RKA Founders


A group of pupils at Palmerston North Boys’ High School were finding it a challenge to afford the brands they wanted without being allowed
after-school jobs. It was during an online shopping trip that George Smith and friends decided they’d make their own label – and Rapt Kid Apparel (RKA) was born.

“We were pretty rapt with the idea,” George says, hinting at the origin of the RKA’s name. “From there we just started designing our own things, making our own clothes and it all just came together.”

RAPT-2The year 13 students all met in the College House hostel as boarders, play for the school’s first XV rugby team and have been friends ever since. They are also now partners in an endeavour that’s gaining momentum.

The RKA range includes printed tees, hoodies, sweatshirts and caps, with dress-shirts and chinos recently added to the mix. The group pride themselves on sourcing New Zealand-made goods and having the apparel printed locally.

At the moment the boys sell through the school and the label’s Facebook page. They’re currently in discussions with outlet stores and surf and snow shops that are interested in stocking the range.

“We’ve made quite a few sales through school and we see those boys wearing them around, so hopefully it will catch on at other schools,” George says. “We’ve sold to a few boys at Rathkeale; they’re trying to get sales going down there.”

He says the school has been very supportive of the venture, with the commerce department guiding them along the way. “Our mentor Sean Kenzie has a vast knowledge of commerce and is definitely our secret weapon.

Our point of difference is that these are designs by us for people like us.

“When we had the designs done and printed up, we put them on Facebook and people seemed pretty interested in them. We’ve had really good support the whole way, and our business teacher approached us to ask if we wanted to enter the Young Enterprise Scheme and get ourselves some university credits. We took that on with open arms and here we are now.”

The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme is a year-long experiential business programme for years 12 and 13 pupils. Teams have the opportunity to put theory into practice by creating their own businesses, developing real products or services and making real profits or losses.

Assisted by a teacher, a regional coordinator and a business mentor, pupils experience all the challenges and triumphs associated with business ownership.

As part of RKA’s involvement in the scheme, coordinated locally through economic development agency Vision Manawatu with the Young Enterprise Trust, the boys had to front up to a
“Dragon’s Den” and pitch their idea to a panel of judges for a share of $1500 sponsorship money.

“We had to present to the judges who we were and what we were trying to do, and show them our products and stuff like that,” George says. “We had to show that we’re different from other groups – that we are different from all the other brands out there, and that we have a point of difference.”

RAPT-3The “Dragons” Lyn McCurdy, director of business agency Third Bearing, Manawatu Standard Editor Michael Cummings and UCOL Chief Financial Officer Darryl Purdy heard from each team for five minutes and each had $500 to award to the one that impressed them the most.

They awarded George’s presentation the Dragons’ share of $1000, with the remaining $500 going to a team from Wanganui Collegiate who had developed support services for people needing computer and technology advice.

“Our point of difference is that these are designs by us for people like us,” George says. “We’re trying to have more affordable prices than all the other branded gear out there and it’s something we want to stick to.

“To have people believe in our vision and buy into what we’re trying to achieve is a big motivator for us,” he says.

To have people believe in our vision and buy into what we’re trying to achieve is a big motivator for us.

And motivated they are. Turning up bright and early for their first professional photo-shoot with a full kit of gear, the boys enthusiasm took over both in front of, and behind, the camera. Keeping their loyal fans in the loop, a behind-the-scenes snapshot was uploaded to the brand’s Facebook page in no time.

The boys embrace their different walks of life, and while they’ll be venturing out into various fields such as forestry, teaching, aviation and business when they finish school, they’re committed to keeping RKA alive.

“We’re serious about this. Our goal is to establish the RKA brand as a leader in the New Zealand fashion market among some of the greats such as Federation, Huffer, RPM and Lower.”

Benny at home

“The X-Factor thing”

Benny Tipene is a musician who’s put in some hard yards in his home-town, writing original music, supporting local venues and playing gigs in student flats, and he’s a staunch ambassador for the local music scene – something he says needs more support.

There’s more to him than his recent stint on TV3’s local incarnation of X-Factor, that it almost seems dull to bring it up again.

“Oh you can,” Benny says. “If you want the inside scoop, now’s the time to do it.”

