpy greetings to generations old and young, friends old and new, and complete strangers too, like me. He emanated a sincere warmth more expected from an old chum than a host, something I would soon understand to be one of his most prominent traits. While an art consultant by day, Baragwanath was here on this evening under the guise of project director to deliver the latest instalment of his Art of Remembrance project, now in its fifth year.
As I quietly observed the evening’s tributes to those lost during WWI, often tuning into snippets of conversations that circled me, I noticed how men and women across a spectrum of ages, races, backgrounds and religions were interacting and coming together to discuss one single commonality. It was that evening, two days before my interview with Baragwanath was to take place, that I realised the enormity of the Art of Remembrance project: not only does it invite us to remember those fallen during the great wars, but in doing so it continues to bring people together in ways that they might never have been brought together before.
It was back in 2015 that Baragwanath’s Art of Remembrance project first came to light, via a soul-stirring exhibition that captured imaginations throughout New Zealand and beyond. For three months from Anzac day that year, more than 7,000 pure brass, glistening artworks blanketed the Church of St David’s. Each an individually produced Max Gimblett quatrefoil the size of a soldier’s hand, designed to honour those who served in the First World War. After the three month display, the brass quatrefoils were sold and the profits were used to save St David’s Memorial Church during a time when it was at risk of demolition. With a grand total of one million dollars raised — the largest sum of money raised through an art fundraising project in the history of the country by a very, very long margin — the Art of Remembrance project cemented itself firmly in the history books and the hearts of many.
It was an incredible triumph, but one that may not have occurred at all if it wasn’t for an unexpected visit to the church over a year earlier. “I was driving past St David’s when something told me to turn around,” Baragwanath tells me, explaining how his job as an art consultant and his nature to be so easily “affected by space, arts and architecture” led to him being immeasurably moved by the place. So much so, in fact, that when he entered and realised, from talking to the minister, that the great building of national significance was soon to be demolished, he was heartbroken. “I was shocked,” he discloses, relaying the moment where, upon hearing the news, tears projected from his eyes with such velocity that they hit the polished lenses of his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.
It was this emotional moment that lit a flame of passion within Baragwanath that has been burning brightly ever since. After setting up the Friends of St David’s Trust shortly after and only managing to raise $200 in a year, with no heritage protection and millions needed for restoration, demolition seemed inevitable. But the new year brought a gift for Paul: a ceramic poppy from the Blood Swept Tears and Seas of Red exhibition at the Tower of London. With this gift in hand, and artist Max Gimblett’s offer to ‘help in any way I can’, Baragwanath saw it clearly: St David’s would be adorned in a cape of golden, Gimblett quatrefoils, each the size of a soldiers’ hand outstretched. In the centenary of WWI, it would be New Zealand’s artwork of remembrance and it would put St David’s back on the map. Facing demolition in the eye, Baragwanath had just a matter of weeks to develop the artworks, fix them onto a historic building, create a story and online platform to share the project and then sell the artworks to raise the funds. These weeks contained “some of the busiest days” of Baragwanath’s life, and perhaps the most challenging, too. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sizeable swarm of volunteers who felt compelled to help him on his journey, it was a vision that may never have come to fruition at all.
“That’s the biggest part of this story,” he says, explaining how, the entire way, “people had stepped up bravely and selflessly” to enable the project to continue. He goes on to tell of how, after bringing the quatrefoils down from the church, volunteers spent months tirelessly soaking and scrubbing them so that they would be ready to be sold. One woman, described by Baragwanath as simply “incredible” worked 12-15 hour days until her hands were sore and bleeding. He remarks how his mum, trying to help wherever possible, cooked around 2,000 lunches and dinners for the hungry and exhausted volunteers. He names the businesses and companies that offered their services free of charge, almost too many to count. While it’s clear to me that it was Baragwanath’s unwavering determination, unprecedented compassion and joyous personality that inspired so many people to offer a helping hand, as far as Baragwanath himself is concerned, it was down to nothing more than a love of art.
