Cue The Inspo, We Chat Leaving A Legacy With 4 Kiwi Trailblazers

By Jess Willemse
14th Dec 2020

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that spending our time on Earth with purpose and meaning is a top priority. But this looks different for everyone—whether that be creating a loving family, pursuing your side-hustle or contributing to a better future for our planet and whānau. 

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Partners Life to discover true stories of Kiwi trailblazers making waves through their businesses, actions and passions. In our Legacy Leaver’s series, we chat finding fulfilment, working with family and leaving a lasting impact on our world. Cue the inspo, here are four local bosses you need to take note of right now.   


Emily Miller-Sharma, General Manager; Anna-Lise Sharma, Head of Sales and Marketing; and Deanna Didovich, Creative Director

When did your love affair with fashion begin?

Emily: I started sewing when I was in my early teens and I made my own clothes from then on. The thing about clothes is they have such a huge influence on the way you experience your day, and you can have so much fun with it. For me, the ability to pull together colour and texture every day is just so joyful. 

What inspired your family to purchase Ruby in 2008?

Emily: Mum and dad started their business over 20 years ago as fabric agents. As the clothing industry changed, so did the nature of their business. Before 2008, their business was making clothes for Ruby—one of the founders was actually our next-door neighbour. Kate and Lizzy, the girls who started Ruby, were at a point in their life where they wanted to different things, and so mum and dad decided it was time to get into retail.    

What’s it like taking over an established brand and making it your own? 

Deanna: When we took over Ruby, it was very much an iconic streetwear brand in New Zealand. Over the years we have slowly but surely put our own spin on it, and turned it into a much more design and fashion-led brand. 

What is your hope for the next generation that takes on Ruby?

Anna-Lise: There’s actually nothing more exciting for me to think about my children running Ruby in year’s to come, and I hope they learn from the journey we’ve had. 

Do you have any advice for future generations of Kiwi creatives hoping to carve their own path? 

Emily: The advice I’d give is to set a seemingly unachievable goal that really excites you, and that will help you to align your decision making and then take the first opportunity that comes your way that’s aligned with your end goal. 

Studio Box

Dwayne Rowsell, Founder  

Where does your love of fitness come from?

Just a small town, rural upbringing. We were always outside doing activities, playing, kicking a ball and running around on the farm. That just translated into playing sport at school—from cricket to rugby, soccer, golf, swimming… and then I finally picked up hockey. 

What’s one thing you’ve learnt from your childhood that makes you who you are today?  

One thing I learnt from a young age, which comes from sport, is that no one is going to put the work in for you. If you want to be the best player or the best version of yourself, you have to put the work in—and I still have that fighting spirit in me today.

Tell us about what inspired you to start Studio Box?

From travelling the US, I was in New York and LA for business and I went to a boxing gym—it was just the most fun I’d ever had at a workout. It was in a dark room with loud nightclub music, the lights were flashing, I just got in the zone and 45-minutes later I walked out of the room feeling so empowered. From there, I just had this idea that I had to do it back home. 

And what’s been the best ‘pinch-me’ moment in your career so far? 

Definitely opening Studio Box, my family is a big thing for me, and mum and dad were here that night, and I gave them both a big hug and we all shed a few tears. I love making them proud. 

What does the concept of legacy mean to you? 

Living life with great values, and leaving behind something for your kids, your family, that they can look up to, a pathway to follow and be inspired by. 

The Realness And Coco’s Cantina

Damaris Coulter, Co-Founder Of Coco’s And Head Hustler At The Realness 

What inspired you to start Coco’s Cantina with your sister Renee? 

My sister Renee and I were born and bred in Kaitaia in the Far North, and our aunt and uncle had a restaurant called The Beachcomber. So while other people were milking and in the fields doing different things, Renee and I were making shrimp cocktails, which is quite a funny thing for the '80s in the middle of Kaitaia. When you come from a Māori family, you just naturally want to be hospitable and manaaki people and look after them and feed them and host them. So that's why we created Coco's the way we did.

You’re now working on a venture called The Realness, Can you tell us a bit about that? 

The Realness is a guide to independent, owner-operated businesses. It's important for people to support local and owner-operated businesses right now because the world is changing and the conversation is changing and people's mindsets are changing. So it's for people who are looking for those businesses that are really unique and authentic and one-of-a-kind. 

What gets you up in the morning and drives you to do what you do?

I feel like I’ve been given this set of tasks sent straight from my ancestors, and I intuitively know how to undertake them. The Realness is the main one they gave me seven years ago—it was like, if you can do this, this will tip the economy and the balance inequality, even just by a tiny bit, which could contribute to something great long term. So what really drives me is my tūpuna and that my purpose on this planet is very clear to me. 

Do you have any advice for indigenous and independent entrepreneurs hoping to make an impact in the world? 

Just be your absolute, intuitive and authentic self. Just be brave. 

What does the idea of legacy mean to you?

I come from a whakapapa of people that have made sacrifices and thought about their actions, behaviours and their position on the planet with me in mind, and that’s with not even knowing me. 100 years down the track if you got to see yourself and the impact that you had on the world, you would be okay with that. That’s what legacy means to me.

Auckland Tattoo Studio 
Braden McMahon, Owner And Tattooer 

Have you always been a creative person?

I guess I have. I grew up surrounded by art and music, playing different instruments and drawing, got into graffiti as a teenager… and got our of graffiti as a teenager. Then I discovered tattoos and tattoo art in my early 20s and turned it into a job. 

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I take inspiration from the old tattooers that came before me, the history of tattooing and the designs and where they came from. They had it figured out back then—the classic, simple designs age well and look great. 

And what’s been the highlight of your career so far? 

Probably getting a job here, at Auckland Tattoo Studio, from the original owner Merv. I literally skipped down the road afterwards. Merv was a known legend, we came and had a coffee upstairs and talked about life and everything but tattooing, then the phone rang downstairs and he stood up and said “So yeah, I’ll give you a job. I’ll just go grab that phone.” The rest is history. 

Can you tell us a bit about Merv? 

Merv O'Connor was the owner of Auckland Tattoo Studio, he was a champion jockey and retired from that to focus on tattooing full time in the ‘60s. What I admired about Merv was his staying power and longevity, he tattooed up until he was 76 years old. He taught me a lot about life and tattooing and business, and one of the main things was that you get out of it what you put into it. 

How does it feel for you to continue Merv’s legacy at the oldest tattoo studio in New Zealand? 

To be continuing Merv's legacy is such an honour and every day when I open that shop door I have to pinch myself. I’m so thankful he gave me a shot. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and I hope I can do it forever. 

Inspired to make your mark and leave a lasting legacy? We know we are. Plan ahead and make life worthwhile with Partner’s Life, New Zealand’s leading life and health insurer. 

Editor’s note: This article is proudly sponsored by Partner’s Life and endorsed by The Urban List. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make The Urban List possible. Click here for more information on our editorial policy.

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