National | Australia

Māori business: KONEI makes breakthrough into Australian market

International shipping holdups have made selling into Australia difficult over the past Covid-ridden year.

South Auckland-based organisation Ngahere Communities chief executive Manawawharepu Udy, who owns an e-commerce site, KONEI, faced a high demand from Australian consumers ordering Māori and Pasifika-based products from local pakihi (businesses) online. But in a Covid year shipping has become more erratic as international shipping lines cut their port calls to this part of the world.

Udy decided she needed a trusted friend living across the ditch, to help expand KONEI in the Australian market to cut down on rising shipping costs.

So, she reunited with her old schoolmate from Rotorua Intermediate, Sandra Gavet.

"She's lived in Australia for the past 20 years. We've been talking about this for a while, the opportunities that are not there for our Māori and Pasifika communities that might want to get into entrepreneurship or creativity, or stuff like that," Udy says.

They brought together Māori and Pasifika businesses based in Australia to help sell their products online.

It all kicked off after planning before lockdown to offer a popup store and distribution on the Gold Coast, selling kākāhu (clothing), taonga (handcrafted gifts), rei (jewellery), panipani (skincare) and taputapu mo te kainga (home products). The store opening was packed with local buyers.

"It's been crazy. We've been pumping out products the whole time," Gavet says.

Getting around shipping issues

"She [Manawawharepu] came over here for a holiday and we started chatting with other people. So we thought it would be a good idea to bring KONEI NZ to Australia."

In the Covid era, businesses end up forking out three times more than what it costs to ship products across the Tasman because some material-supplier countries like China are facing continuous lockdowns as they try to get rid of Covid infections.

Australia and New Zealand make up only 2% of the world's shipping and global shippers are cutting back their services.

"Shipping through the pandemic has been different," Udy says. "We didn't know anything about exporting, so we started learning during this lockdown about what it was like to ship to Australia."

Australia-based businesses such as KCUB'D, owned by Leonie Southern, which has a fashion and athletic sock apparel product with Māori and Pasifika designs, joined up with KONEI to help lift business. That's part of a concept thought through by Ngahere Communities, a model that celebrates businesses, innovation and Māori and Pasifika communities.

"I'm absolutely amazed," Southern says. "Seeing other brands, other businesses like myself who get behind the scene to support. It's really hard to showcase our Polynesian Island, Pacific culture here."