“The project caught people’s imagination,” he says, telling me about his Art of Remembrance journey with a steady, storyteller’s knack. It’s when the topic of art comes up, however, that a fever of enthusiasm ensues. He tears away from the conversation and begins passionate prose on the topic, giving us a glimpse into his wildly creative mind while doing so. “Art can transform how we feel and how we see the world,” he explains. “It can lift our consciousness, generate empathy and understanding. It can bring us into the present moment, to remind us we are alive and life is beautiful.”
If it weren’t for these energetic tangents it would be easy to forget that Baragwanath, first and foremost, is an art consultant. Widely respected in his industry for over 20 years, The Art of Remembrance is merely a side project, one he had to take a year off — unpaid — to pursue. Since then he has devoted about a third of each of the subsequent years to its continuity. Last year, for example, Baragwanath created The Art of Remembrance: Southern Star Te Tonga Whetu o te Rangi. On the eve of Anzac day 2018, a three-part film was projected onto the beautiful brick facade of St David’s Church. For four days the film and soundscape ran, incorporating historical footage and digital animation, including 100,000 stars which represented the individuals who left New Zealand to take part in the war. This year, the night sky on Anzac Eve was filled with The Sound of Peace, a soundscape artwork that commemorated the lives taken by World War One in a different way, and one that also responded to the losses suffered during the devastating Christchurch massacre. The sublime piece of art, choreographed by artist Jeff Smith, featured voices of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, each delivering their own personal message of peace.
Recently, around five years after Baragwanath drove down Khyber Pass and learned of St David’s pending destruction, the Church was listed as a Category A Historic Heritage Place. Thanks to Paul’s hard work and perseverance, the memorial church is now wholly protected, recognised for its exceptional overall heritage significance to the Auckland region and beyond. An incredible feat, undoubtedly, and something that Paul himself describes as “nigh on a miracle.”
As I sat there on that crisp autumn evening, I remember thinking about how much the entire event had moved me. It was more than I would have expected. As someone who is quite removed from war in the grand scheme of things, I couldn’t help but wonder how Baragwanath’s work would have affected those more deeply connected to experiences of war. I didn’t have to wonder for long. As I was in the midst of wrapping up my interview with Baragwanath, two days after the Anzac Eve event, he received an email from a member of the New Zealand Defence Force — Major Nick Jones. The email congratulated Baragwanath on such a wonderful event, before going on to explain how much it meant to both him and his mother, who had attended. It was a poignant reminder that Baragwanath’s project — despite starting over three years ago — is something that still continues to uplift the souls of many today and will do so, no doubt, for evermore.
To learn more about Paul Baragwanath’s Art of Remembrance project and heart-warming story, pick up a copy of the winter issue of Denizen magazine, out now. Or click here, to subscribe.
Taking into account the Black Tie dress code for Friday evening’s Heroes Gala, it would have been a great shame to have let the night pass without properly acknowledging all the effort attendees went to, in order to remain on theme. And where the guys had donned their best ties and shiny lapels and the women their fancy frocks or sleek suits, photographer Olivia Kirkpatrick was there with her camera to capture it all in poised perfection.
Setting up in the custom-built photographic studio we created, Kirkpatrick spent hours wrangling guests beneath the stoic arches into various configurations and poses that made us all look suave, composed and effortlessly cool in a way that, for most (and especially towards the end of the night), was certainly not effortless.
It resulted in a line-up of images that will keep this effervescent evening elegantly cemented in memory — until next year rolls around.
To see the rest of Olivia Kirkpatrick’s images from the photo studio, click here.