BennyThere’s no denying his legion of newfound fans would relish an inside scoop from the young man who won their admiration, simply by being himself – although Benny admits there were times when he felt awkward and out of place on telly.

“You like to think that you put your whole heart and soul into a performance, but at the same time, 70 per cent of it wasn’t live,” he says. “What I love doing is the whole live stuff. That’s what music is all about, you know? Taking it to an emotion at a certain point, or not taking it there because you’re not feeling it.”

“So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.”

“The only thing I regret is not enjoying the moment as much as I could have. I should have gone out more, or had that extra beer with Tom, or coaxed Whenua out more, but yeah. Other than that I had a really good time, it was cool.”

“The whole point of being on X-Factor is like, ‘This is me. If you don’t like me you need to vote me off’, you know.” Benny, who came third, says Auckland is probably the next step for him – he “needs to go where the work is”. There’s the EP, tours, and an eventual album on the horizon.

There are some other, just as talented people here.

He’s signed to Sony and has already released his first single under the label. He didn’t write this one – it was to be his winner’s single if he had taken out the competition – but he was given the option to release it and went for it.

“It’s well written, I worked with the guy who wrote it. Yeah it’s a catchy song, and you need those songs to draw people to new music, and that’s the plan.”

“I kind of knew what the music industry was like before I stepped in to the X-Factor. You’re not going to get the glitz and glam of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, because they are in a country that puts them in a position of being celebrities. Here, you sort of need to separate them both.”

“We’re lucky in New Zealand because it’s a really chilled place to live, but there’s still that whole tall poppy syndrome, where it’s like, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t be cool, you can’t be different, you can’t be famous, I’m better than you’, which sucks, but it also means that there’s no mass ‘celebrity-ism’.”

In action

The whole experience, he says, has been worthwhile and he has a lot to give back to New Zealand. Benny’s ready to see what happens next in Auckland.

“I love Auckland, there’s a lot of cool people in Auckland, but I think I’d be an asshole if I grew up there. I was born in Henderson, but I’m thankful for growing up in Palmy. I think there’s an environment here that creates really nice people, genuine people, and really creative people.”

“We make our own stuff to do, we hang out in beautiful spots with our mates and we can push boundaries. Sometimes you think, ‘There’s nothing to do today so I’m just going to try to do something a bit more creative than what I usually do’,” he says.

He’s also a strong advocate for pushing the boundaries further in support of creative people. Benny says Palmerston North is full of emerging talent that could use greater support and encouragement. It’s not an issue he believes is limited to the city, but one that he believes is seeing a drop-off in new artists coming through.

“I’ve been to council meetings – 30 of us sitting there to support funding and investment for The Stomach. It means a lot to the music community here. It’s our base, it’s where lots of us got started.”

When Avalanche City played a free concert in the city earlier this year, he was frustrated that cover bands were chosen to support them instead of original songwriters.

So in that sense I was like, ‘This isn’t what I usually do’, but I don’t regret doing it.

“It took me `til the finals of X-Factor to actually do a show [with them], whereas there was an opportunity in Palmerston North for somebody to open, and they chose a covers band! The covers bands need to stay in pubs. That’s why they’re covers bands. Imagine the little kid, or like, Sam Morgan, or all those people, there are just so many people out there now, imagine them being like, “Yeah, I opened for Avalanche City and I’m so inspired, and stuff.”

“If the X-Factor thing had not happened, I would still be the same as I was on the show. It’s nice when people say to me, ‘Oh it’s amazing what you can do with your voice and your guitar’ and all that, but I would have been just the same if I wasn’t on the show. TV bumps you up, but I don’t think that people in Palmerston North realise that there are some other, just as talented people here.”

“More people like [young local musicians] Abi Symes and Shayla Armstrong need to play those bigger gigs. When someone like Stan Walker comes to play here, maybe they’ll have someone organised or maybe they won’t, but it should be a platform for a new artist, because if they boost someone like that, it means they can go on to something else. They would be so proud to do that.”

Sarah and Lynn

A better place to live in

After growing up on a herb farm where living naturally was a way of life, Sarah Cowan travelled overseas as an international model for three years.

She lived in Milan, London, Belgium and Tokyo before returning home to Manawatū in 2006 and completing her Bachelor of Business Studies degree at Massey University.

