Mark Launiu always felt a bit like an outsider, he said. While the serial entrepreneur now leads KC’s iconic streetwear brand MADE MOBB, Launiu grew up humbly as an immigrant within a small community in South Kansas City.
So his recent honor as Samoan Business/Entrepreneur Award of the Year was a pleasant surprise, he said. The recognition came as part of a Samoan Flag Day celebration coordinated by the Samoan Community Organization and the Big Uce Youth Outreach.
“I didn’t think they were aware of who I was,” the MADE MOBB co-founder said. “So, being acknowledged within your own community, that’s a huge win for me. It was great. I felt like a kid again.”
Launiu enthusiastically recounts the special moment when he received the award. He was with his family at the event, not expecting anything extraordinary to happen, he said.
“We were just there to hang out and see what happens. We were eating when they called my name,” Launiu recalled. “It’s kind of funny; I was like ‘Oh man, they called my name!’ So I went up there, and of course, it felt amazing.”
Representation on stage
Reflecting on the award’s significance, Launiu emphasized its message to him and others like him: Don’t limit yourself.
“No matter where we come from and what we go through, we can’t let that determine who we become,” he said.
“Little Island boys and girls from where I’m from can think, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can do it,’” Launiu continued. “So, that’s what felt great for me, knowing that kids after the event said, ‘We know MADE MOBB, but we didn’t know that there was another Islander behind it.’”
For MADE MOBB — one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2023 — this moment served as a reminder to keep giving back and making an impact on Kansas City, he added.
“We want to be a pillar in the community that wants to help in any way we can,” Launiu said. “We’ve sold a lot of stuff for the community, just to stay in tune. That’s what it’s about, that’s how you grow.”
Building a name for himself
Launiu ventured into a new business in 2020, seeing Southside Truck Company as an opportunity during the early months of COVID.
“I opened it when the pandemic first hit because more people were staying at home and buying online. I saw it was a billion-dollar industry,” Launiu explained. “So, I wanted to get a little piece of that.”
He also jumped into real estate investments.
“I love real estate here because I feel like the city of Kansas City has a lot of potential,” Launiu added.
Leaving a legacy for his family is always on his mind as he talks about his investments.
“Ownership, that’s what it’s about for me honestly. I want to have my name on something and be able to pass that on to my kids. More importantly, I want to educate my community to grow themselves in Kansas City,” Launiu said.
Through MADE MOBB, for example, Launiu tackles a community concern — a growing number of people who are property renters, not owners — by hosting real estate-related events that focus ownership, how to invest, and connect people with the right resources like lenders and contractors.
Bringing it back home
Launiu acknowledges that a strong team is essential for any entrepreneur — so lifting up people around him became a priority, he said.
“As I started investing in other things besides MADE MOBB, I realized I needed to invest in the people I knew,” he shared. “Like, ‘Hey, let’s go build a legacy, let’s go build a real estate portfolio together, let’s go build a struggling business.’ You don’t have to know anything, just be willing to learn.”
Even with the Kritiq Fashion Show, Launiu saw an opportunity to put members of Kansas City’s minority communities on (and behind) the runway.
“Ideally, the Kritiq was started with representation in mind,” he said. “I wanted more minority designers and more minority models, because I felt they didn’t get the same opportunity in other platforms out here. I wanted to keep it within the community.”
Launiu values being a connector for people in the place where he grew up.
“I always go to South Kansas City just because I’ve always believed that I can’t change the world, but my backyard is a great place to start,” he said.