I grew up in the islands of Vava'u and studied there from form one to seven. I then left after high school for Fiji for three years then returned to Tonga and started working at the Treasury then later left and worked at the Reserve Bank of Tonga. Today, I am currently handling finance work but at the same time, managing my small online business named 'Sissy Shoetique'.
"Sissy Shoetique' started operating in June 2020 while I was still abroad (NZ) studying. It is an online market in which I supply shoes from abroad and sell them to our people in Tonga, I started this with the purpose of helping my family financially.
As I mentioned before, 1 already had jobs in which I was working at for almost 10 years until I finally decided on resigning and leaving for further studies. My family had no income at the time because dad had already retired. So I started thinking of a way to help out financially at home. That's when came up with the idea of importing shoes and selling them in Tonga.
Firstly, I started with ordering shoes online from vendors that are based in New Zealand only. I would order a variety of shoes and send them to my brother who resides in Auckland, and he would collect the shoes and put them in a box then send them over to Tonga to my mum. Mum would then sell the shoes every Saturday at the flea market. I kept doing this while studying at the same time and later expanded my orders from not only New Zealand but Australia as well.
I started small, I didn't have muchh funds at the time to start up a business. So l used my school money that I saved and got my business license in 2020 when I returned from New Zealand, and kept operating till today. Now, I bring in my stock monthly which is now consistent as in comparison to when I first started, I would only order new stocks when I can afford it. This is progress for my small business.
Anyway, the name "Sissy Shoetique ' came from my little niece when she was two years of age. She would always call me ‘Sissy’, even up to now, she doesn't call me by my name or ‘aunty', she calls me ‘Sissy’, and that is how I came up with the name. We used ‘Sissy Shoetique' for our online business page on Instagram.
At first, I didn’t advertise my products online, but then there was this one Saturday, it was raining and we couldn’t go and display our shoes at the flea market so that’s when the idea of starting an online page came. We are starting small so Instagram is fine for now. However, sometimes customers ask to post the shoes in stock on Facebook, but I don’t really have the time right now so I just operate small by just focusing on Instagram. Some customers already know about our weekly displays at the flea market on Saturdays, and they would always make sure to check out our new stocks.
However, with business right now, I already gained some loyal customers. There are a few customers that would always purchase from every stock that comes in. Some would even purchase up to six pairs. It always depends on their style, also size. The sizes I order vary from sizes 7 to 12 Australian shoe sizes. But, the goal is to one day order bigger shoe sizes from America. Since none of the family is in America to collect the shoes and send them over, this can't be done.
For now, I order my products online, and I do the payments from here (Tonga). I then use my Aunt's address in Australia to send the ordered shoes to her place, where she collects them and sends them over monthly. Unfortunately, there is no one in America that I trust who can do this process. For this, I am grateful for my family's support for what I do. Even though they work full time, I really appreciate their help.
As for my family here in Tonga, everyone is contributing their time to the business which shifts my perspective towards ‘Sissy Shoetique’ as a sole trader, and now treating it as a family business. However, the person I’m most grateful for is my mum. She is at the flea market every Saturday selling the shoes that we have in stock. During the week, we sell the shoes on our online market. Customers message through Instagram, then we later arrange a time where they would pick up their shoes. But as for Saturdays, mum is always at the flea market and I’m very grateful for that.
Currently, I am working full-time at my daily job till my contract ends on December 31st, 2021. Soon, I wish to extend the supply of shoes for my business. I hope to one day get a chance to where we could expand the business to another place, but right now, home is enough. However, for 2022, I’m hoping to focus more on my small business. I am hoping to have more time since my contract is finished and maybe will have more time to create a Facebook account and post my products so that more people can have a glimpse of what I sell.
Since operating my small side hustle, I do face challenges along the way. Covid-19 has taken its toll upon what I do, and that is delaying my shoe shipments. Sometimes stock doesn't arrive together on time to my Aunt's house in Sydney, however, she still sends through whatever she already has delivered so that we keep up with our commitment of having a monthly stock available. We make sure this stays consistent so that customers are aware that there will always be new stocks available every month and also limit the impact of having little to no stock.
