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Metalbird: A bird art business helping with conservation

After watching and admiring his then-wife’s photography and exhibitions, commercial designer Phil Walters was looking for an art project of his own—and Metalbird was soon born.

Walters decided to create some simple metal birds, and put them up around the neighbourhood. There was immediate interest from people, as friends and others all wanted to buy some.

After setting up a website to sell the birds on Shopify, it wasn’t long before Walters was selling fantails, kererū, and tūī, and the business has expanded from there.

“It resonated, somehow, with a lot of people. The simplicity of this idea—people just got it.”

Setting the world alight

Walters was quick to jump on the system that was part of this business idea, seeing that he could produce birds specific to different countries for different markets. This led Walters to travel to places like Australia, Italy, and Spain.

Walters also makes a product out of every bird of the year. When John Oliver’s puteketeke was taking the world by storm, Walters made the product and contacted Oliver’s production team—it was featured on the show and the studio audience got a free one each, with the Metalbird website immediately receiving thousands of visitors afterwards.

Walters takes pride in donating over half a million to conservation group Forest & Bird and giving 30% of all revenue made from his bird of the year products to the same organisation. Oliver’s promotion saw a sharp rise in contributions.

Why Metalbird is NZ Made

Walters enjoys being NZ Made as he enjoys the purpose and importance behind it. He also stresses how crucial it is to build a supportive culture that allows fantastic people to develop and thrive.

“I think that that’s actually what it comes back to—that kind of purpose piece. ‘Proudly made local’ sorts that out for us, or achieves those aims.”

“Try to build a culture on a business that attracts great people, try to support people through the business to give them growth, and I think there’s never been a better time for creatives to create, invent, and design their own thing.”

Metalbird are currently in nine markets, but Walters would like to see this double, becoming a major global brand in the future.