Regional | Te Whakatōhea

Maori style makes gumboots to rival high-end sneakers

Malachi Kurei (Te Whakatōhea), a year 13 student at Trident High School in Whakatāne has set up his own business selling Skellerup Red Band gumboots, which he paints with Māori designs. He has Ahi, Wai and Whenua collections under his label Mokobandz.

He also invests in cryptocurrency and NFTs and wants to be a millionaire by the time he's 21.

“Well, I grew up around a lot of Māori artwork and so I sort of pushed myself into that space,” Kurei says. “And then one day my dad said, ‘Hey, you want to draw on my gumboots?’ and I gave it a go, aye.”

Now he owns a company, Mokobandz, to sell his painted Skellerup Red Band gumboots.

His aunt Awhina Kurei, a support network for the company, says, “Our family loves gumboots so it’s no surprise he would direct his art onto this type of medium”.

Kurei had asked Skellerup for its permission to see if he could do his art on their boots for sale.

“I don’t have a connection with them, just to protect them and their trademark. My business is solely putting the artwork on the gumboots,” he says.

Asked for comment, Skellerup told Te Ao Marama: "We're incredibly humbled that Māori artists choose our gumboots as their medium but we do not enter into any commercial agreements. Once people purchase them, they are that person's property to do as they wish but this does not mean it's endorsed by Skellerup."

Awhina Kurei puts her nephew’s passion and artist view down to his parents’ love for art.

Chasing the golden eggs

“His mum and dad are gifted artists and they planted the seed of art in him,” she says.

Kurei uses basic geometric patterns that are used in kirituhi for his designs and he says, “I do this because I do not want to disrespect what we do for tāmoko and connect that Māori side to the gumboots.

“Māori artwork is a closed artwork and I try to keep that separate from what I am doing,” he says.

Since Mokobandz was started two months ago, the company has sold 24 pairs of gumboots at $180 each.

But Kurei is also looking at other avenues to make sales.

“There are million-dollar opportunities like when Facebook came out and now the space is crypto and NFTs. I’m just investing my time and even my money into learning about these things so I can chase that golden egg”.

The next big job for Kurei this Easter holiday is to complete some gumboot designs for his aunties.