I wanted to take the opportunity to formally update you on our commitment to change.
We have been remiss in our cultural appropriation of Māori since our founding, and for that, we sincerely apologise. Our use of whētero and mataora in our logo should not have occurred.
We are committed now to move to cultural appreciation, enabling us to celebrate Māori and their unique identity. As Tangata Tiriti, we feel strongly that tikanga and te reo Māori should be celebrated and appreciated by all.
We do not have the mana of Māori identity; we are not Māori. We are a company born and grown in Aotearoa and hope to continue as such. We can only do this, though, by accepting our mistakes and learning from our shortcomings.
We hoped that today, we could share a bit of our story with you, in the hope that it might help you to see that there have only ever been good intentions within the foundations of our brand and so that you may be able to trust that our commitment to change is genuine.
Haakaa was formed in my little garage when I was in a dark place in my life. I had immigrated from China (20 years ago now), met my husband and had a beautiful daughter who we discovered, at age three, had special needs. Money was tight, my marriage suffered, and my daughter needed me – I felt like I was stuck, trying to do the best for my family but unable to find a way to make ends meet. I did what I could to earn money. Before I started designing products, I first taught myself to paint and learned graphic design, eventually selling logos and designs online prior to starting my business.
To me, the logo I designed for Haakaa had New Zealand specific origins and represented a strong, smiling face - symbolising being brave and facing the challenges that life throws your way head-on. To Māori, it has a very different meaning. However, because I was not raised here in New Zealand, I did not have the education and awareness of Māori culture. In my ignorance, I truly believed that I was respecting and honouring Māori culture, not stealing from it.
Haakaa was born from my own unique struggles in motherhood. I wanted to create products that would genuinely make mums’ lives easier. I did everything I could – working tirelessly to make tools for mums all around the world to use on their own journeys. It took many years to gain any success – we certainly made no profit for a long time. In the beginning, we were just like any other small family-owned business. We went to hell and back many times, but it was the love, support and word of mouth recommendations from mums and dads that got us through. They gradually helped us to gain traction on a global scale, and the one-piece silicone breast pump is now known colloquially worldwide as a “Haakaa”.
I consider the success of my little business to be a true blessing. I have been so proud in recent times to be able to give back wherever I can - supporting many charities and organisations that help mothers and their babies. I plan to continue supporting those charities and organisations.
I am really saddened that people feel deceived by us. We have never claimed to be a Māori business – as you know, I am Chinese and have had mine and my daughter’s picture in a prominent position on our website for years. I was always proud of my company’s name and logo, which is why I have always been totally transparent about my inspiration for Haakaa in our brand story. I thought I was doing great things for New Zealand on an international level.
In China, we feel proud when others are inspired by elements of our culture. I really thought that by being inspired by Māori culture, I was honouring and celebrating it. To me, it was all part of New Zealand – my adoptive country that had done so much for my daughter and me. I wanted to give back. I didn’t have the knowledge I have now.
When we were first approached about these issues last year, we tried to explain ourselves, but my social media team (many of them mums) was subjected to a wave of abuse, including horrific name calling and expletive language so we stopped responding to the individual and any associates. My staff felt scared.
When we were approached again recently, we felt frightened. We said Haakaa is a made-up word and tried to shut the conversation down for fear of the abuse my team would be subjected to. Our conversation has been twisted and made out like we have deceived people by claiming no connection to Māori. We are emphatic though that our business is not a Māori business but rather an Aotearoa business.
Moving forward, I am committed to educating myself on Māori issues and to doing better. As a 100% New Zealand-owned family business, I am extremely proud of what our company has achieved already, and we will strive to give back to our Māori communities.
I truly am devastated at how this has unfolded. I know that we have changes to make and that I have a lot to learn, but I hope you can see that my intentions and actions were never in bad faith.
Our change of logo is the first step on our path to cultural appreciation. This is changing very soon and will no longer reflect anything Māori. As beautiful as whētero and mataora are, they belong to Māori, and we want them to remain so. In regards to our name, this is not a Māori word. While it is inspired by te ao Māori, it is a completely new word that does not exist in te reo Māori or English.
Our next step on this new path is to work alongside Māori communities, and mothers especially to promote positive hauora with our product. We believe we can make a positive impact in the Māori community if we work together and follow the leadership and expertise of Māori.
We are especially grateful for the support from the Māori consultant we are receiving guidance from. Their hard work and help throughout this process so far are appreciated immensely, and we look forward to our ongoing work together as we seek to give back to Māori.
We are truly apologetic for the hurt we have caused to Māori, and are committed to making a new start with a shift in focus. A new focus that works alongside Māori and their communities.
Kia haumaru te noho, stay safe.
- Shu (Founder/Kaihautū)