Why elegant funeral director Kaiora Tipene will always kick off her heels for jandals

Kaiora Tipene with her three children

Heels complete this elegant funeral director’s work wardrobe but, out of work hours, jandals or gumboots are her footwear of choice.

I think I am probably like most women who work – you have a wardrobe but you also have some quick fixes around that. I like to wear heels at work. There’s a particular height that is comfortable for me and I’m all good with them. That’s me. I’m gonna run in these today, no problem. But then, after not even an hour at work, I get sick of them, so I throw them off and start walking around in bare feet.

Francis isn’t very happy when I do that. “Babe, you’ve really got to wear your shoes – health and safety.”

He’s right. I do have to wear shoes for health and safety reasons but it’s also not great to be greeting grieving families at a funeral home in your bare feet.

I also have a pair of slippers under my desk, which are actually worse than bare feet, according to Francis. They’re bright pink and have a nose with cat whiskers on them. They are super comfy. If Francis sees me coming downstairs in those slippers he really starts to get worried!

So the reality is that I’m chucking those heels off and on all day, and if I don’t get time to take them off and I have sore feet at the end of the day, it means I actually worked very hard.

The main problem I have is I work so much that I don’t really have anything in my wardrobe for fun things. My sister and I recently went down to Wellington for her birthday, to see Six60 in concert and she was worried I’d turn up in my black funeral gear.

“What are we wearing to the concert?” she asked me, and I said, “All good. I’ll be wearing jandals, shorts and a singlet with Six60 on it!”

We have a uniform of sorts, at work. If you’re dealing with families, then you must wear a blazer. I’m a big fan of a pencil dress, and I throw a blazer over that. You can wear any colour, and sometimes the family has a preference for a colour that everyone wears at the funeral of their loved one.

Frances will get quite worked up about that and wonder if he should wear a pink shirt and a pink tie and I have to say, “Dear, please, don’t make it all about you.”

If I’m just at home, then it’s an airy dress or shorts, and jandals. Always jandals. If I’m up home at Pawarenga, then it’s gumboots – has to be Red Bands or you are definitely the odd person out.

But if I can get into those jandals, I’ll do it. Jandals and socks in the winter are awesome.

‘E kore au e ngaro, e kore au e ngaro he harakeke tongai nui nō roto nō Mangamuka.

I shall not stray for I am like the dried flax plants of Mangamuka. (It’s similar to the saying, ‘You can take the girl out of the north, but you can’t take the north out of the girl.)

Kaiora Tipene works with her husband, Francis, as a funeral director. Their humour and knowledge of tikanga is featured in their Netflix show, The Casketeers.


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