Secondly, it can be difficult when customers tend to not pay attention to post descriptions online. For all my social media posts about my available stock, I make sure to always put in each description upon shoe size, its price, style, etc. For some reason, customers are not paying attention to these descriptions and they still ask the same questions and it can sometimes be time-consuming also tiring.
Moreover, sometimes customers can take up my time by requesting to order a specific shoe type for them. And when I look up that specific shoe type and sum up its cost from ordering, shipping, duty cost, etc. they change their minds. This costs my time, which is why I don’t do pre-orders anymore and just sell what I have.
It can be tiring at times, but my driving force in what I do is my family. Even though I am working full time, what I do on the side really helps out a lot financially on our daily needs. We also manage to have some savings on the side for our never-ending Tongan obligations.
But as I said, I started with the purpose of helping my family financially. Now that my contract from work is almost done, contributing to our small business full-time will help a lot. Even my vision to expand the business is very much in the process but in Gods timing.
The most rewarding thing about what I do is seeing my parents happy. I see that they can finally get to enjoy life. Dad retired early from being a policeman at the age of 55 because he wanted to spend more of his time with family. So ever since he retired, he has been travelling until Covid-19 happened. But, I am happy to see that dad can finally travel together with mum to the outer islands since the international borders are still closed. To me, that’s the most rewarding thing with what I do. I can now afford to take my parents to wherever they wish to go. For instance, this following Christmas, they wished to go to Vava’u, and for that, I will make sure that will happen. Their happiness is my priority and that is why I am grateful for the small business that I have.
As for my future, and from my experience, I don't see myself working in an office. I want to be an entrepreneur. That's my long term goal. But like I mentioned earlier, only God knows about what tomorrow brings.
However, to reach certain goals, you also have to sacrifice. From my experience, when I went for further studies, I came back and worked. My younger brother was studying at Tupou Tertiary Institute (TTI) and when he completed his courses, he wanted to go for further studies abroad but we couldn't afford it. We, as a family sacrificed a lot, especially me. I sacrificed my personal needs and wants so that my little brother can go for further studies, and so it happened.
My family and I were staying at a rented house back in the day. The one day, I thought to myself, 'Why pay rent when the money can go to a land of our own. From that day onwards, we invested what we had into buying our own land and building our own home at the village of Halaleva, Tongatapu. To me, that is a sacrifice. Even though I had my personal wants and needs, but because of the abundant love that I carry for my family, everything was on hold for me.
Resulting from the sacrifice that we made, we now have a house of our own; also my brother achieved his studies abroad. After his education finished, he continued to stay abroad and start his own family. Even though I am the second oldest, I feel like I hold a lot for my family, and to me, that’s a sacrifice by itself.
To add on, when I haven’t left for further studies for my Master’s degree, I was still working at the time. There was this one person; I still remember what he said to me to this day. It was one of my previous classmate's father, he said, “Why is it taking you so long to go for further studies? Look around you, your fellow colleagues are gone for their Master's degree, even started their own family, but you, you're still staying with your parents and haven't got your Masters". "I have my own reasons", I said. I say this with the thought that even though my colleagues get to enjoy their lives, get their Masters and start their own family, but to me, I sacrificed that for my family.
Let's just say, I've put my family first over everything. Maybe that's why I am the way I am today. It took me 10 years to finally go to New Zealand and complete my Master's degree in Agri-Business. It is also 10 years later in which I started my small business.
Tonga’s youths today, the way I see it, opportunities are everywhere but our people are just lazy to make use of these opportunities. Youths turn to drug dealings because they’re not satisfied with the income that they get. From my perspective, you don't have to work at the government offices to make a decent living; there are vast opportunities out there for a great income, for instance, agricultural work. I believe personally that agricultural work makes more income than a person doing office work. Just like me, I make more income from my side hustle than what I make at my daily job.
Moreover, lack of awareness. I know that TYEE has awareness of what they offer for youths in Tonga, but I also know that there are still more youths out there that still don't know about it. I think it is important to let youths know that there are more to life than just going and drinking kava with mates and going out and drinking alcohol. If they change their mindset, they will realize that there is far better stuff worth investing their time in.
