Kaupapa Companies: Creating a gym for the people and an agency for Māori entrepreneurs

NZME’s Astley Nathan, who has recently started his own te reo Māori journey, is on a mission to showcase the unique kaupapa or principles that are integral to Māori businesses. First up, Astley travels to Whangārei to chat with brothers Jamille and Phoenix Ruka about their journey to becoming the owners of two companies built on these values.

Two brothers. One grew up in te ao Māori, not knowing how to learn or write English until he was 12, the other attended kura auraki (mainstream) not knowing how to speak any te reo Māori – a story many of us are familiar with.

Based in Whangārei, Jamille and Phoenix Ruka have now created their own successful businesses and are sharing their stories for Kaupapa Companies, a Herald series on young Māori entrepreneurs.

Jamille and Phoenix co-own Common Grounds Fitness, a gym that focuses on generational wellbeing, while Phoenix also co-owns marketing and creative company Niwha Creative with his friend Marcia Hopa.

Both could’ve easily gone down a different path but, credit to them and their parents, they are building a great future for themselves and their uri.

“We weren’t really a wealthy whānau. We grew up in a kind of gang community,” says Jamille. “But our parents always tried to look to get out of that environment and break that typical stereotype.”

Common Grounds Fitness is a whānau-established initiative which was created for whānau to train free of judgment. Jamille hopes this style of fitness will inspire others to get active.

The Whakaaro (idea) is that it’s family first and then the fitness part comes second, he says.

“Before we were in this space it used to be a brothel,” Phoenix recalls. “There were poles in here, mirrors on the roof and there was like a dirty spa pool … but we cleaned it all out and now it is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Niwha Creative is a marketing company whose goal is to become an umbrella for other Māori businesses and creatives.

“So we do branding, first and foremost, web design, videography and some photography,” Phoenix says.

“But the goal is to be an umbrella for my mate who’s an artist or my friend who’s a singer … we try and employ or pay our whānau as much as we can every time big jobs come in.

“Because that’s the point of it, not for me to make money for myself. If I’ve got 10 dollars, we’ve all got 10 dollars!”

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