Making real change with the Gattung sisters

Philanthropists, business owners, and drivers of systemic change, Angela and Theresa Gattung are shining trailblazers of female empowerment. Metropol Deputy Editor Nina Tucker sits down with them about their lifelong commitment through the Gattung Foundation.

The Gattung sisters are giving back. To charities and women in need, to provide the opportunities and the voice they were always given. Whether they’re providing food, pyjamas, ambulances, female budgeting advice, creating pathways for young women finishing school, or holding pre-loved clothing pop-ups, they are making a difference, and it is the individual stories they impact that matter.

“It’s this idea that if I’ve got it, you can’t have it, but actually, we could all have it. You don’t need to have any kind of spirituality to want to see your fellow human being doing as well as you,” Angela explains.

The Gattung Foundation, founded in October 2022, focuses on women, Māori and Pasifika female communities, and animal welfare, from Northland to Invercargill. The programmes have large-scale potential. A current pilot sees the mentorship of young women who lost their way during Covid-19, constructing new paths and possibilities. “Are we all just going to walk away from everyone who had a terrible two years through the ages 17 and 18? Or, are we going to say that doesn’t have to be a wasted life?” Theresa says. The sisters are committed to putting effort and money into initiatives not receiving funding otherwise. “What we’re trying to do is help those girls. We fund only girls, we don’t apologise for that. Plenty of wealthy men and male philanthropists can fund boys,” Theresa explains.

Angela says it is the resources they provide and the communities on the ground that do the heavy lifting. “We partner with locals, organisations and people in the community who have the knowledge, respect, and trust of the community.” She adds that the foundation is often the “seed funding” for an idea to land traction, such as their support of Mindful Fashion through their Circular Design Award, which has prompted bigger support for this year’s event.

Just two years between them, they’re of seamless compatibility. “We’re like the yin and yang,” Angela says. “We’ve both been bosses in our other roles, and she [Theresa] still is. The only place I’m still the boss is at home with the dog.” To that, Theresa says, “I’m naturally collaborative, as long as I can be the captain of the team.” With the help of third trustee and longtime assistant of Theresa, Chris Woodwiss, decisions are collaborative and honest. The sisters now live across the road from one another, however, their physical lives only intersect when the two schedules align.

Their parents arrived in New Zealand from England with only their suitcases, and built a livelihood that afforded their children big dreams. “We were given all the opportunities they could provide,” Angela explains. Pioneered by their father, a man who only knew sisters and daughters, raised his four girls to be fearless. “We thought it was normal. I didn’t realise until later that not all men were like our dad,” Theresa says. “He saw the potential in everybody, he didn’t discriminate. He didn’t think that just because you came from no money or you’re a girl that there was a limitation.” “So, I grew up feminist and bossy,” Theresa explains, and it’s the same confidence you will find the pair working to instil in young women across the country today.

Angela and Theresa became powerhouses in their respective fields. Theresa, a businesswoman, has spent many years at the top of companies like Telecom (now Spark), AIA Australia and New Zealand, and co-founded others like My Food Bag, and Angela, a respected voice in education with an extensive background in nonprofits. Theresa uses her platforms and income to donate to multiple national and global charities.

Soon enough, Theresa found a way to combine these two passions with the Gattung Foundation: making money and philanthropy. “In the beginning, I thought I’d be some sort of crusading Joan of Arc but the truth is, I really like making money. So, I do try and save the world in little ways.” Funding the foundation makes a huge difference to women’s lives, and through it, she can continue marrying the two things she loves. “I wanted to do something more than just give money. I really love the commercial cut and thrust. So, I still walk in both worlds,” Theresa shares.

Angela, through the opportunities of the foundation, created Fashion Sister, a pre-loved clothing initiative that cancels out the barriers of accessing affordable, but still gorgeous, clothing by bringing pop-up stores to unsuspecting towns and communities.

With the influence of their parents, the Gattung sisters rose up, while recognising the privilege that helped them there. With the ‘leg up’ that came with their skin colour, Angela and Theresa set out to do their bit to see everyone given a seat at the table. “We had a stable family with loving parents, enough food, and warm housing,” Theresa explains. “No one will ever convince me that every girl born in New Zealand, or born in the last decade, or born in the last 20 years, starts from the same spot.”

“There is unconscious bias. It’s been proven in the education system by Māori researchers,” Angela says. It’s those walls that years of systemic discrimination and inequality create, that the Gattung Foundation is breaking down.

The pair haven’t slowed down yet. Each with their side hustles, between Fashion Sister and learning te reo Māori for Angela, and Theresa’s recently-launched over-40 matchmaking agency Compatico, they both value their ‘me time’ – beach walks, swims and saunas, and quiet weekends. “I don’t have the energy I had 20 years ago. I need to have a restorative weekend,” Theresa laughs.

Whether in signing the petition to avoid reinstating the live animal exports ban, giving unwanted clothes to Fashion Sister, or donating to the foundation, support is still needed. “The foundation is built on the generosity, primarily, of Theresa,”

Angela says. “We’ve always got ideas and work to do.” Visit the website for more:

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