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Source: University of Waikato

At first glance, Luke Moss would appear to be like any other university student. But what many don’t know, is that he’s the owner and founder of a clothing label that has taken the Māori world by storm.

The Te Kuiti local, who is studying a masters degree at the University of Waikato, is the creator of the streetwear brand Kultured – a label that has made him so popular strangers stop him on the street.

“It’s weird because people who I don’t even know come up to me and are like ‘oh you’re that Kultured guy’.”

Moss, who hails from Te Rohe Pōtae and is of Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta and Ngāti Tūwharetoa descent, says the vision for his label started from his desire to normalise the use of te reo Māori in everyday life.

“When I was younger, I didn’t grow up in te reo,” he says. “So when I started learning I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and thought ‘I wish I knew this growing up’. If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, it would be to learn te reo.”

For Moss, his first encounter with learning te reo came from the time he spent in Te Tohu Paetahi (TTP) – a full-immersion programme offered by the University that enables students to speak competently in te reo Māori.

“I thought ‘what can I do now to let rangatahi, or anybody, know you need to learn te reo’. And I thought ‘oh, I’ll go make a clothing brand’ and it sort of stemmed from there.”

In 2018, after merging what he learned in his undergraduate degree in media creative technologies with his newfound knowledge in te reo, Moss kick-started his clothing label.

His first item of clothing was centered on the slang phrase ‘makachilly’, combining the reo kupu (word) for cold (makariri) with chilly, and embroidering that on beanies for winter sales.

“I bought 50 beanies, sold them on my Facebook page, and in a week they all sold out. I thought I would be holding onto those beanies for months, but I ended up buying another 100 and those sold out too. Then I moved into t-shirts and it took off from there.”

Since it began, Kultured has evolved from a product range that includes hats and sweaters, to a business that’s seen collaboration with other Māori entrepreneurs in the same industry, like Nichola Te Kiri.

Moss also had the chance to travel to Japan last year as part of a fully-funded trip by the Centres of Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPE) – an initiative committed to enhancing New Zealand’s economic engagement and cultural understanding with the Asia-Pacific region.

As part of the trip, Moss had the opportunity to meet with clothing businesses, gain ideas and see first-hand how the Japanese clothing industry operates.

“Japan has a huge streetwear culture. It’s one of the biggest in the world and most streetwear styles come out of Japan, so it was cool walking the streets and seeing this all in real life.

“The most valuable part of going to Japan was seeing the resurgence of the Indigenous people (Ainu) over there. They were making a comeback and they were wanting ideas from us on how they could boost their Indigenous people.”

This year, Moss is studying towards a Master of Māori and Indigenous Studies, where he is focusing on Maramataka o Maniapoto (the Māori lunar calendar of Maniapoto), and different star lore.

For Moss, being able to reconnect with his roots and contribute to his people are driving forces behind his work, and are part of his future plans for his label.

“I really want to move back to Te Kuiti and put all my efforts into the iwi,” he says. “Once I move back I’ll look into the settlements and see what I can do to help.”

“My plan for Kultured is to make enough money where I can live in a house and eat food and my partner can work for the business instead of working in a crazy job. I’m not thinking of taking over the world – I just want to make enough so the business runs itself and we have enough money to live and pay rent.”