As a youth, I see my surroundings here in Tonga that Chinese people are coming in and making use of Tongas natural resources. Our people don't see what the Chinese see when they enter Tonga's borders. The Chinese come in and make use of Tonga's land for agriculture, ocean for fishing, even weaving, yet our people are not valuing the opportunities that Tonga's natural resources are offering. They remain a blind eye, or maybe they don't want to go out and face the challenges.
To sum it all up, I would like to tell young entrepreneurs who are thinking of starting up a business or is currently operating, to always have a positive mindset and just be you. I know most of the time; we already think that starting up a business will be difficult. But, if you put your heart into it, everything is possible.
Also, keep praying and tell God your needs. Always ask God for help and guidance so that your plans for the future may come to reality. It all depends on your business goal, once you set that goal for your business; you work towards it to achieve it. Anyway, just believe in yourself and enjoy the journey of being an entrepreneur.
My name is Tutu’ila Memaria Sugar, I am 24 years of age and I can proudly but humbly say, I am a growing youth entrepreneur.
A year ago today, I was still abroad for further studies and worked as a cleaner part-time at the school where I was boarding in. As I met with other youths my age, the goal was to study and go back to their home country and work in a big organization or the government. To them, that is how they make their achievements from education worthwhile. But, somehow I didn't see myself going in that direction.
I grew up observing my mum and dad, who are both really hard-working entrepreneurs; they’ve sacrificed their needs for our little family business (South Seas Rum Ltd.) that has been operating since the 1997. I grew up with the mindset that in order to make a decent living here in Tonga, you have to work for yourself. I witnessed that from my parents. They didn’t have it all back then, which I learned that business life is not all rainbows, rainy days exists, hell, even hurricanes. But from your days of rainbows, you got to be ready so that when rainy days hit, you are prepared for its challenges to survive.
Getting involved in the business world was a natural step for me, personally because I grew up around it. I came back from abroad late December 2020 and with me, I had my first decent camera. Everyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about photography; I get obsessed over breath-taking views and would take photos on my phone, but the goal has always been to own a decent camera. Somehow, I value memories. I think memories are a beautiful thing in life. The fact that today's events will become tomorrow's memories, and to be able to capture those memories is exciting to me. I sometimes go to places and it can be so astonishing that I wish I had that sight framed and hung in my own place.
I started out practicing proper photography for almost a year now, by taking pictures of family members, friends, my surroundings (landscapes), etc. I self-taught myself through learning photography online and the key for me was to practice more often. As they say, practice makes perfect. I am very well aware that I am not as skilled in doing photography as experienced photographers, but what I don’t want to do, is to compare my ‘day one’ to a professional photographer’s many years of experience. We all start somewhere, and for me, the fact that I already started, is progress.
Every event that I was invited to, such as family birthdays, weddings, engagements, and so on, I would make sure to capture the event or do portraits just for the fun of it, also just to practice. Slowly, as I started posting a glimpse of my work online, I started to receive compliments from strangers about what I do. The idea of creating a photography page on Facebook started in March 2020 with the purpose of people not gaining access to my personal Facebook page and for them to focus only on what the page if offering. I created my business page and named it 'South Seas Photography', after our family business.
However, I admit, I'm still far down the ladder. I try my best most times to believe in myself and trust that one day I will reach the level other experienced photographers are on. But, sometimes I get discouraged by my surroundings. My surroundings can sometimes affect me in some ways, some days I would think about the negative things they say, which leads me to not want to do what I'm doing. But, I've learned and grown from it; also I don't allow it to get to me anymore. I make sure to have faith in myself and make sure to stand my ground and not depend on or expect anything from anyone in the future.
On the other hand, I also have another side hustle other than photography. I sell a variety of products on the online market and has been operating since June 2020. The purpose of the products that I sell is to make people in Tonga (targeted towards youths) feel confident, pretty and complete at events. These products include women and men clothing, shoes, makeup, hair accessories, jewellery, including event decorations, such as balloon garlands for birthdays, weddings, and gender reveals, etc.
