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Māori gardening tools for kids wins prize at prestigious design awards

Paku Gardening Tools.  Source / Best Awards

A "contemporary re-imagining" of two traditional Māori gardening tools - designed especially for kids - was among the winners at the Best Design Awards in Tāmaki Makaurau on Friday - the most prestigious event on the Australasian design calendar.

The product gold was won by Paku, a design studio - started by long-time friends Dr Johnson Witehira (Ngāti Hinekura, Ngāi-tū-te-auru) and James Prier - that combines mātauranga Māori with the latest technologies to "reimagine the objects around us in a bicultural way".

They won for their Paku Toki and Timo - "scaled-down" versions of Māori gardening tools - which are "a contemporary re-imagining of two traditional Māori agricultural tools, designed for Māori tamariki to grow up with things that reflect who they are and where they come from."

Paku, tamariki gardening tools.  Source / YouTube

Witehira and Prier spent over two years developing and prototyping the tools and say the key question they came up against throughout this journey was how to engage with mātauranga Māori and Māori communities in a meaningful way, the Best Design Awards website says.

"In the first instance, this meant asking Māori whether or not they thought the project was a good one, and if they saw value in the tools we sought to recreate.

"In the very early stages, we took rough prototypes to a number of Māori spaces including kōhanga reo, wānanga institutions, Massey University’s School of Māori studies and to Tāhuri Whenua Māori food growers association. We also put the prototypes out to a number of our Māori experts in design, education and agriculture.

"The response to the research was resoundingly positive. So, with support from our communities, we began to dive deeper into the development and refinement of the products."

Witehira and Prier say tamariki greatly influenced the design.

"Since our products are designed for kids, children were involved throughout the entire design process. We wanted to see how they reacted to and used the various prototypes in different settings. As our tools are scaled-down versions of the Māori gardening tools, these feedback loops greatly influenced the final design of the products. Our focus on tamariki also influenced the name of our brand, Paku, which translates to 'small'."

The judges said Paku's design evoked "a sense of wonder and learning, of storytelling and adventure" and that they "loved the simple yet clever way this toy's design drew on inspiration from traditional Māori tools for working the lands yet reimagine that story for today's tamariki giving them fun ways to learn about tradition and where our kai comes from.

"From the elegantly and playful mouldings to the whimsical product colours inspired by New Zealand’s native vegetables Paku won the judges over."