Leigh Rau saw a niche in the kapahaka ‘market’ when she found herself on Kapiti Island and her sister, a weaver, made a child-sized piupiu (a skirt with strands that hang from a belt). The contemporary design so piqued her interest that she set about making pre-school kapahaka uniforms and selling these at the markets in Porirua.
Leigh took a chance and showed the designs to three local kindergartens, who were impressed and made bulk orders. It was this positive reception to her designs that Leigh and her husband Tahi created a small business called Kanikani Kids.
Leigh says she owes her creative side to her inventive family and their ‘number 8’ wire mentality.
When Leigh and Tahi's daughter Aroha was two years old, Leigh decided to give up her work as a nurse, and at around the same time, Tahi had a workplace accident and was bedridden for a while. To make ends meet, Leigh decided to make a good go of the business. Her business mentor Daphne Luke would create the business plan, and the local market would include the local kindergartens and Kohanga Reo in the Horowhenua district. It wasn't too long before the orders started coming in and the business diversified to include headbands, dresses, poi and rakau.
"One of the things that we hold onto its that it's family based, we've got a brother that works with us, my sister Susan is great in designing, my dad helps us and the other brother helped designed a stretch machine for the fabric" - Leigh Rau.
Leigh and Tahi work together and Leigh says it's a good partnership, although she admits that she is the 'slash and burn' kind of worker, whereas Tahi is the fussy type, Tahi says that each and every poi is made with four plaits. It is time-consuming, but each and every poi is run through their fingers. Surprisingly Leigh doesn't have any experience in sewing. Kanikani Kids employs three people in two workshops.
In 2010, they won 'Best Whanau Business' in the Horowhenua area. The couple bought a lawnmowing business operated by Tahi. Future plans include diversifying the business. Leigh says Kanikani Kids is a job that she doesn't have to retire from when she hits 65, although Leigh says she is not sure if Tahi would want to keep on mowing lawns.