Sarah“It just felt like the right time. I had been away from my partner (now husband) and I was given the opportunity to work doing something that I love,” she says. “Manawatū offers a lovely laid-back life style, a good place to bring up kids and everyone is so supportive and gets behind each other.”

Sarah spent her childhood in rural Manawatū after her mother and father, Lynn and Bill Kirkland, established The Herb Farm as a place where people could experience pure, natural and effective products.

Now she’s a business partner with her mother, at The Herb Farm and combines her passion and skill to “make the world a better place to live in”.

The family values a commitment to the natural way of life, something that is translated in every aspect of their business.

“It was something I had always been passionate about. I knew that natural was the way to go forward and I had a good understanding of the products.”

I believe it is important for people to be given information about harmful ingredients and toxins so they can make informed decisions.

Sarah and her mother have a close working relationship. Sarah is the Managing Director at The Herb Farm, where she is in charge of distribution, marketing and the overall running of the business, while Lynn is able to focus on new product development and look after Sarah’s 16-month-old son, Taj, while Sarah is at work.

Sarah’s and Lynn’s commitment to living naturally is the real deal. Many companies are aware of the value of using natural ingredients in their products, so they use a technique of “green-washing people”, Sarah says. Green-washing is the act of promoting a product as natural but not actually delivering a pure, natural product. It’s why Sarah and Lynn pride themselves on developing products that are “truly natural”. The products are formulated on-site using 100 per cent natural ingredients, of which many are grown in The Herb Farm organic gardens.

The Herb Farm Cafe

“I believe it is important for people to be given information about harmful ingredients and toxins so they can make informed decisions.”

The Herb Farm won both the Sustainable Business and Integrity and Ethics in Business categories at last year’s Westpac Manawatū Business Awards, and continues to grow with The Herb Farm products being stocked by more than 100 New Zealand retailers. The opportunity has also arisen to begin exporting their products internationally.

Sarah and her team of 15 work hard to promote sustainable living and making a positive difference in the world.



Teachers being kept in the dark

Rachel Bradley and Elizabeth Manson form a duo that aims to make an impact on the education system. On the lawn of St Mark’s and St Andrew’s Presbyterian church in Palmerston North, lies the unassuming, prefabricated office building of SPELADD, an organisation committed to teaching and helping those with learning difficulties.

The pair warn that teachers across the country aren’t being given the skills needed to teach children with learning difficulties like ADHD and dyslexia. One incident observed by Rachel saw a teacher shouting at a student with ADHD. “The student couldn’t help bursting out because she hadn’t been helped, and the teacher was shouting at her in a voice that you wouldn’t use on your dog. It broke my heart,” says Rachel.

Dedicated teachersManawatu schools are mostly highly cooperative in assisting SPELADD with these children; however, Rachel outlines that one school denied her services, free of charge, telling her that the teacher had the necessary skills to deal with it. “They think they know what they’re talking about, and they really don’t, it’s just stubborn,” says Rachel.

Rachel explains that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is being able to resolve misunderstandings between children and teachers, “to show they’re not bad kids, and to show them how they can help,” says Rachel.

“It’s a human right to have access to education and in New Zealand we are supposed to have free education for all, but because of these children’s specific disabilities, they can’t access that education,” says Rachel.

For several years Rachel attempted to help a child with his spelling without success, “I caught up with him one day, and he told me that he was doing a course at UCOL. He said that he still couldn’t spell, but that I had helped him realise that it didn’t mean he was stupid. I thought I had failed this kid, it was a huge boost for me,” says Rachel.

Everybody’s different, the system doesn’t suit everyone; once you get into the real world, you can shine. Entrepreneurs, celebrities, all kinds of amazing people have learning difficulties.

Rachel’s goal for the next few years is to strengthen the organisation, training new staff as the organisation enters a transitional growth phase. “We are presently very limited and localised, and we want to get out there, and be more active,” says Rachel.

Elizabeth and Rachel rely on grants, donations and the fees collected from parents, explaining that they reject government funding as they feel the Government actually hinders them from helping these children. “The government didn’t even recognise dyslexia as a learning disability until 2007,” says Elizabeth.

Rachel describes the support of local business as invaluable. “It’s the people with passion who get behind it, because they know the struggle that these kids are going through,” says Bradley.