For its autumn ad campaign, Merchant 1948 got up close and personal with its staff. In images and words, the Kiwi shoe retailer formerly known as Overland shared what kind of people its staff really are, and explored the relationships they share with their loved ones. We're sharing the best of these stories - this one's about Tory Tiopira from Merchant 1948's Sylvia Park store, and his best friend Perri Exeter.
The power of dance
They’re inseparable now, more like siblings than friends, but this wasn’t always the case. Thrown together at dance school, Tory and Perri weren’t immediate friends. Partly driven by fate and partly through the nature of dance, for Perri their friendship became inevitable.
“We were firstly forced to be close at dance school; not only is it a very intimate art form, but because it deals with the body you have to be open minded and allow other people to see your whole self. This can be quite intrusive, however it is also a way to find trust and communicate.”
Spending every day with Perri made Tory realise their friendship was something special. “Over time we realised we shared the same passions and interests which eliminated any differences. We became open to each other, to each other's culture and each other's values and beliefs.”
Learning from each other
Although they’re admittedly different people with different upbringings, it’s these differences that have seen them grow. “Our friendship is special because we have taught each other a lot about culture and performance in a safe supportive way. Tory is Maori and I am Pakeha. He shifted around a lot and was very immersed in the Maori culture; my upbringing was not hugely multi-cultural – not because we didn’t want that, just because of the environment and our ethnicity. [Through Tory] I have learnt about some of the customs and beliefs in Maori culture, and gained some understanding in the Te Reo language. The stories he shares with me about his whakapapa are fascinating.”
Tory’s particularly proud of Perri’s growth, both in dance and as a person. “She's definitely not a case of 'What you see is what you get'. The world is marred with many stereotypes; she wronged a lot of stereotypes by proving that the colour of your skin, where you lived or studied didn't determined your future… To see her doing what she loves, inspiring others and allowing them to live there dream, I will always be proud of her.”
Most important to Perri is the values they share. “Our common ground is love for our family and the dedication to our work no matter what kind. We also share a love of music and creating… I also have learnt what it means to be a survivor and how belief in one’s self is vital. Most of all he has taught me to acknowledge and respect where you started from, but not let it hold you back from the journey ahead.”
Differences of course mean disagreements. “We frequently disagree, but have learnt to appreciate our differences because we know the other person has a lot of value and substance; I admire Tory’s honesty. He is certainly not afraid to tell you what he is thinking - which is great because you always know where you stand.” Their loyalty is uncompromising, and for Tory it’s carried them through hard times.
“We've been through a lot together! Life throws a lot of obstacles at you and when you have someone there to help you through it, it makes life easier to cope with. That outlet for someone to listen, we did that for each other.”
Perri explains that sometimes it’s the little things that help the most. “We supported each other through [hard] times, even if it was just teaching each other’s classes… You have to pick the other one up and think ‘Okay, I will have the energy for the both of us this time.’ ”
One particular point in time was incredibly formative for their friendship. “Tory moved in with my mum and I... My mum would love to claim him as her own.” Tory sees this time as a catalyst for their relationship. “While we lived together it was important to break down barriers and make ourselves vulnerable to each other. This was not an overnight thing – it was hours, days, months and years of building trust. I [now] see her more as a sibling than a friend… We lived, studied and worked together, this meant emotions and feelings were never hidden, nothing was ever a secret. It was like seeing yourself in the mirror, it made things a lot easier to see and deal with.”
For Perri, their relationship is representative of the true meaning of family. “I think it is important to find a connection with people outside of immediate whanau because ultimately we all want the same thing, love, support and acceptance which can develop between many different people, not just blood relations.”
Tory couldn’t agree more. “When you have a connection like that, which isn't common it's stays with you. This is what we have.”