Selling these event products sparked in me when I left for events in the past few years and realized the issue of people having little to no access to quality clothing, decorations, and accessories for events here in Tonga. I started by ordering just a small amount of products and eagle-eyed how it goes. I was amazed by the demand of people towards these products. So I kept going by selling more and more of these products on the online market. However, the plan is to one day, have a proper online page of what I'm selling soon, but for now, Tonga's Online Garage Sale will do.
Doing the small side hustles that I do, not only can be a learning factor for me as a young entrepreneur but it also can be challenging at times. Getting out of my comfort zone is one of the most challenging factors there is for me as an entrepreneur. I grew up an introvert, and that's just my nature. I am a naturally shy person, and having to go out to events or to sell a product where both processes have to do with interacting with other people, can be uncomfortable for me. But, sometimes I like to challenge myself. I like to learn from these experiences in order to grow out of it.
Growing up, I was more passionate about Geography and Tourism during school. 'Business' didn't interest me until later on in my educational journey. As I studied, I also became aware of my surroundings, especially here in Tonga, and as true as it is, it's sad to see people being hired upon whom they know, instead of what they know. I thought dad was just joking around when he told me about it, but then when I returned from further studies abroad; it really is about whom you know actually. It's sad, but at the same time, I'm glad I didn't get the jobs I applied for, even though I qualified for everything they asked for, I think it was meant to be that way. Personally, I know God redirected me to a whole new world; I am now an entrepreneur and who would have thought? Even I have to pinch myself sometimes. Every day I am surviving, also learning more and more about innovation and entrepreneurship.
However, I do what I do with the motivation of my hard-working parents. They've moulded me into the person I am today because of the examples that they've set for me. I see them as my role models since I was little and I love observing their lives as entrepreneurs. It's simply them against the world.
As an entrepreneur, I wish to walk in their shoes. I am ready for the ride, I am ready for the challenges, I am ready for it all. If the result is smooth sailing in the end, then I’m all out for it. As long as I’m not depending on anyone in the future, then I’ll be all right.
Mum and dad inspire me so much that I want to be exactly like them. Everything I do in life, they would support me no matter what. I mean, that's just what parents do, but to me, they're special in their own unique ways.
The most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur is being able to learn and grow with what you do. I don't think most people notice, but being an entrepreneur mould you to become more mature, confident and wiser as a person. That for me are life skills and knowledge that you pick along the entrepreneurial journey which can be rewarding for a person.
Another rewarding part of being an entrepreneur is seeing mum and dad happy. For me, they are my world. Being an entrepreneur helps me by affording to show appreciation to my parents. It could be small gifts of appreciation for now, but for the future when the businesses I'm operating start blooming then maybe I can spoil them properly. Even affording to take them out for lunch is a big deal for me, because I feel that I am giving back to the sacrifices that they have done for me, and even though lunch is not even close to all the things that they've done for our little family, I really do appreciate them in every way. I consider myself beyond blessed to have them.
Anyway, I hope to see youths in Tonga make use of their talents. I know most youths are scared of being judged if they come out of their shell, but little do they know, people will always have something to say, no matter if it's good or bad. So either, you let your actions do the talking or stay hidden and regret it later on in life. I encourage youths in Tonga or anyone that is thinking of starting their own little business to step out of their comfort zones, be innovative and START. No matter what it is you’re doing, for me what’s important is that you start, because once you start, you’ll find it hard to stop.
To sum it all up, 2021 has been one hell of a roller coaster ride. It has got to be one of the most draining, challenging year for me, mentally and emotionally. I came to a point where I came back from further studies thinking, I would get a job immediately, sadly reality doesn’t work that way. Staying at home made me desperate to get up and do something for myself. I didn’t like the thought of depending on my parents, so I used my hobby for photography to make something out of it. As I started, then the idea of ordering merchandises came to mind. It was just like that; I woke up one day and chose to start doing something with what I already had.
