When I wrote my wishlist of people to interview in Christchurch – Maureen Taane and Yuri Bacas Hosaka of HAPA were at the top. Initially this was due totally to how excited I was to see a brand new NZ focused design store spring up after the 2011 earthquake. But following our afternoon together, my appreciation and understanding of their business was quite different. HAPA is more than a store, it is a positive and exciting project aimed at cultivating local creative talent and giving it a platform. Exciting really is the right word for it.
I had been invited to join the pair at Yuri’s Southshore home for their weekly off site meeting. The fact that the store is a container means that nitty gritty business discussion generally finds little privacy from customers – so lunch at home works well.
It was here while munching on cake and being entertained by Yuri and husband Anthony’s wee girl; Yuki, that I learnt about the roots of this partnership. Up until the February 2011 earthquake, Maureen had managed the city’s most popular and iconic design store; The Vault for 17 years. As someone that grew up in Canterbury I can vouch for the fact that the place was an institution and was responsible for many a perfect gift giving! Yuri trained in Industrial Design with a background of involvement in international start-up scene, most recently participating in the local TEDxChristchurch.
It was following the devastating earthquake that spelled the end of The Vault and a vast portion of the local creative industry, that Yuri’s brain got ticking. She began to mull over forming a multi disciplinary space that could help reconnect the community and offer creatives an environment to continue their work. But through her initial research she quickly discovered that suitable commercial spaces were extremely thin on the ground. A downsize of the concept was needed and she settled on a plan for a store.
She then reached out to her super experienced friend Maureen, who shared her passion and they started to created a plan together. Their store would aim to offer Christchurch designers and creatives an outlet to sell their work – the vast majority of these types of stores had all but gone so there was definitely a niche that needed filling. At this stage the pair were then able to take advantage of the Business Hub that had been set up at the Westpac Trust Centre, where all resources and support were provided for free.
Despite now hunting for a smaller footprint, the search for a space was drawing dead end after dead end. That was until the Re: START container mall was proposed for the former Cashel Mall location and finally the women had a home for their project. As the only “new” business going in the mall, just 5 weeks to prepare before the opening and Yuri falling pregnant just 2 weeks into their new partnership, the pressure was on!
Fittingly – the story from this point is an incredibly uplifting one. We wrapped up our cake eating and headed back along the bumpy New Brighton roads, threading through the newly opened central city (where I TOTALLY got lost with the absence of all my former landmarks!) to the Re:START mall and the glowing windows of the little HAPA store.
Yuri and Maureen have definitely achieved what they set out to do and are currently working with 127 local suppliers. These include artists displaced from the closed Arts Centre precinct, established local designers and a large number of makers that have been scouted and then developed by the team themselves. Following their opening they watched the shape of the city centre change. What was a predominately a popular shopping area for inner city workers and local visitors now hosts are far larger portion of tourists than before. The support and interest shown by bus loads of cruise ship visitors, Australians and even domestic tourists has been heart warming and unprecedented.
To date they have resisted the pull of lush trade fairs and instead continue to pour time into sourcing local designers who they then offer support on pricing, branding, packaging and product development. Essentially, an invaluable relationship for many creatives who struggle with the reality of offering something that actually has a market. The shop is littered with “Made in Christchurch” tags and plaques profiling the makers. For customers this adds value and integrity to their choices and for the creatives, a way to further extend their exposure.
Maureen and Yuri are also inspiring in the fact that while HAPA might be their passion, its certainly not their only priority. Maureen runs the music label Tikidub with her brother and sister, often requiring her to leave town for days at a time. While Yuri juggles caring for her young family and the admin involved in owning the only green zoned house in a block of red zone. Like the rest of Christchurch they have had to deal with the rolling aftershocks and the business issues that accompany that. But. They continue to be future focused, inspiring and …well… completely awesome.
All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM YURI AND MAUREEN:
Change – as scary and as disruptive as it can be, does make way for new opportunity if you choose to be brave enough to take it.