5 mins with Aroha Tamihana: How language sparked the journey from Designer to Entrepreneur

2 weeks ago by

Design Assembly loves to profile the breadth and depth of design practice in Aotearoa and this month we’re celebrating Māori design and designers.

In today’s interview Aroha Tamihana shares a bit of her entrepreneurial Design journey that lead to founding Maimoa Creative.


He uri au o ngā iwi Ngāti Raukawa rāua ko Ngāti Ranginui. Ko Maungatautari rāua ko Mauao ngā maunga, ko Waikato rāua ko Wairoa ngā awa, ko Tainui rāua ko Tākitimu ngā waka, ko Ngāti Huri rāua ko Ngāti Kahu ngā hapū. E mihi ana ki ōku tūpuna nā rātou te reo rangatira i tiaki kia ora tonu ai.

What or who were your early creative influences?

My creativity has been a big part of my identity for as long as I can remember. I have always had a keen eye for detail and aesthetics, and my brain just enjoys interpreting this world in beautiful, functional and simple ways. Neither of my parents were overly artistic, but my pāpā is one of those people who can pick up a guitar and start strumming any tune without even being able to explain what chords he is playing — he just hears and feels it. I feel the same when it comes to designing: comfortable, in my element, and enjoying the process of expressing myself through a medium that allows me to focus on little details. Johnson Witehira has been a big inspiration for my mahi since I started exploring Māori design during my Tertiary studies.

Can you describe the path you took to get where you’re at now as a designer and business owner?

Funny enough, I started out studying Psychology after High School, despite Art being my favourite subject. I was interested in human behaviour and assumed art would be better kept as a hobby (plus it was never sold as a ‘reliable’ career choice). A few months in I knew I had made a mistake, and the next year I enrolled in a Creative Arts Degree at Wintec. 

Initially intent on majoring in Painting/Art, a foundational course in Design instantly captured my interest, aligning perfectly with both my passion and skills. By the end of the three-year degree, I discovered my preferred areas were brand design, typography, and illustration. I spent a few years in the industry as a Creative in a couple of Design Studios and gained a lot of valuable skills working for a huge variety of clients. Despite the diversity of work, my heart was always drawn to the personal projects that allowed me more creative freedom. I was also on a reclamation journey of reconnecting with my Māori language and heritage, a life-changing journey that profoundly shaped my creative goals. This passion for personal expression and my dedication to promoting te reo Māori eventually culminated in the creation of Maimoa Creative — a platform where I could merge my design expertise with my enthusiasm for celebrating our language and supporting learners. Launched in 2019, Maimoa Creative initially started as my side hustle. A couple of years later, I shifted to devote all my energy and resources to it, embracing the roles of business owner, designer, social media manager, and everything in between, full-time, and would never look back. 

Hand-lettered Whakatauki.jpg
Custom Handlettered Pepeha.jpg

Do you have a project that is memorable because it challenged you, if so what lessons did you learn from that work?

I find that each project I undertake presents its unique challenges, which is exactly why I thrive as a designer—it pushes me to constantly evolve my skills and find creative solutions. A standout project for me was designing a deck of Māori playing cards, a collaboration between Konei and Maimoa Creative for Matariki. What I loved about it was the chance to work with a team and an illustrator to create something truly unique and stunning that celebrated the Māori language and culture. Jordyn Elise was the mastermind behind the drawings, and I had the privilege of bringing them to life in a digital context, by vectorising and adding colour. It was an intense dive into the ‘symbol’ feature in Adobe Illustrator, which allowed me to create half of the picture card while automatically reflecting the design below for a seamless join. It demanded precision and patience to perfect my technique, but I am so proud of how the final deck turned out.

Hands holding deck of Māori playing cards
deck of Māori playing cards and designed box

How do you mix things up and foster innovation in your work?

As someone with ‘Maximiser’ among my top strengths, I naturally challenge the notion of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” by asking, “Yes this works…but how could it be better?” Every week I’m on YouTube teaching myself a new skill or reading up on the latest plugin, app, social media trend, or best business practice. It can be exhausting being a perfectionist, but it also comes with a lot of satisfaction knowing that I give my best to any task. As a designer focusing on reo Māori products, I draw inspiration from transforming everyday items, games, and resources to resonate within a Māori context and serve as valuable tools for learners.

Image of Kaupapa game

Finally, where can we see more of your work and connect with you?

Insta: @maimoa.creative

FB: Maimoa Creative

TT: @maimoa.creative

Email: info@maimoa.nz


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