So far, I am thankful for it all. I say this with a grateful heart. Everything happened for a reason, and who I am today is because of those closed doors. If those doors didn't close for me, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I have my business plans in mind for the next year 2022; I get quite excited thinking about it, to be honest. However, this year, let's say was a year of observation and learning. I've set some changes to happen for my business next year and for that, I am happy with where I am. Everything I do is still a learning obstacle, but that’s the important lesson I want to put out there, if you have a vision, work towards it and don’t wait for anybody.
Searching for prime product quality is always a struggle if you are a food lover. Establishing the first business of its kind is another story of hardship all on its own.
A qualification in both music and IT one would think Sione would pursue at least one of these areas. However, after working several jobs he has discovered that product and customer service quality was not always consistent. With a full work schedule, being involved with netball, fitness group as well as his online media, Sione soon realized that finding an equilibrium point between his personal and work life was proving difficult. So he set out to establish a business with the aim of improving product and customer service quality.
With a profusion of cafes, restaurants and retail stores dominating the majority of the market, Sione sought to try a new approach. An idea of starting a business with the main focus in selling sushi. Thus the inception of his business, Tropical Vibes. Sione has highlighted that in its infancy stages, there were numerous struggles, starting off with very little capital, cash on hand, and almost no recognition. However, with technology ever so evolving, comes with it a dawn of new ways to promote ones business.
Well versed in social media, Sione used this to his advantage, creating a platform to further his commercials. Always full of energy and ever so hyper, he is constantly active on his online accounts most notably, tiktok, where he conducts makbang videos and his online advertisements as well. When asked about his business status since its inception, Sione acknowledges its steady growth and credits his fan base for sharing his online contents and also word of mouth. Both the past and present ways of advertising, has brought more recognition to his business over time as his ambitions are to sustain and expand in the future. All this would amount to zilch should the product and service quality be not up to par. Having previously worked at the Ministry of Tourism he knows all too well the importance of image presentation and stresses the importance of “Quality and Consistency” before, during and after a transaction.
As a result of price inflation, the search for prime product quality proves ever more difficult; the rush to just fling products on shelves disregarding its state of quality to earn a quick buck is an inclining trend. Here then is where he hopes to fill that scarcity of product quality with his friendly sushi service, tropical vibes.
Every entrepreneur out there will always have an end goal from its original position when starting a business with the most common answer being Longevity. With it comes a set of challenges one will have to over-come and learn from for the sake of income growth. Tonga’s business market is a plethora of seasoned and experienced entrepreneurs who knows the nuts and bolts of this occupation. Competition is very stiff and often unkind to those who fail grow during the rainy days. Traditionally, to become an entrepreneur, the advice given was to get educated first in the line of business in-order to be well versed when operating one. However, with cost of living inflating each passing year coupled with a constant rise in unemployment, especially with youths, entrepreneurship would certainly be a brighter avenue to pursue.
Removing oneself from the monotonous normality of the island life format will never be easy, as is the case with Sione. Taking the courage to forge his own path on a trek that has been paved to him only through his working experiences. The courage to stand firm and accept the innovation challenge and be willing to fall and grow. The benefits since starting his business has allowed him to be he own boss, enjoy his personal life more, actively engaging with his netball team as well as leading a women’s fitness team, 105 strong and above all, more healthier than ever. With unemployment constantly on the rise he encourages youth entrepreneurship and for young business owners to step forward and make their claim. “The profits won’t always be there, there will be a loss” but the most important thing is to “don’t lose the drive”.
He plans to open a Sushi Bar in the future in Tonga!
I didn’t start this beauty shop by myself.
I started it alongside my two older sisters (Lima & Lole) on the 25th of December, 2018. We started what we do without the thought of actually making it an official business. It was only dad that worked at the time by doing construction work and in his free time, he would go to the bush and do agricultural work, which was our only income at home. Our mother is a stay-at-home mum; she does daily chores and weaves mats when she can.
