Wellness firm with a tikanga Māori lens

Helen Paul-Smith, co-founder of ŌKU. Photo / Caffeine / Stuff

Caffeine Weekly Digest

How ŌKU built a business with tikanga Māori at its core

ŌKU, a New Zealand-based wellness company, integrates Māori values and practices into its business model, focusing on sustainable harvesting and indigenous healing traditions. Founded by Helen Paul-Smith and Scott Smith, ŌKU’s products utilise native plants of Aotearoa to create herbal teas, balms and tonics.

Central to ŌKU’s ethos is the concept of kaitiakitanga, or guardianship of the land, emphasising responsible harvesting practices and cultural respect for nature. The company’s approach aligns with traditional Māori healing principles, known as rongoā, which encompass herbal remedies and spiritual healing.

ŌKU prioritises sustainability in its harvesting methods, observing practices such as harvesting only from abundant plant populations and giving thanks to the forest spirits. Bilingual packaging and cultural workshops further promote Māori language and cultural awareness.

Looking ahead, ŌKU plans to expand internationally while maintaining its commitment to sustainability and cultural integrity. The company seeks investors who share its values, particularly targeting iwi and indigenous landowners to support its mission of preserving Māori heritage and environmental stewardship.

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