Moving to a new town and setting up a businesses is challenging at the best of times.
Doing so in the midst of a global pandemic added a whole new layer of stress for Constantin and Aude Graf.
But now lockdown is over and New Zealand has moved to Alert Level 1, Mr and Mrs Graf are feeling positive about moving their business, Grafted, and their family to Oamaru.
Mr and Mrs Graf launched Grafted, which specialises in residential and commercial joinery and has just launched a new furniture range, in Nelson three years ago.
Looking for a change, and a more central location in which to do business, they moved to Oamaru in February and set up their workshop in the terrace of old shops in lower Wansbeck St.
“[Oamaru] ticked a lot of boxes for us,” Mrs Graf said.
“We loved the old buildings in Oamaru, the quirky town, the steampunk and we just felt that there were a lot of artisans, craftsmen and entrepreneurs.”
Mr Graf is originally from Germany, and Mrs Graf from France. They met in New Zealand about five and a-half years ago while hiking in the Arthur’s Pass National Park.
“It’s a bit of a cheesy rom-com, how we met,” Mrs Graf said.
“[We were] in the middle of the mountains, in the middle of nowhere.
“Constantin was coming back from tramping, and I was going tramping, and we met [at] the Doc campsite.”
On their first date, they discussed their aspirations – they both wanted to be their own bosses and Mr Graf had been working on the Grafted concept for about 10 years.
At the time, Mrs Graf was living in Auckland, working in marketing and media, and Mr Graf was based in Nelson, working as a joiner.
After a few months of long-distance, Mrs Graf moved to Nelson and they launched Grafted together about two years later.
Mr Graf is the craftsman, and Mrs Graf takes care of business operations, but is also an apprentice in the workshop.
“In between, we are parents, juggling a toddler,” Mr Graf said.
They felt lucky to be able to combine their passions into a career, and had a good working partnership, Mrs Graf said.
“When it comes to our design aesthetics, we have very similar tastes, which helps a lot,” she said.
Mr Graf completed his apprenticeship in joinery after doing compulsory military service in Germany.
He had worked as a joiner since then and had always wanted to do something with all of the off-cuts the trade produced.
Grafted’s new bespoke furniture range did exactly that – and it was in line with their environmentally-friendly business philosophy, they said.
“We use mainly material that is sustainably produced, harvested and resourced,” Mrs Graf said.
“We use a lot of plywood and for our furniture range what we use mainly is offcuts that we’ve collected.
“Constantin has been working on a concept where he can actually gather all of these small pieces to make sure that the material doesn’t go in the skip and we reuse that to manufacturer some of our products.”
The past couple of months had been a bit of a whirlwind for Mr and Mrs Graf, but they were feeling a lot more settled in Oamaru now.
“It was a bit stressful having to close for four weeks – at the time we didn’t know how long we would have to stop trading for,” she said.
However, after an “intense summer” they made the most of the down time.
“It was nice to be able to have a bit of a break, but we also took that opportunity to work on our business plan,” she said.
They had also been well supported by the Oamaru business community.
A lot of locals had popped their head under the roller door of their Wansbeck St workshop to say hello and Mrs Graf had also reached out to the Oamaru Business Collective before moving, and had connected with other business owners online during lockdown.
“Seeing what’s been happening since the Covid-19 situation, it’s very heartwarming to see businesses get together and collaborate,” she said.
“We see that things are changing and happening [in Oamaru] and we’re so excited to be part of that.”
They missed their family in France and Germany, but said New Zealand felt like home for them now.
“That’s probably the one thing that is sometimes a little bit difficult – everyone is so far away,” he said.
“But for us, we want to stay here.”