My oldest sister ‘Lima’ then started working at the Chinese shop to help out with dad. Then the second oldest ‘Lole’ started doing braids, lashes, hairdos for events, etc. but it wasn’t that professional because we didn’t have the full equipment’s for our work at the time. Then one day, we saw someone here in Tonga posting beauty equipment’s that we needed for sale on the online market. That’s when we thought, ‘this is our chance’. We thought about it and how it could help our parents with paying our bills. We came up with the name ‘Victoria Leger’s Beauty’ because the eldest sister Lima, had her baby girl named Victoria and to our thought at the time, she’s the first to have a baby out of us three sisters and she was precious to us, so we dedicated our little beauty shop to her.
My sisters saw how good income we would make out of the idea of doing nails, extension lashes, hair and make-up so they had a chat about it with our parents by letting them know about the business plan of running our own little business and they agreed to it. We didn’t have any funds at the beginning of our business but we managed even though we were not so experienced in the type of work that we offered. We then decided to practice through using our nieces and nephews hairs to practice doing hairdos, even doing our mums nails for practice purposes and even us, sisters, we practised through doing extension lashes on each other for us to be more experienced with doing what we were about to offer before we opened our beauty shop. We didn’t have the option of taking courses of this as it is not available here in Tonga so this is how we learned.
Doing business at the time when my sisters were here was comfortable for me because they were always around to help out but then we started to get separated. First, the oldest 'Lima' left for Australia and she got stuck there till now due to borders being closed, then the second oldest ‘Lole’ migrated to New Zealand earlier this year to reunite with her little family. Sometimes I feel the need for someone to help out with work at home but that’s okay because I always try my best to satisfy my customers’ needs and wants alone. Also, a benefit of me working alone is that I have control over what I'm doing, but at the same time I can’t afford to employ someone else.
Also, I have experienced challenges along the way while doing business as a youth. It is when negative comments come from people, especially on social media. Every time we get these negative comments, we didn't let them get to us; we kept working and just let people talk while we do our best with what we do. Somehow here on our little island, when someone starts to do something for themselves, people will always have something negative to say.
However, my main motivation or my driving force to what I do is my parents. I do what I do because I want to help them out with the bills and other small expenses at home. Doing business is good money and ever since Covid-19 occurred, dads’ construction work started to hinder and mum on the other hand is not working, and doing what I do is a way for me to lend a helping hand. I am still studying at the moment but I also like to work at the same time to help cover the costs of my school fees.
Seeing customers happy and satisfied with what they need is vital for me. For instance, every time a customer requests what they want, I always try my best to meet what they require and for me that’s all that matters because without them I wouldn’t get any income.
It makes me happy to see youth nowadays starting to create their own business with the purpose of helping out at home, and they tend to be creative and innovative at the same time with what they do. I feel glad for them. I want to encourage anyone that is thinking of starting up a business that there will always be negative comments that will come towards you as an entrepreneur, and that will become one of your challenges for you to face, but don't let it get to you. Just ignore the negativity and leave it to the side and just focus upon what you are doing. If you love what you do, if that's your dream, fight for it.
One key element that I will say for a successful business is to always put in a little money to your business bank account so that when stock runs out, you have money on the side to purchase more so that you can keep going.
However, I am doing what I do today but at the same time I am studying Tourism Management at Tonga Institute of Higher Education (TIHE), and somehow I feel like the business is keeping me here in Tonga. I say this because, in the near future, I want to go for further studies. Growing up, I’ve always wanted to be a flight attendant and that’s the main reason why I’m taking tourism courses at the moment. But since the business is keeping me here in Tonga, I’ll wait till the day one of my sisters’ return back home and she can continue to run the business while I go for further studies.
I was 18 years of age when I first started my first piece of tapa.
I would always go and watch my aunty draw tapa (tohi ngatu) for other people and she would get good money for it and it interested me how demanding it is for the people of Tonga especially when functions occur, such as birthdays, weddings, etc. I was eager to learn how to draw tapa as well.
At the time, I didn’t have a job and I was helping my aunty draw tapa full time. I saw how my aunty made good money from what she did and I wanted the same, so every time she gets a tapa to draw, I would always join her and she would always give me pocket money for helping. While helping her with her work, I was learning at the same time with what we were doing.
