Meet Tama Toki of Aotea

Tama Toki is the founder and CEO of Aotea, a range of New Zealand made therapeutic skincare and health products, inspired by traditional Māori herbal remedies and supported by scientific research. Inspired by his childhood and the native flora on the relatively remote Great Barrier Island (Aotea being it’s māori name), Tama founded Aotea as a way to both share the healing flora of Aotearoa with the world, and give back to his community. 

Aotea is an inspiring, value-driven business, which adheres to the principles of Tikanga Māori (the Māori way of doing things). This means that Aotea believes in true sustainability, and as Tangata Whenua (people of the land) they are kaitiaki (guardians) of the natural world and its resources. Examples of this sustainability include never picking too much from any given plant, and leaving enough honey in the hives for the bees for winter. Tama is also driven by creating jobs and opportunities for his community; there is no high school on the island, so Aotea has a scholarship that provides financial support to the Māori Youth in the community to attend the leading schools of New Zealand, and are in the process of creating more jobs on the island for whānau (extended family or community). I’ve been a big fan of Aotea’s range for some time, and am so pleased to get to know Tama a little better and share his range with you.


Tell us a little about yourself - who are you and what do you do?

My name is Tama. I am from Aotea, I grew up there and that is where I whakapapa to (where my genealogy comes from).

How did your upbringing lead you to create Aotea Made? Can you share a little something about your journey?

I would say that what we do is a direct expression of the community I was raised in, on Aotea. As well as the broader influence of Tikanga and māoritanga that shapes our creative direction. Aotea has no public utility for water or power; consequently life on the island is slow and you live a little closer with the laws of nature - down with the sun and up with the sun etc. There was no doctor on the island, or pharmacy. So you tend to rely on what is in the bush for any ailments. And this is where I experienced and learned about things like Rongoā Māori. I was raised predominately by my grandparents, and it was my kuia who showed me how to use the flora, and when to harvest, things like this. 

Can you tell us more about the māori cultural aspects that inspire the principles and values of Aotea, such as tikanga and mātauranga māori.

The Tikanga and māoritanga (māori way) of what we do underpins the direction and how we operate our business. We make what we make by hand on māori land, our products are a manifestation of the mātauranga, so it is important that throughout the whole business the kawa (protocol) remains as intact as it can. We feel very lucky to be doing what we do, particularly because it allows us to actually continue to practice some of these principles. 

How do you like to start and end your day?

My day in town is a little different vs when I’m living on the island. In town (and as made up as this sounds), after I wake up I make coffee and read for 30 minutes. I learned TM about 10 years ago, so after reading for 30 minutes I practice TM for 15 minutes and then I do a 15-20 minute workout of plyometrics, and finally a cold shower. In the winter I have lime or lemon juice in water as we have a few of these trees on the island (and we bring excess fruit back to town), and in the summer I have apple cider vinegar in water. And then I meet the team at the office. If I’m on the island I tend not to exercise in the morning as the work we do is mainly labour, but I still try to read and practice TM before I start. To end the day I do 15 minutes of meditation after work, before I have dinner. 


How do you practice self-care; through rituals, movement, mindfulness, or by doing things you love?

Routine for me is very important. It makes me feel as I get some key tasks / practices done first thing which means that the day starts with momentum. And then if nothing is achieved at least I’ve done some practice of the things that are important to me. Luckily those aspects of mindfulness and movement are wrapped up in those tasks themselves. 


What daily practices do you have for living a more considered and sustainable life?

On the island it is easier to be sustainable - and almost not of our own volition, as the island and way of life there requires it. We have a garden, we are solar powered, and all water we use is reticulated to be used in some way; for example our grey water we pump into our garden or our crop of mānuka or kūmarahou. In town it is a little more difficult, but one thing is I don’t actually buy new clothes anymore unless they’re given to me. I only get my ‘new’ clothes from op shops. It’s also way cheaper! I feel as though there is enough clothing in the world to go around many times over. I haven't bought any new clothing since the start of 2020. 

What are you currently reading?

I am reading Māori Marsden’s book called The Woven Universe, which is a māori world view on how the cosmos / universe came into being (and of course our place within it all). I really love learning about why we as humans think the way we do. And being māori, I enjoy learning about how māori look at the world, vs perhaps the west. What is really interesting, is that a lot of the traditional and modern physicists (what can be referred to as tohunga pakeha) actually think about the world in similar terms to how māori view the world. That is, the quantum world is a gestating world of energy and rhythmical patterns (where newtonian laws of nature do not apply in the same way), similar to how māori look at the world that lies behind the one we determine with sense perception. This stuff is super fascinating to me, and this is what the book is about. 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for Aotea.

We are really excited to be looking into the science of the constituents of the native flora. We have bought a supercritical extractor and are really excited to be isolating and extracting these plant agents, to then have these tested. This will allow us to give credence to a lot of the anecdotal and traditional stories of our people. 

Lastly, where can we find you?
Concept Store: Commercial Bay, Ground Floor, Auckland CBD