Maori have long known how best to extract ingredients from plants with healing properties – but those traditions have been kept under cultural wraps. Until now.
Sisters Karen Renata, Tessa Davis and Adele Anderson are bringing sacred centuries-old remedies to the masses, having developed New Zealand’s first authentic natural skincare range using Maori knowledge to fill a gap in the market.
“We thought it would be fantastic for us to share knowledge that Maori have known for centuries and bring it into the commercial world,” says Ora chief executive Tessa Davis.
Based at Waikato business incubator SODA, the trio has created 14 different products that are now available in spas, galleries and the likes of Smith & Caughey’s – as well as being the official gift of Peter Jackson’s corporation Park Road films.
The journey began four years ago when they decided to go into business together doing something that “promoted things Maori”.
Drawing on family friend and native plant expert Rob McGowan's encyclopaedic knowledge of the healing properties and uses of flora and fauna, they have been busy perfecting formulations since then.
Davis says they’ve been given the green light both by McGowan and their families, who have agreed to share their expertise.
“In Maoridom you have to have that sort of blessing to develop or create skincare or any medicine in this way,” Davis explains.
“Hence why we are the first commercial Maori skincare range. You have to go through that whole process, which takes two to three years by the time you’ve done consultation and got them to understand what we’re doing and why.”
Mamaku, or black tree fern, is Ora’s hero ingredient; its rehydrating properties are the key element in the flagship after-sun healing gel.
Plants are sourced sustainably, either from nurseries on family blocks around the country or out in the wild.
“When we go into the bush we do a little karakia to Mother Earth and thank her for providing,” Davis says. “We only harvest what we need to harvest.”
She says they hope to connect people to nature through the Ora range.
“Everything in the world has a life essence, and we share that essence of that plant in our products. That connection makes it different.”
Along with help from Brian R Richards, who was behind the branding of labels like Icebreaker, the sisters have carefully positioned the range for entry into the New Zealand market as premium skincare and have big plans for expansion.
“We’ve always had that vision – we wanted to be a brand that could be known worldwide,” says Davis.
“We look forward to gaining traction in the global markets, in particular, Australia and Asia.”
The current bodycare lineup could be joined in the future by facecare, men’s and therapeutic lines, she says. Or, building on the brand name and holistic approach, that could extend to added value products like healthy diet plans, for example.
It’s all part of the Ora philosophy, which stems from the simple everyday greeting ‘Kia ora’, or ‘be well’.
“Ora is about sharing wellness,” she says. “We’re sharing it from the word go – ‘We hope that you’re well’.”