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Maria "RIWA" Wawatai and her business art by RIWA® was the winner of the Ikaroa Regional Award at the MWDI Māori Businesswomen’s Awards 2023, held at the Aotea Centre, in Tāmaki Makaurau on Friday, 27 October 2023.

Riwa was also a finalist for Pakihi Toi Ora (Creative Arts & Design) and finalist for Te Amorangi (People & Capability).

art by RIWA®has crafted a niche in the market for Māori weaving, specialising in wahakura (baby bassinettes), made from harakeke. 

She started her weaving journey at Te Kokiri in Levin,  studying a Diploma in Toi Māori Raranga, before completing a Maunga Kura Toi (Bachelor in Māori Art of Weaving) with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in 2015. During the final year of her degree, she was the proud recipient of the Aotearoa Scholarship Trust's "Dr Diggeress Te Kanawa Memorial Award”.

Riwa has since developed her own distinctive wahakura that sells around the country.

She has a team of weavers around New Zealand and is looking for more weavers to keep up with the demand, providing Aotearoa’s most vulnerable a safe sleep space. Riwa says safety is the crucial factor in making a wahakura, as its used by a living person.  She has a long list of regular clients and organisations who offer services to women and their pēpe, and take a set number of wahakura each month. 

Electra Business and Innovations Awards 

The week previously, art by RIWA® was the winner of the Innovation Award, at the Electra Business Kāpiti and Horowhenua Business and Innovation Awards, held at Southwards Museum on the 19th October 2023. 

She was also a finalist in the Manufacturing, Production and Processing Award. 

On accepting her award Riwa told her personal story how she reinvented her life after an accident that left her unable to sit for long periods. She decided that becoming self-employed seemed a good option, as it allowed her to work at her own pace. This would eventually allow her to help other weavers, building her own team who make her version of wahakura from harakeke. 

After graduating, she purchased a house bus and intended to travel the country taking classes and meeting other weavers. She recounted how she just made it to the Hawkes Bay before the bus completely broke down. 

There she stayed and joined a weaver roopū and begun teaching "Raranga for Pēpe" courses and Wahakura Rīwā (her version of wahakura) Weekend Wānanga.  From these wānanga, she started to build her TEAM of kairaranga supplying Wahakura Rīwā to the Hawkes Bay DHB from 2017. She later organised contracts with other buyers to keep her team busy. 

More recently returned to live in Levin before setting up a shop at Te Kokiri on Hokio Beach Rd. art by Riwa®is now located in Prouse Street giving her more space to allow for expansion.

Judges’ comments on photo slide:

This business is so innovative, it's hard to decide what to highlight about art by RIWA® Its products from baby beds to caskets are excellent examples of essential goods made from renewable resources designed for effectiveness. The business model of training weavers from throughout the country and then couriering directly to the buyer, is an innovative way to scale its activities. This is reflected in growing revenue and profitability with art by RIWA®

Photo - RIWA accepting her award from Sponsor JB's Environmental