By MEMO HAUKE
MEET Leonie Pumwa – energetic, vibrant and multi-talented.
She is a second-year student at the University of Technology pursuing a course to become a mechanical engineer.
She is also a talented singer who was one of the contestants in Vocal Fusion Season Three in 2016 and made it to the top five as a professional singer.
Pumwa is from Baiyer in Western Highlands. She lives in Lae and operates a small freelance business called Leo StylZ.
She does this through mobile services and consultation in Lae and Port Moresby.
The business specialises in natural hair care through the art of protective styling using braiding techniques.
It deals with the type of hair Melanesians have which needs protective styling to protect its natural texture using braiding techniques. The styles of braids include box braids, twists, locks, crochets and different types of cornrows.
Leonie was born and raised in Lae, the youngest of three siblings.
She is the daughter of Professor John Pumwa and Elizabeth Pumwa.
Her passion for braiding hair started when she was in Texas, United States of America. Her dad was working for a university there.
“I was six months old when my family moved to Texas. My dad was working at the Texas A&M University as a researcher. He was at the same time studying for his PhD doctorate degree in mechanical engineering which he attained. We moved back to Papua New Guinea when I turned five,” she said.
“We went back to Texas when I was 12 and stayed there for over three years.
“Then we went to South Korea for two years. My dad was working as an associate professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.”
It is the top science and technology research university in South Korea.
“I believe being raised and exposed to different cultures, in Texas especially, has played a major part in developing that passion of hair braiding. It was part of black American culture there when I was growing up,” Pumwa said.
“I learnt the skills as my friends, usually black American girls, started braiding the hair of other girls or themselves on the streets or at home.
“I watch them and picked up a few tips as I grew up.”
She started working on her own hair, then her mother’s. As her skills improved, other people requested to have their hair done too. Thus the idea turned a passion and into a business.
“Leo StylZ customers are mostly women from professional working class to girls. We cater for hair styling during school functions, graduations and any occasion where they just want to look good and have a gorgeous hair style.
“I currently have two helpers that I mentor. They assist when I have bookings in the National Capital District.”
Leonie says hair styling is one of her passions which had developed into a career.
There are a lot of hair techniques which she has learnt and would love to share them with those who love to know about natural hair care.
She says a major challenge for her is the lack of customer care awareness of the service she provides.
This is especially in marketing and creating more awareness on natural hair care services.
She also believes that with the Government promoting such small businesses, this will change.
“The Government has taken a great interest and is committed to developing the SME sector. This has given many of us an avenue to create small businesses and establish ourselves.
“This initiative helps to grow the SME sector and assist in building and making the PNG economy stronger.”
She believes the Government’s contribution can help reduce poverty and empower minority groups such as women and youths to provide a business environment conducive to entrepreneurship and enterprise.
She operates her business primarily using internet social media sites, emailing and networking to market her services.
She charges different rates depending on the type of hairstyle and the hair products used.
She hopes that in five to 10 years, she attains a certificate in natural hair care and establish her natural hair care salons around the country.
She plans to expand her retailing of quality hair pieces and natural hair care products from the USA.
“The current business climate in Papua New Guinea provides many opportunities for people to launch small businesses like what I have done. I believe that if you have an idea for a business, this would be the right time to start.”
Her advice to young people is to overcome the fear which is stopping them from pursuing their dreams – whether it is a fear of failure or a fear of the unknown – and do what they want to do. Never let fear stop you from your dreams.
“If God has given you a dream, He will bring it to pass. Put God first and the rest shall follow.”
The girl from Baiyer in Western Highlands is not looking back now.
By MEMO HAUKE