Turning your passion into a business doesn’t happen overnight. Just ask Maori artist Sam Mangakahia.
The recent BYU-Hawaii graduate by way of Queensland, Australia shared his journey into art and entrepreneurship with us and gave some solid advice for young creatives looking to turn their passion into a successful business.
A successful business starts with an idea and a foundation built with passion
The Maori artist told us about the day he decided to start carving designs into some family instruments laying around the house. He explained to us,
“I was home alone when I picked up my dad’s Mahalo Ukulele and started to play. I then thought to myself, ‘Hmm this would be pretty cool if this had some designs on it.’ I then went to the kitchen and grabbed a bread knife.”
Inspired by the Ta Moko, which are the indigenous tattoo designs originating from his Maori culture, Sam acted on his idea immediately. He continued,
“Two hours later I etched in a design that to me represented my Maori culture. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I brought it to school and soon enough I had kids asking me if I could do it to their ukulele. The rest is history.”
Without even knowing it, this became a major moment in Sam’s life. He would take this hobby, continue to learn and perfect it, and now fast forward a few years later, Sam has a thriving business that continues to grow. He says,
“From that point up until today, I have sold 385 Ukulele and about 11 guitars.”
Combining art and entrepreneurship
Going into college where he studied graphic design, art, and entrepreneurship, Sam continued to master his craft. It was at this time when he began to develop the business mindset around his passion.
One of the pivotal things that helped him along the way was an internship with Rangi Kipa, a famous Moko artist he long looked up to in New Plymouth, Taranaki. This experience made him realize exactly what he wanted to do with his art and his career.
His only business experience, at this point, was selling shoes on eBay. He began to embrace the entrepreneurial lifestyle – dedicating all his extra time outside of school to building his brand.
As he dove deeper, he realized that he was just as interested in the business side as he was on the art side. He says,
“I love art but I also love entrepreneurship. Creating a well-functioning business is fascinating to me, just the thought of making money when I don’t have to be present is incredible.”
Using storytelling to connect cultures
Identity has always been important to Sam and his family alike. Staying connected to his culture and sharing it with others is one of the main reasons why he does what he does. The Ta Moko in particular allows him to tell people’s stories through art.
Through conversation, he’s able to create a design representative of their story. This is a process he’s built out over time. Starting with his friends and family, Sam now does commission work for musical acts he’s admired throughout Hawaii and New Zealand.
While guitars and ukeleles have a soft spot in Sam’s heart, he has also experimented with shoes, surfboards, and trucks. His dream one day is to max out a Lamborghini with his Maori designs. Considering his journey has only just begun, he will
Passion + business = sucess
Sam’s story is something he loves to share and even though it’s still being told, he has some advice for kids looking to create their own lane in art just like him.
“I’m hustling so hard to prove to people that you can develop your talents and use them to benefit your life and the people around you. I believe that we are most happy and fulfilled when we are doing things that fulfill our inner divine potential. Finding what your gifts help in the quest to live a happy full life.”
It’s not just about the hustle for Sam. He found something that fulfills him and from there he figured out a way for it to work for him. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice. Sam explained it best: