Rosemary Mitford-Taylor

Meet the Makers: Cat McKay

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New Zealand creator Cat McKay is a long-term supplier of locally made products to Auckland Art Gallery’s shop.

Nestled in the wondrous, windy world of Wellington, Natty Creations come to life

The bright yellow of the blooming kōwhai dangling from a necklace, the legendary feathers of the long-lost huia replicated as earrings, the rugged mountainscape of Aoraki mounted as a brooch: Aotearoa acts as a muse for the products made by Natty Creations’ owner, Cat McKay. 

With a background in architecture, McKay has always nurtured a love of drawing and design. Over the past decade, that love has blossomed into the jewellery, stationery and household items of the Natty range. McKay describes her work as, ‘Kiwi craftsmanship with a touch of sass’. Combining classic New Zealand imagery with witty, colourful twists, it’s easy to see why.

In Natty, McKay has perfected the sometimes elusive, but ever crucial, art of a consistent style: one that blends rustic, natural form with chic, modern sensibility. She likes to keep it simple and cites the neutral colour palettes and natural materials of Scandinavian design as inspiration for her work. 

McKay prioritises recycled and recyclable materials for all her creations. Each piece of Natty wooden jewellery is made from reclaimed rimu, which she polishes by hand with New Zealand beeswax to give a rich, long-lasting lustre, all wrapped in recycled packaging. In fact, all her products are not only made, but printed and packaged, in New Zealand. A fellow Wellington-based company laser cuts her rimu jewellery before McKay cleans, sands, drills, glues and finally hand paints everything herself. From materials to production to finishing touches, Natty is authentically New Zealand made to the core. 

Although she works almost entirely on her own, McKay relishes connecting with other solo creators in the ever-growing community of small creative businesses in New Zealand, noting that people are keener than ever to support New Zealand made. She’s, ‘really quite optimistic about this increasing awareness and support, and excited about having an expanding audience’.

From tea towels to jewellery, the humble manuka flower blossoms among much of the Natty range. Beloved by honeybees and renowned for its healing and antimicrobial properties, the little flower is the subject of Natty’s earrings – a bestseller in Auckland Art Gallery’s shop. These are a prime example of how McKay’s artworks conjure up cherished memories of bush walks, road trips and day-to-day life here in Aotearoa. 

Like the life cycles of flowers that inspire so much of her work, McKay finds herself falling into seasonal patterns as well. With the world filled with sunshine, sweet scents of flowers, and all the classic sights and sensations of a Kiwi summertime, February and March brings inspiration for her designing process. From springtime and through winter to the end of the year, she is in full-on production mode. Much of this is done at her studio, Natty Workshop, where five days a week you’ll find her designing and handcrafting products, packing orders, and interacting with customers. McKay even dabbles in custom illustration work and aims to focus more of her time on this in the future. For now, you can find her surrounded by beautiful products in her store and studio in Wellington. ‘I will keep making because I can’t imagine doing anything else!’, she says.