Words Margie Riddiford | PHOTOS Clara-Jane Follas | 29 May 2019
“We call it the ‘Martha-odometer’,” Francesca Mazza says, backed up by Aaron Carson who follows with, “you know, ‘what would Martha do?”, before laughing. The pair are explaining the name of their new cafe, Just Like Martha, as having been inspired by Martha Stewart, and, as Mazza tells me, by their habit of deferring to her as their spiritual guide in matters of the kitchen. “She’s an icon,” Mazza says, and I have to agree. So it feels right that in the same way Stewart is prolific in global hospitality and food, Carson and Mazza are, in their own way, working to become just as prolific in Auckland’s dining scene. Just Like Martha is the latest in a number of openings by the powerhouse duo that includes Winona Forever, Major Tom, Rude Boy, FANG, Friday I’m In Love and Sugar at Chelsea Bay. Each with their own, unique edge but each rendered part of the same overarching family for their vibrant plates, generous portions and intriguing flavours that effortlessly combine various cultures and cuisines without becoming derivative ‘fusion’ cuisine.
Just Like Martha fits right into the line-up. Tucked into the lower level of a new apartment development on Mount Eden Road — more Three Kings than the street name would suggest — the vibe of the area feels suburban, residential and community-driven. “We’re back in the burbs,” Mazza says, “but it’s where we started, so that’s what we like.” Here Carson jumps in to explain that an element of doing something “not obvious” also came into play when making the decision to open outside the inner city bubble and that providing a place for the community to congregate was important.
Inside, where there would have been potential for someone to create something that reflected too accurately the ‘newness’ of the building — in other words, offer up a cafe that was too modern to be welcoming or too ‘cool’ to be popular — Carson and Mazza have created a space that is eclectic, warm and inviting. Described by the pair as a kind of homage to the corner cafes of Europe, they explained how the aim had been to inject a sense of “heritage” into what was a wholly new space. The bistro-style chairs reminded me of the kind you’d see lined up on Parisian streets. The graphic wallpaper lent the interior a verdant, leafy warmth. The cubic lights felt charmingly antique. And the bright pink coffee machine stood stoically at the end of the counter — a beacon of what these powerhouse operators represent.
“Good food and good coffee,” Carson tells me, explaining that, putting all else aside, those two things were what it ultimately came down to. Just Like Martha’s menu could be described as classic Kiwi brunch fare with a twist, but as Mazza says, “what even is ‘Kiwi’ fare today?”. As such, the food is a happy mix of flavours, textures and cultural touches that remains in line with the culinary ethos of its sibling eateries. The ‘mince on toast’ comprises Sichuan spicy mince piled atop a slab of housemaid chilli brioche with seasonal greens and a dash of FANG’s (Carson and Mazza’s Parnell Sichuan eatery) signature chilli oil.
Of course, various incarnations of eggs Benedict are included on the menu — but in a typically unexpected fashion. The iteration with braised beef cheek was a particular highlight, served with balsamic hollandaise, a layered potato stack and a drizzle of comforting gravy.
For those sporting a sweet tooth, Just Like Martha’s French toast really takes the already indulgent dish up a notch with dark chocolate brioche, white chocolate and raspberry panna cotta, thyme meringue and pieces of maple-fried banana. But even if ‘sweet’ really isn’t your thing, the double buttermilk fried chicken burger offers up the same opportunity to indulge. A delicious behemoth of a burger, this eye-popping dish includes some of the tastiest fried chicken we’ve tried, perfectly complemented by Southern slaw, chow chow relish and crispy shoestring fries.
Elsewhere on the menu, a kids section features a more simple version of the aforementioned French toast, a boiled egg and soldiers dish and a classic ham and cheese toastie. It’s a move that Mazza explains as imperative to making Just Like Martha an environment conducive to families.
With an ethos of inclusivity, food that can be made to suit any proclivity, a cabinet of mouth-watering sweet treats and slices and a coffee machine so bold that it’s sure to imbue the espresso being made on it with an extra boost, Just Like Martha is Carson and Mazza doing what they do best — creating a space for people to come together over good, hearty food. So whether you’re a Three Kings/Mount Eden local or not, this one’s worth venturing out of your bubble for.
Opening hours: Monday – Friday, 7am until 4pm Saturday and Sunday, 8am until 4pm