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.