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New Zealand’s next flag? These are the top 40 contenders

This May, New Zealand asked its people for a big favor: to redesign the country's flag.

Amongst the 10,292 pitched designs, there were the serious - incorporating the existing flag's union jack, color scheme and the traditional symbol of the silver fern – and the not-so-serious – the "kiwi with laser eyes", a "unihorned kiwi" and sheep with "hokey pokey" ice cream.

This week the Flag Consideration Panel has whittled the entrants down to 40 designs, with the notion of promoting New Zealand's traditional culture being a popular trend.

Flag Consideration Project's "Official long list" (Top 40 flag designs)
Credit: Flag Consideration Project | New Zealand Government
Flag Consideration Project's "Official long list" (Top 40 flag designs)

In an open letter published on Monday by the panel, the 12 members discussed the process of selecting the top 40 designs, saying that they were the best at reflecting "the values New Zealanders have shared."

"A potential new flag should unmistakably be from New Zealand and celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and a vision for its future," the open letter said.

The letter went on to add that the panel has invited a raft of experts to help evaluate the long list's selection; making sure there were "no known impediments", and that "robust intellectual property checks" would be carried out.

"(The flag) should speak to all Kiwis. Our hope is that New Zealanders will see themselves reflected in these flags' symbols, colour and stories."

The project itself has unearthed some criticism, with the flag revamp costing an estimated NZD 25.7 million ($16.9 million) – mainly due to the referendums; however, New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, said in a radio interview that a new flag would be "worth billions."

"How much is it worth ultimately if we change our flag and people recognize and buy our products?" said Key in an interview with More FM. He went on to add that "in the end, it's going to be worth billions over time."

Out of the 40, four designs will be picked by the panel by mid-September; however the public won't be able to vote until the first referendum this coming Winter. March 2016 will see the final vote, with the public deciding whether they would prefer the current flag from 1902, or decide that an overhaul is needed.

—By CNBC's Alexandra Gibbs, follow her on Twitter @AlexGibbsy.