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Merchant 1948 staff stories: Tash and Kenny

  • News
  • April 12, 2017
  • Merchant 1948
Merchant 1948 staff stories: Tash and Kenny

For its autumn campaign, the shoe retailer formerly known as Overland has put its staff well and truly under the spotlight with a series of articles and photoshoots. The Overland Footwear Group says the campaign is part of an ongoing strategy for the team as it takes the time to reflect on the shifting nature of local (and international) retail and what it means to be a business today – especially a family owned and operated one. We're sharing some of the most touching staff stories - first up, that of Riccarton store manager Natasha (Tash) Fiatupu Levi-Levi and her partner Disciple Kenape “Kenny” Opeta Feterika.

 Nothing in common

After Tash sucked up the courage to ask Kenny for his number, it still took weeks for Kenny to ask her out. In fact, “Kenny didn’t believe that I would actually turn up, so he did a drive by twice to make sure I was there. Unlike other couples, they have little hobbies or interests in common. Tash insists they’re “literally like chalk and cheese” however she quickly realised that what drew them together was something more important; “in the end we knew what really connected us, it was our values - what we stand for and what we believe in… Interests and hobbies are something you can adapt to, but when you have a deep connection where another person can understand your true self, now that right there is the WOW moment.”

For Kenny, one thing above all is key to overcoming their differences “We comprise on a lot things to make each other happy” and Tash agrees “We always meet halfway, can’t always be one sided. I would say this is what keeps us grounded.” He sees their differences, and how they’ve transcended them, as what sets their relationship apart. “What makes our relationship special is that we have learned to love one another for who we are and what attracted us in the first place, and not try to change each other’s personalities just because we are together.”

 Growth and change

Through their four years together, and with all their differences, they’ve both had to grow and help each other to do so. For Tash, this growth came from the very start “When I met Kenny I was going through a lot in my life at that time; there were lots of challenges that I was facing, and I was struggling to keep myself together in my life… But Kenny took me as I was. He brings out a side of me that no one else could see.”

Tash credits Kenny for helping her grow into a strong woman. "Kenny has helped me grow into a strong woman. His tough love has taught me how to take challenges head on and to never give up! He knows how to make feel empowered. With him I feel I can do absolutely anything! He's my strength, he really is my strength.”

Tash isn’t the only one who’s embraced change, Kenny has grown too. “A lot of his friends tell me that since we've been together he's just blossomed. When I first met Kenape he had no clue about kids but he also understood how important my nieces are to me. He embraced it all and really took on the uncle role… Together we provide for these kids like they our very own.”

Undoubtedly though, it’s his drive for his own personal growth that inspires Tash the most. “Kenny’s biggest achievement is definitely allowing himself to be who he wants to be and not letting the world or even society tell him otherwise. He takes full control of his life to ensure that no matter where he ends up, he will be happy with the decisions he’s made. To be a part of his life is just incredible.”

Both embrace their own flaws, and each other’s “One thing that Kenny has taught me in this relationship that really stands out is that our flaws make us who we are and that I need to appreciate them more because one day they will mould me into something that I probably didn’t realise I can become. We work because we understand each other’s faults; we work because Kenny knows how to turn my crazy into something we can both laugh at; we work because after a bad moment we learn about what good we get out of it.”

Family is everything

For Kenny, it’s always been so important to make his family proud. “My parents sacrificed everything to leave their homeland just so they can give me and my siblings a better life that they never had.” He now has multiple university degrees under his belt. “I’m so grateful my dad also got to witness it before he passed away. I’m also in a position to give back to my community, by being involved in various community groups which strive to lift the achievements of Pacific People to the point where they are self-sufficient and less reliant on government for assistance and services.”

Illness and loss are a natural part of families, and these are struggles they’ve had to face during their relationship. Kenny lost his father in 2015, and credits Tash with pulling him through this dark period.

“Sadly he won’t get to see that or my future kids growing up. I know without her by my side, my whole world could have turned upside down; but we managed to pull through it, even if it meant sometimes she bore the brunt of my frustrations at coming to grips with losing a love one and questioning why things happen in life.”

Tash is inspired by Kenny’s love for his family. “He has such a caring heart; watching him care for his mother (who has Parkinson’s and dementia) really showed me how much love he is willing to offer to the most important people in his life.”

Making sacrifices

Their drive for personal growth, and the growth of others, means that sacrifice is an inherent part of their relationship. For Tash, the thing they sacrifice most is time. “This man holds down two jobs to provide for me as well as our families (even though he doesn’t need to). He also helps manage the rugby league team that he’s been a part of since childhood. He is also a part of the Specifically Pacific Committee who help organise the Polyfest as well as the careers expo in Christchurch.”

Tash sometimes finds this hard. “He is a busy, busy man and I often complain about how much he works, but he always puts things in perspective so I understand what it means to be a provider as well as how important it is to give back to the community.” She admits they put themselves last sometimes “The one thing that we lose out on is ‘What about us? What do we need for us?’ (but) he taught me that, that family is important, no matter what and you know helping people is the most important.”

Tash credits one thing in particular as the key to overcoming their sacrifices of time and self. “We know how to communicate and when is the right time to communicate as well.”

Although Kenny isn’t much of a talker, his actions speak for themselves and inspire everyone he meets (including us) “Kenny will do absolutely anything for anyone, even if it means it’s out of his way; no is not an option for Kenny.” We saw this first hand during our campaign shoot - for Kenny he sacrificed his humility and comfort zone for Tash, “It means a lot for Tash to be a part of this campaign. If this is what it takes… I would gladly strut my stuff just to put a smile on her face and to let her shine in the limelight.”

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  • Anne Kong
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