It was early 2016 when we traipsed across the back blocks of Bangalore, Jaipur, Delhi and Agra, India, in search of an authentic partnership that could bring the dream of Aho to life in fabric form.
I was 25, first trimester hapū (pregnant) with our first Pēpi, nauseous, hot and tired but determined and inspired.
I had no business experience, spent a lot of time googling, fighting waves of imposter syndrome and most definitely couldn’t have explained ecommerce, customs brokers, CIF, FOB, SKU’s, SEO, Terminal tax, GST, content creation or the myriad things that still surprise me when they now roll off my tongue.
Instagram was still in its infancy, mostly for artsy creatives capturing squares of beauty and hadn’t yet been co opted for marketing or influencers.
What I did have, was a seed of an idea, a dream of Aho that was built on a clear set of values, a kaupapa that would challenge and establish a new way of doing things as a pakihi Māori.
I had a seed of a pēpi taking form within me and a newly urgent desire to raise her and wrap her in a material experience that would reflect, affirm and celebrate her whakapapa Māori.
I had a dream of creating a life that could afford me the freedom and flexibility to work my own hours and be present at home with our pēpi.
I had an insuppressible impulse to create and design and make and tell visual stories- and Aho, as I saw it, could be my creative outlet.
That was 7 years ago this month.
7 Whole years. And what a ride this pakihi, this kaupapa, this dream has taken me on.
I am 32.
That small pēpi I carried within my kōpū across India, She’s now 6. Her teina, 4. And our pōtiki, 1.
That seed of an idea that grew into Aho has grown, expanded, evolved, pivoted. Stretching and growing us along with it. Sometimes as if it has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes, I'm shaping it, most often, it's stretching me.
We outgrew the spare room- and simultaneously, our 2nd pepi needed it. So we moved Aho into a sleepout in our backyard.
And soon, we outgrew the sleepout, and boxes lived behind couches,beds, lined hallways.
In many ways, Aho has pushed and grown and morphed into so many corners and spaces.
Growing me, our whanau alongside in ways I could never have imagined.
I still remember clearly, registering this pakihi.
At the time, the greatest freedom felt like being able to buy art supplies and legitimately call it a ‘business expense’ and not feel as if I were spending our grocery dollars on cardstock and pigments.
As an insatiably creative/maker/dreamer type of personality, Aho has been a refuge of sorts amongst the tides of Motherhood.
Aho felt like that bit of ‘me’ time. Unencumbered by the very pressing, urgent and physical demands of small children. An outlet and opportunity to play and explore and bring you along for the journey. A platform that grew and I found my tribe, friends, like minded musers, inspiration and a window to the world beyond our home.
The relationships I’ve found in this space have brought me immense joy and some wildly wonderful friendships. I felt like I was still ‘someone’, if you know what I mean, somehow present and engaged in the world and wonderful adult conversations, even if I rarely left the house.
2022 was, frankly, a lot.
By its end I was running on fumes. It was a year that was full. It tested, provoked, disappointed, invigorated, inspired, infuriated, challenged and grew me in all sorts of new, unforeseen and uncomfortable ways. By the time we logged off for a summer break I was spent.
It took nearly the entirety of my self imposed 3 weeks off, and offline to finally catch my breath. To reflect, without feeling triggered. To reevaluate without seeing failures. To breathe more deeply, to respond more kindly to myself, to dwell in the present and just let a lot of stuff go.
To dare to imagine a new year that will and must look different to the last.
And so it is in the place of rest and recovery, in anticipation of a new year with a softer landing that I’ve hit pause to reflect and reset.
7 Years ago, I couldn’t have fathomed becoming a mother, let alone Māmā to three curious, creative, adventurous, inquisitive and kind pēpi who call me to be as present as possible with them.
Three small, observant souls who watch me juggling, and too often, when I drop the balls, it’s at the expense of my presence with them.
7 Years ago, when Aho began as a ‘business’ that could serve a twin purpose- as a vessel for my creativity and (hopefully as it was then) a viable business proposition that would afford me the flexibility to make a living on my terms, I didn’t realise that these two purposes are kind of at odds with each other.
The tension I didn’t anticipate perhaps is this: A business is driven by its outputs- its products, its audience, its market.
As a creative, I’m driven by the process, the problem solving, the unfolding of an idea.
When Aho became my creative outlet, I didn’t realise that the validation and approval of our community and customers (that's the essential ingredient for being a viable pakihi), would begin to govern my creative process, both 'on and off the clock'. For anyone who's been here can tell you, when you work from home, the edges, boundaries and identities all start to blur.
Instead of necessarily creating ‘just for fun’, ‘on a whim’ or to pursue an idea to see where it could take me, I found my creative process being governed by the question ‘is this a viable product?’, ‘does it fit our existing aesthetic/collections/market?’.
And with time increasingly scarce (aka 3 tamariki and a pakihi to run), I stopped following the meandering path of creative musing and just-for-fun making. The part of creating that nourishes and inspires sparks great ideas.
And I miss that!!
So 2023. Is going to look a little different and I plan to learn a bunch of new skills, both in business and in creativity, but also, and crucially, to strike a better balance as a Māmā in this very fleeting season.
This year, it’s my mission to run Aho as Pakihi. Still authentic, still true to our kaupapa. But just a little less entwined with my own creative meandering.
I hope to apply the business learnings to Aho, and savor the creative processes within the walls of our Kāinga.
I’ve got no doubt that some will emerge on their own and find their way to Aho, but they’ll not be vetted or broadcast to the ‘market’ first.
I’m curious to see where the intimacy of private creativity may take me.
I’ll keep you posted…. occasionally :)