From 18 years of age till now that I am 25 years old, I have become more experienced with tapa drawing and people would look for me to draw their tapas. I am now occupied with a regular job going on three years now but that doesn't stop me from drawing tapa in my free time after work. I must say that tapa drawing makes really good money, but unfortunately, it can be seasonal at times hence why I'm holding on to my job.
I have come across challenges as a youth entrepreneur doing tapa drawing and that occurs when I team up with someone older than me to draw tapa. From my past experiences, every time the money comes in for the work that we're doing, the older person will always get the money and from there, she will decide how much to give me. The problem is, she doesn’t pay me according to the hard work that I do, yet I do most of the drawing and the other person benefits from it.
I then decided to not rely on someone else with the payment for my tapa drawing, so I stopped drawing in a team and started drawing by myself. I always knew people would still come to me to draw their tapas because they know how hardworking I am. I am always glad when they come to me and that’s the result of doing what you love, you become a natural.
I've seen today that there are so many youths that can manage to build their own small businesses but they lack the support system. But doing business, youths have to get up and look for support and not just sit at home and expect the support to come to them.
However, I do what I do because of my parents. There are only four of us left at home and I’m the only one working. I always make sure to give every penny that I make to my parents. I don’t want to be selfish and keep all the money to myself so I help out and give the money to my parents to pay for daily expenses such as food, groceries, etc. Siblings from overseas sometimes send money, but the money they send is only enough for the weekend, so I'm the one that covers the expenses during the week. So basically with everything I earn, especially the good money I make from drawing tapa, I use it to prioritize feeding my family.
What I do can be rewarding most times because I see myself with what I am capable of. Every time I finish drawing a tapa, I make sure to post my work online and I always receive positive comments and feedback. Customers nowadays pay me beforehand because they trust me with what I do and I always make sure to draw their tapas with my best capabilities. It's always rewarding seeing my customers happy, and for that, I have never received any complaints about what I do.
A piece of advice from me to an entrepreneur that is thinking of starting up a business is to don't live a life where you have to rely and depend on another person. If you see that you can do the work, just do it yourself without depending on others. Always make sure to ask for help if you're struggling with what you're doing, but don't let that discourage you and make you feel that you have to give up, no, don't let anyone drag you down. For instance, myself, lots of people contact me to draw their tapa, and I always say Yes even though I have a lot on my plate with my 9-5 job, but I always make sure to have time for their needs and wants after work. I never give up; when you work, you will see that money comes from different sides, not just your regular job.
Adding on, always make sure to be available to explore new things. You never know that what you’re exploring is your talent. But, you will never know what your talent is and what you’re capable of if you just sit at home doing nothing. For instance, I am not only doing tapa drawing in my free time, but I also explore catering because my mum is a natural cook and we cook all the time and when she is busy, I do the cooking for anyone that hires me. I also do necklaces for graduations, birthdays, etc. I like to explore different things, and it makes me happy.
However, with the work that I'm currently doing here in Tonga and my tapa drawing business, I don't see myself doing that in the long run. I haven't thought crucially about the future hence why I haven't had a plan yet, but when the borders open, I hope to ask my siblings to help take me abroad so that I can work abroad and help my family here in Tonga financially. The work that I do now is all right for the meantime, but I don’t see myself settling with what Tonga offers because I would like to do tapa drawing full time but the problem is, it can sometimes just be seasonal.
The closing of boarders has hindered the local market and economy in a profound way affecting the availability of the best products that were at arm’s length which are now in an excess of demand. With certain products in short supply, Tino along with his partner Li’ilani saw this as a prime opportunity to offer aid to the local residents by importing products at an affordable rate through online shopping. So the idea to tailor a business to match the local market demand was coined and thus the establishment of their business L&W Online Store Tonga. Since its establishment in early October 2021 Tino acknowledged the struggles it required of both himself and his partner Li’ilani to build a reputation for their business and instil trust between their online services with the community and with majority of the locals still so accustomed to face to face shopping, introducing a new way of shopping is often frowned upon. However, life and technology are shifting and evolving constantly each year and with it, they believe that ushering in a new era of shopping should be introduced to better help people access the best products easily with just a click of a button!
