Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
Nga mihi nui ki a koutou katoa
I wanted to tell our story - about Mokopuna® merino - during the important te wiki o te reo Māori, to be transparent, positive and constructive.
It’s about the use of the word ‘mokopuna’ as part of the brand name for our gorgeous merino clothing line for children. We also registered Mokopuna® Merino Limited as the company name. Some might suggest that this is cultural appropriation. When, we started the business back 20 years ago, we didn’t believe so, and to this day we still, believe in the soul of Mokopuna®, but we understand views can change and so we’re opening this discussion.
We liked the word, the fact its delightfully phonetic (like so much Māori), it’s alliterative with merino, the fact that it speaks of Aotearoa and that it related to the product being for children.
There are many reasons we are respectful of te reo, and not seek to exploit it commercially. Some may worry that we no longer have a right to use ‘Mokopuna®’. With only good intentions, and in the spirit of honesty, transparency, love for the brand, and respect for the language, we write this note.
Maybe some history and context will help inform. Mokopuna® is part of phil&teds® / Mountain Buggy® – all born and bred in Aotearoa New Zealand. phil&teds® / Mountain Buggy® has sales in 40 countries, yet Mokopuna® is tiny and just focused on Aotearoa, though it’s popular with kiwi ex-pats living overseas and (when we had them) tourists. Merino has wonderful performance qualities as a garment for children (durable, sustainable, no scratch, heat regulating, natural) and it’s a fabric now well identified with, our place, Aotearoa.
We registered in NZ, Australia and USA. There were 3 aspects to us seeking trademark protection/ registration, in 2006:
To us, it’s about celebrating something special, relevant and unique … essentially, something ‘of this place’. We believe we have always used the word respectfully, and without cultural symbols or claims of special heritage. Brands exist in the mind. To be enduring they need to be authentic. Mokopuna’s relevancy comes from the product set – it is premium clothing for children, our descendants; its 100% merino; and, it’s a business born here and based here.
We registered the trademark with IPONZ (the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand) - hence Mokopuna®. Being a word Mokopuna® has a ‘Māori element’, and as IPONZ says, “that doesn’t mean that it is any less eligible for registration. To raise concerns the Māori element must have particular cultural or spiritual significance, and its use must be considered offensive.” We followed the mandated process, including seeking approval by the Trademarks Māori Advisory Committee, who have a deep understanding of mātauranga Māori and tikanga Māori (Māori worldview, culture and protocols).
Importantly to us, we were not claiming to be Māori, and haven’t sought the additional use of Māori symbols or designs. We wanted to celebrate who we are – kiwis, from all walks of life now here - and this product from ‘this land’.
Together, these things were important elements for us to avoid cultural misappropriation – which would be wrong. Appropriation refers to taking something that doesn't belong to you. Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group takes or borrows something from a minority group that has historically been exploited or oppressed. Cultural appropriation can be nuanced, but no less real, and of course it can occur knowingly or unknowingly.
It is not unusual to merge and blend cultures as people from different backgrounds come together and interact. We celebrate diversity with many different cultures under one roof. This is the Aotearoa we contribute to building. Of course, what’s to be avoided is exploitation (by way of a dominant cultural group using elements of a non-dominant group in a way that the non-dominant group views as exploitative).
Te wiki o te reo Māori is about celebrating a taonga, and elevating its usage, as one of the official languages in Aotearoa New Zealand. Yes, maybe we could’ve celebrated our brand name more noisily this week, in that context.
We're so very proud of the past 20 years or so offering, Mokopuna® merino in the world.
Using te reo Māori, is also about celebrating its use. We don't use Māori symbols and we don't claim to be Māori. Yet some may say merely using the word is disrespectful or offensive. I would hope that we can reassure everyone of our respect for te reo.
I am very aware of how I may appear to be appropriating because I’m a pakeha born in Te Awamutu. That casts a shadow I know, which may be conclusive for some, as I am seen to be part of a culture that represents so much of what's wrong. I am aware that I may look bad over this. Yet, I don’t represent others, I can’t change the past, and I can't change my whakapapa. I won’t change my love for this brand and this place, and my belief in the mana of Mokopuna™ for children anywhere in the world.
We try to make Mokopuna® ‘of Aotearoa New Zealand’ and inclusive. Our owners are not Māori; would that make a difference? For some maybe. We feel respect for te reo Māori. Yes, some may say that merely using the word is inappropriate. And some may disagree with the IPONZ law/ policy that we followed. We think Mokopuna® celebrates te reo well.