Hiria Faofua is a West Auckland business owner and the founder of Kids Korowai.
The family owned business in Henderson sells handcrafted items, including korowai and poi.
The aim is for the products to provide a fun cultural experience for children while also promoting Maori culture and and indigenous artisans.
Hiria Faofua believes if every child had the opportunity to wear a korowai, it would provide the opportunity for them to stand in their own mana.
“The korowai to me means so many things,” she tells Kathryn Ryan.
“The word korowai to me means to protect, so when we think about kids’ korowai and what our purpose is, is to protect all our tamariki in order for them to go forward with their cultural identity.
“Like so many Māori words, korowai has different meanings… luckily we’re able to offer three different types but the favourite is the contemporary version.”
The contemporary version was a dream of Faofua’s – for children to have something Māori that they could play with but still have the authentic feeling of protection and mana.
Faofua also designs formal korowai for special occasions such as a graduation or tangihanga.
Some of her korowai are also framed and treated as family heirlooms to be handed down through generations.
She says seeing tamariki draped in their korowai at graduation ceremonies brings her great pride.
“They look like super heroes and invincible, their posture automatically changes and at that moment it’s all about them and what they’ve achieved, being there and standing with their peers.
“So, if those are things we can give them when they’re five, then I believe that will encourage them to achieve success, over and over again.”
Faofua’s passion for design began at a young age when she inherited her grandmother’s industrial sewing machine.
She enhanced those skills at the then New Zealand Institute of Fashion Technology before entering the fashion and design world for about a decade.
It was only when home beckoned though that her interest in kowowai design started.
“I’m still a baby weaver and I hope to still have 30 or so years learning.
“My journey started three years ago, I moved back from Melbourne, Australia, with my youngest daughter and while I was on maternity leave I decided to go study my te reo level five and level six and also weaving because I’m not one to just sit there while I’m on maternity leave so I decided to upskill.
“That just really woke something up in me, I’ve always been a creative, but kids korowai was definitely not a plan, but as things started to unfold in front of me, I saw that as a sign to say ‘look Hiria this is what you’ve got to do, this is now the journey’.
“So, lots and lots of learning how to run a business, learning how to get through Covid, but the why is big enough and strong enough that every day I want to be able to give children the opportunity and whanau the access, if they should need a korowai for whatever reason, I can now help them with that journey.”