Located in Kaikohe, ARCO is the brainchild of three design-minded visionaries, Ana Heremaia, Ruby Watson and Felicity Brenchley, who believe that design and craftsmanship can not only be used to create beautiful furniture but also to create positive change in local communities, the environment and local economies.
According to Heremaia, truancy, drugs, alcohol and youth offending are significantly higher in Kaikohe than of the rest of New Zealand. Youth training and employment opportunities are markedly lacking which is exacerbated by the dearth of public transport enabling youth to access employment or training outside of the region.
ARCO aims to flip these not-so-palatable stats on their head and the town around by producing beautifully crafted, high quality furniture items in conjunction with providing training for Kaikohe rangatahi (youth). The ARCO model is simple: Youth are the students, the creators and the makers of high-end furniture all in one. "Our goal is to see rangatahi in Kaikohe engaged in training, education or employment and to provide rangatahi with a safe learning environment and embracing the maori concept of Ako." Ako is a teaching and learning relationship, where educator and student learn and teach each other."
Heremaia says that through the design and production of timber products rangatahi will gain a raft of invaluable life skills currently lacking in the community. These include business skills, workshop experience, design skills, self-confidence and, more importantly, a belief in themselves and their future.
Equally important is the company's focus on a high-end quality product which appeals to discerning consumers. ARCO places a strong emphasis on its ability to provide New Zealanders with a locally made, well-designed, sustainable, ethical furniture option. "Everything is handmade and built to last, becoming heirloom pieces and family taonga. With each product purchased comes knowledge that you've invested in the future of the maker, their whanau and their community".
And the benefits will come full circle. Profits from the sale of products will be re-invested back into the ARCO programme ensuring Kaikohe becomes a thriving model of social and business success.