“A full diverse of products or just any line of products” fashion walks hand in hand with cultural development and we have witnessed, either through the history books or documentaries each generation inputting their own version of fashion into society. It would certainly explain why Toni and Li'ilani are currently receiving a number clothing orders with females being the bulk of those customer orders.
Thinking outside the box is a mindset an entrepreneur is most certainly familiar with and is a route Tino has chosen to take highlighting that they want to also cater for a variety of products to help provide better product quality for the locals, but it too comes with its sets of challenges where he explains that understanding their policy of “pay/deposit before ordering” is to be clearly noted especially with the delivery time depending on where a product is imported from.
Tonga has and is currently still witnessing countless businesses come and go due to an owner being unable to sustain or maintain it for the long run or during the “rainy days” so when asked about the longevity of their business should boarders open, Tino replied firmly, “this is for the long run”.
It is most certainly admirable to realize that there are young entrepreneurs in our midst with a passion to serve the people of Tonga during these difficult times where one would normally choose to prioritize themselves or family first. Although still in its infancy stages, Toni and Li'ilani have long term plans to expand their business to Vava’u and Ha’apai to better allow the locals in the outer islands easily access their products, in addition, to also save money. Local business is an occupation mainly dominated by seasoned entrepreneurs who certainly have experience to their advantage. It may seem like an impossible task to nudge a new business in the midst of the local business powerhouses, Tino however offers encouragement to young entrepreneurs to think outside the box and be brave.
“This is a new Gen!
My entrepreneurial story started when I finished university in Auckland, New Zealand. I chose to come back and make use of my knowledge and skills here in the Kingdom of Tonga. Unfortunately, it can be a struggle at times to find a decent job here in the Kingdom. So I started thinking of ways to earn my own income without sitting at home, with no income, and waiting for that phone call from a job that isn't so sure of me. I started by using my photography hobby as a way to earn a little income for myself, also selling varieties of products on Tonga's Online Garage Sale.
First of all, my photography journey started with me just being passionate about photography. I bought my first decent camera in late 2020 and started taking pictures of family members, friends, my surroundings (landscapes), etc. I self-taught myself most times by learning from other photographers online and the key was to practice, practice, practice! Like they truly say, practice makes perfect. I knew I wasn’t very skilled in doing photography like professional photographers, so I started practicing my photography skills by doing random portraits and event shoots for free. Every event that I was invited to, such as family birthdays, weddings, engagements, and so on, I would make sure to capture everything that caught the audience’s attention.
Slowly, as I started posting a glimpse of my work online, I started to receive compliments from strangers about what I do. However, I still don’t consider myself good enough, YET. I try my best most times to believe in myself and believe that one day I will reach the level other professional photographers are on. But, sometimes I get discouraged by my surroundings. My surroundings can sometimes have no faith in the things that I do for myself, but they don’t matter to me. I try my best to have faith in myself and make sure to stand on my own two feet and not depend on anyone.
My goals and visions for the future have always been sharp from the very beginning and I am sure with what I want to do with my life. Being a young entrepreneur can be challenging most times, and this is also because of the lack of experience that I have with the things that I do. I am still learning every day with what I do and for that I am grateful. The purpose of the products that I sell is to make people in Tonga (targeted towards youths) feel confident, pretty and complete at events. These products include women and men clothing, shoes, makeup, hair accessories, jewellery, including event decorations, such as balloon garlands for birthdays, weddings, and gender reveals, etc.
Selling these event products sparked in me when I left for events in the past few years and realizing the issue of people having little to no access to quality clothing, decorations, and accessories for events. I started by ordering just a small amount of products and seeing how it goes. I was amazed by the demand of people towards these products. So I kept going and selling more and more of these products online.
Long story short, with big visions and goals for myself, I believe that what I do will become big one day. Every day I wake up hungry for success and always prepared to become a better version of myself than who I was yesterday. With what I’m doing, I know that one day; I will look back and be proud of myself and all the hard work I’m investing my time into. But till then, the grind continues.
My photography work