WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTOS Sarah Rowlands

In an understated warehouse at the end of Tuam St, orderly piles of coloured satin sashes await their impending departure across the country. The Ribbons and Rosettes team quietly work away on their tasks; sewing colourful ruffles in vibrant jewel coloured tones and stacking rolls of satin for upcoming sashes.

This is the ‘Christmas rush’ for a company in the business of ribbons and rosettes, and there’s hundreds, if not thousands of these symbols of achievement everywhere you look. It’s dazzling, but orderly and there’s an industrious air about.

You’ll remember colourful rosettes at school for cross country winners, or a prize winning calf at an agricultural show. Maybe you’ve won yourself a sash or two in a sports team or pageant. Chances are they’ve come from somewhere like Ribbons and Rosettes.

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Husband and wife team Alan Vickers and Paula Pope have been in the industry for eight years, manufacturing rosettes, ribbons and more for a large cross section of New Zealand.

“We didn’t plan to buy this business, but over time we’ve become really focused on the industry. Ribbons are what we do,” says Alan.

Alan’s background was corporate sales and marketing. Taking on the business in 2010 was a huge change in direction for the couple.

The Tuam Street warehouse houses a tight-knit team, with five staff working behind the scenes on orders. Much of the process is still done by hand, requiring sewing skills and careful consideration for orders going out to Canterbury and beyond.

Alan says they have “automated as much as possible” but each individual sash or rosette requires hand crafting. This is apparent in the workmanship on show.

Alan mentions a dedicated client base that return year-on-year for annual events, and some who have multiple orders every year. Two clients even post in letters with orders. These handwritten orders are a “real classic”.

From August to March the business is humming, supplying local and national clubs, sports teams, primary schools and corporates. Everything from equestrian ribbons to large sashes for marathon finish lines are carefully laid out for delivery.

The real essence here is a rural focus: The Invercargill Tap Dancing Association; awards for guinea pigs and domestic rabbits; sashes for marching girls. These are all treasured keepsakes from pivotal moments for participants.

Ribbons and Rosettes also provides the Best Dressed sashes for Addington Cup Day’s annual event.

Dealing with post-quake cancellations of events was tough, but the business recovered. A lot of athletic and swimming-based tournaments were relocated out of Canterbury.

“Some events never recovered. It does have an effect on the industry. People just weren’t focused on these types of things.

“How does the future look for us? We’ll be carrying on doing what we’re doing, but better. We’re definitely in the right market for that.”

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan