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.