Us Two: Redcurrent's Rebecca Kain and her mum Audrey McHardy

Rebecca Kain, left, and her mother Audrey, are equal shareholders in Redcurrent, which they started in 1999.
Florence Charvin

Rebecca Kain, left, and her mother Audrey, are equal shareholders in Redcurrent, which they started in 1999.

Rebecca Kain, 52, and her mum, Audrey McHardy, 80, are the duo behind Redcurrent, the home and lifestyle accessories retailer found across New Zealand. Rebecca lives in Christchurch; Audrey lives in Hawke's Bay.

REBECCA: My mother was on holiday in Bali with my father Hamish and she saw what she thought were amazing wooden chickens and ducks and geese being made in the hills. She bought her first container full of wooden animals and she sold them to friends from the shed from behind her homestead in the Havelock hills.

Soon it was 4 sheds, and every cupboard in the house was full of all her Balinese wares. She started going to Bali, India - across Asia - stocking a shop she had in Havelock North. She did that for three years. It was very unusual and very different, crafty but on trend for the time. I'd just come back from living in Sydney and was sort of at a loose end. I helped her in the shop and she asked me to go on a buying trip.

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We went to 5 different countries. We realised we'd bought so much product there was no way we could sell it in Havelock North. We decided to open a shop in Ponsonby Rd. We were on our way out of Vietnam where we'd been on this crazy, needle-in-a-haystack hunt for lacquer bowls. My mother said, I think you should come and work for me. I said to her: "Mum I won't work for you but I will be your business partner." I knew if I worked for her, that would be a disaster. But if I was her business partner, we'd have a really good combination of skills. We had no cash flows, no plans, other than we thought it was all just going to be fabulous.

We had a friendly banker - my father - who kindly and supportively lent us, not a lot of money. And away we went.

My mother was always in charge of distribution. When the containers arrived at the homestead, she would unpack it all and store it in the sheds, and repack it up for each store. We started with one store and we've ended up with 12. I was always heavily pregnant negotiating leases.

It was only after maybe 7 years we got a proper warehouse away from the homestead in Havelock North, and a warehouse manager. My mother still worked in the packhouse right up until like, now.

I was in charge of the stores, and the brand. We shared the buying.

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She's 80 and she's still going on the buying trips - there's three weeklong trips a year. And she's good at it! When she went to India, she was asked out like, twice, on a date. By these young Indian men! She's got something about her. She is very charismatic.

The best thing about working with my mother is I can completely trust her and she can completely trust me. I think we've learnt to look at the strengths of the other person. My mother has a very strong eye for furniture and homewares. Mine is more for fashion and accessories, jewelery.

We speak most days. We only really discuss business in the daytime when I ring from work. At night time when I ring, we just talk about the children or whatever's happening in either of our lives.

She had 5 children under 7 by the time she was 30. She thrived on challenge. Every project had to be a big one - whether it was 5 children, buying a homestead, having an 8-acre garden. She just loved drama and action. We were very free-range children, we weren't fussed over. We had a lot of independence. We were brought up to have a very strong work ethic.

My father went to university in Wellington when he was about 30. Mum worked in an antique shop. Life must have not been that easy. But we had a very happy home life, that's always been quite fun. There were a lot of forts.

She'd always be there to pick us up from school when we were little. She'd sit there in her little Austin or Morris - we used to call it the "bumpy car" because it had such low suspension - reading the paper.

My mother worked hard but there was always a round of gin and tonics at the end of the day, and interesting discussion at the table. She was always sort of laughing and talking to people a lot. She always wore jeans - she had a great figure, actually - simple cotton shirts, no makeup I can remember. She's got very beautiful twinkly blue eyes.

AUDREY: I already had a retail business based in Havelock North and as well I used to have pop-up shops in Auckland and Wellington. What I really loved was going to all the country fairs like Ellerslie, Martinborough. At some stage Rebecca was in Auckland and at a loose end. I said, "Hey, come and work for me." By that time I was really pretty frantic, to tell you the truth. She said, "No way, unless I become a partner." And that was that.

It's been a very happy partnership. Maybe I'm a pretty easy-going mother, I'm not sure. Obviously, not everything is always plain sailing. But all the issues, we discussed together - nothing was hidden. I can't think of a good story when we've fallen out.

We have completely separate areas within Redcurrent. She deals with the managers and all the people that work for us, and the banks and all the daily issues. I don't have to get all bogged down by all that. She's very good at handling all these things because she's fair and, quite frankly, she's got a pretty good knack with people.

The products all come to Hawke's Bay, to roundabout where I live. My job has been in that side of it - receiving all the stock and distributing it through the country. It's quite a big job. She would hate to unpack boxes, but I love it.

I worked for 15, 16 years in the packhouse. I've got a great manager now. Rebecca's taken over a lot of the responsibility but I still go and do the buying. Now I've got a bit more freedom I've gone crazy on the garden. I get very passionate about things. My children will tell you I don't even sit down - they get so cross.

At night if she rings or if I ring her, I want to find out about the kids. We talk about the business but it's not like a lot of people who work together. There's been no friction. I do the buying with a younger girl and Rebecca does the buying with a younger girl. We did go buying once together, but it's better to take someone else.

I'm a South Islander. I always vowed I'd never marry a North Islander - my mother was from the North Island. But I married a Hawke's Bay farmer. We had 5 children - I can't really believe it - under 8. Rebecca's the middle one. For 9 years we were farming, then my husband said, "Right. I'm going to university." So we went and lived in Wellington. The kids absolutely adored it. They were very independent. Aged 5, they went to the city on their own, they went to school on their own. They were all brought up on trust. Once they got older some of them were quite hilariously naughty. Well, not really naughty. Fun naughty.

Rebecca's a very good mother. She's very loyal. She's easy to get along with, she's got loads of friends. And she's very generous, like helping out someone with meals - she's very good like that. I'm pretty proud of her, actually.

 - Stuff


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