Occasionally one comes across an uber-human, whose consistent level of high achievement seems effortless. Meet Tessa Berger: international women’s footballer, American President’s List scholar, entrepreneur, environmental advocate… and 21 years old. Tessa has a rich local background, with her Puhoi Bohemian ancestry going back to the 1860s. Tessa was only three when her grandfather Rupert Berger died in 1997 but his legacy looms large in her heart and the family. “The crowd at his funeral stretched from the Puhoi Church all the way back to the bridge,” she says.
Tessa’s early academic and sporting promise was exceeded by the time she hit double digits. New Zealand Football first identified her at the age of 10, and by 16 she was training with the Football Ferns and ‘carded’ by High Performance Sport NZ, gaining access to full funding for performance support. She played at the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Japan at 17.
Tessa graduated from Epsom Girls Grammar School with many offers of scholarships from universities around the globe. She settled on a full athletic scholarship at Florida Gulf Coast University in the United States where she whipped a double major in business management and accounting. She was recognised on the Presidents List for her perfect grade point average.
She came home to Mahurangi West in 2014 and within a few months had launched her business, The Merchandise Collective. It’s a merchandising platform that is influenced by street and college wear, but it’s seriously high-end. Really good cotton, great tailoring and well-made, they’re gender-neutral, metropolitan-inspired pieces that reference New Zealand’s major cities and regions. The range ‘bridges the gap between fashion and merchandising’.
The concept was born in her uni years in America. “They’re so patriotic and everything is merchandised. The market’s literally worth billions.” Tessa saw an opportunity to establish the market in New Zealand. “People have such a connection to this country, whether they’re born and raised here, ex-pats or just visiting – but all we have to wear are cheap ‘I heart NZ’ t-shirts. I thought, what if I could create affordable basics that work with this concept, but don’t compromise on quality and aesthetic?”
But wait, there’s more. Recently Tessa has followed in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by taking up taking up roles on local boards. She was elected President of the 40-year old environmental organisation Mahurangi Action Incorporated in November last year. And her social and environmental views also saw her named chair of the Mahurangi Coastal Trail Trust. It’s this last which makes her sea-blue eyes light up – this is a passion.
There’s a very beautiful little beach called Te Muri at the south end of Mahurangi Regional Park. Currently it’s only accessible on foot or by boat. The Auckland Council has indicated that there is an option is to put a road in to Te Muri, along with a very large car park.
Tessa is fired up. “It’s so short-sighted! We need a plan for Te Muri that offers a number of sustainable means of access, one that recognises the natural surroundings of the land. The Mahurangi Coastal Trail will preserve that untouched beauty and at the same time it’s a unique opportunity to link two Regional Parks.” There’d be a beautiful walkway and a bridge from Wenderholm to Te Muri.
Draft submission feedback is still coming in regarding the Trail, but now Tessa has got Duane Major and Adam Gard’ner on board. They’re the guys behind the ‘Gift the Beach’ campaign earlier this year which saw the public successfully purchase Awaroa beach in the Abel Tasman National Park. Watch this space.
Tessa’s full of the injustices of the world – and you get the feeling they won’t last long if she trains her eagle eye on them. Women in sport? “Still such inequality, as there is across the board when it comes to the gender pay gap.” Eating meat? “The inhumanities of meat and dairy production is something I can’t ignore. It’s about the planet as well – you could stop showering for three months and save the same amount of water as it takes to produce one burger!” Social injustice? “Globally, the socio-economic gap between the rich and poor is sickening. I saw it first-hand in Florida. It’s one thing to recognise these issues but to change them is another. That’s what I hope to do.”
How did she get to be this motivated? She’s not sure – she just is. “I’ve always known exactly who I am and what I’m capable of. I think perhaps I’m an old soul,” she smiles.
It hasn’t all been easy though. Tessa alludes to a stressful childhood , bullying at school, and having to grow up too soon. “But perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am today without those moments. I’ve always felt that we are only ever faced with situations in life that we can handle, and I was never going to allow myself to be defined by the actions of others.”
She’s still playing football across New Zealand and says regular runs around her beloved Mahurangi are down time for her. “I find real clarity then, it’s just me and the tranquility of my surroundings.” But the business is about to launch its Autumn/Winter 2016 collection, so she’s busier than ever. She’s just hired a personal assistant to help. She was heading home (she has a great setup at her Dad’s place) after our interview to put the new season’s photos into her website. Wait - she codes the website herself?
“Yep – I wanted to know exactly how every aspect of the business worked. But it does tend to keep me up late, and I’m playing in Hamilton tomorrow, so I need to get some sleep tonight.” Some concern is expressed here by her interviewer regarding relaxation. She laughs. “Don’t worry – I have a very good idea of when I’m out of balance and if I am, I take the right steps to sort it out.”
This young uber-human has got things uber-sussed.