Kilts & Korowhai are closer than you think – exporting high-value cultural identity

Two cultures with strong parallels

Two cultures with strong parallels

Scotland was established in 1237, close to when Māori arrived in Aotearoa. Over time, the world has come to know much about Scottish traditions, folklore and its iconic visual language. As a small nation of people made up of fiercely proud clans and their histories, they come together with their cultural metaphors and stand on the world stage with great recall as a national brand.

The proud Scottish traditions live on and are immortalised by the sons and daughters of this small nation. The continuity of their traditions, beliefs and mythology play out in an ever-unfolding story. The global diaspora continues to grow within fiercely patriotic outposts all over the world.

A tale of two cultures

These two cultures have strong parallels and Māori culture could do well viewing its journey across the world in much the same way as the Scots have done – without compromise.


From the relative easy access of single-malt whiskey anywhere on the globe to catwalk models wearing Vivienne Westwood, Scottishness lives on and is enlivened year after year with yet new interpretations. Meanwhile, design-inspired cultural fashion such as Kiri Nathan’s wonderful expressions of Maori femininity are inspiring exemplars of contemporary Maori.

Culturally-inspired fashion. Left: Garments by Kiri Nathan, Right: Garments by Vivienne Westwood

Culturally-inspired fashion. Left: Garments by Kiri Nathan, Right: Garments by Vivienne Westwood

There is a richness in every culture from a design perspective given it can be dealt with respectfully. The Māori branding landscape is not a rosy picture. Designers have been guilty of tokenism, graphic anarchy and disrespect for taonga.

The challenge for every iwi is to cross the bridge into a contemporary world and carry their tikanga with them.

So often Māori design material has crossed the bridge into a Pakeha world and its treatment and meaning has been lost in translation. The visual identity needs to be handled carefully, with the individual rūnunga and business identities (and experiences) thoughtfully considered – without losing their own character and voice.

The challenge is to find contemporary, yet respectful interpretations which delight the customer. This should also cover designing the tourist experience, as much as the physical elements of a brand. Māori IP is incredibly valuable and is yet to be recognised and cared for by iwi.