By ZEDAIAH KANAU
IN a growing small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, figuring out where the demand is raises a lot of red flags for many SME hopefuls wishing to venture into the business world.
One woman has managed to turn her love for second-hand clothes shopping into a business venture aiming to inspire other women to utilise their passion into something that would sustain them in the long run.
Bolalava Vaia is from Trobriand Islands and Misima in Milne Bay and has a small business venture under the name “360 Galore” where she sews patterns or designs from what she buys (from second-hand shops) and resells them.
Vaia was interviewed by The National during the Port Moresby Citi Markets event at the Sir John Guise outdoor complex on Feb 15 where she told us about her journey transitioning into the SME sector, leaving behind her full-time job.
“I’m a second-hand lover. Before sewing, I would frequent the second-hand outlets almost every day just to buy something to wear, which was more like an addiction,” Vaia says.
“But after working with a global non-governmental organisation (NGO) for almost eight years as a strategic behavioural communications officer, I decided that I wanted to take a break. It’s been one year now that I’ve been formally unemployed.”
During her formal employment, most of her work required her creative skills in developing communication materials, campaigns, and development of communication strategies and many more which was a very demanding job.
But it came to a point where she decided that she needed some time off to reflect on both her professional and personal goals to see how far her creativity would take her in life.
After leaving work, Vaia started to sew her own clothes just to pass time, trying to keep herself busy not knowing that it would lead to a business idea that never was.
It was around July last year when she started sewing and making her own specialised hand crafted ear rings.
She then posted her first few products using her personal Facebook page and surprisingly got some great responses which then created demand among her close family and friends who started placing orders to purchase her products.
For the first two months, it was trial and error but she never gave up.
“I used to purchase a lot from all the SMEs here (at the Port Moresby craft markets) but then I realised that when you’re sewing your own clothes, you’re also saving money,” Vaia said.
“But just by looking at the demand for locally produced clothing, it’s really good here because it actually motivates and inspires other women to do this as well”, she says.
Vaia first started displaying her small venture in public at the “POM Citi Markets” after realising the audience availability in the event and has been a regular vendor since late September last year.
She then showcased her products at the Cosmopolitan night club in Port Moresby during ladies night at the beginning of this year.
“The Cosmopolitan hosts a mini expo during ladies night between 6pm and 10pm, on the last Thursday of each month where they allow (SME) women to go and sell their products,” Vaia said.
Vaia is grateful that Pascoe Promotions and the Cosmopolitan had created avenues for people involved in SME to market their products which in turn helps in their networking, creating visibility for their products.
Vaia also does doo-to-door sales where she brings her products to women who work in the same office space, as most working women are busy at work and do not have the time to go to craft markets.
“This year I’ll be expanding so I intend to sell at the Holiday Inn craft market and Citi Boutique craft market and hopefully during any other major event that’s coming up,” she said.
Vaia is not a professional tailor or seamstress, nor has she attended any formal sewing school.
She uses her basic sewing skills (learnt from her mother and grandmother) with her own creativity to design and sew.
“My main aim is to promote the skills that you already have rather than spending money on things that are really expensive, which I hope would inspire other women to do the same.”
“Women here in PNG are talented and skilled in so many ways. They just need to make time to put those skills and talent into use and consistently keep trying until they perfect it”.
“I’m sure if they do then other women and men will be inspired as well which is basically to promote self-employment”.
Vaia says that self-employment is the solution for a lot of women and men here (PNG) who are not formally employed or not highly educated enough to get a well-paid job.
When she first began, Vaia didn’t have many products lined up at her stall.
She only sewed her homemade dresses which she calls the (360 galore) kolos tops and kaftans including a few of her hand crafted ear rings just to get a read on the market.
Then as time passed, she progressed and improved in her sewing skills perfecting each of her designs before advertising.
“What I do in my sewing is that the clothes I buy from the second-hand, I look at them and I sew them using the fabrics that I have”, Vaia said.
“I look at them and modify my own styles into them. So the clothes that I buy from the second-hand which I like to wear, I would just look at them and modify my own styles from there”.
“It’s more about adding your own style to the stuff that’s already available but you’re contextualizing it for PNG clients so PNG women are able to relate and buy the product”.
“So it’s kind of like clothes that our PNG women would be wearing taking into consideration our weather and climate, day to day occasions but also adding a bit of modern vibe to our looks,” she says.
There are specific target audiences for each of her products which allows her to sew custom made clothing for clients who place orders according to their liking.
Some of her products include, Sleeveless Kolos tops, Kaftans, Pacific Dresses, Spaghetti strap dresses, elastic waist Kolos tops and many more.
“Currently, my target is women because they have a higher demand than the men so I’m meeting their demands at the moment but I will move into men’s wear real soon,” she said.
It would be one year in July when Vaia first began her small SME business but constant support from her families and friends have guided her through to where she is now.
“It will be one year by July with me starting this little SME of mine. In the beginning it was really challenging because I was new to this (SME) avenue.”
“But then my mum and dad, and my husband and two children told me to just sew and go sell and see what happens.
“Besides that, moral support comes from all my family members, my former workmates and close friends including my SME partners.
“But my husband, two children, and small brother with my immediate in-laws are my biggest support right now,” Vaia said.
“They all help me to promote my products, encourage me and give me new business ideas, which I advertise in my 360 Galore facebook page”, she said.
The biggest challenge for her as she recalled, was seeing where the demand was in terms of what women love to wear (clothes) and whether they’ll buy her products or not.
But her confidence grew after her first stint in the SME sector when she first displayed her items at the POM Citi markets.
She says that her customers are her number one source of motivation which keeps her business endeavour going.
“My customers have been my biggest motivation since day one. Without their support, I would not have come this far.
Vaia is optimistic that her business will grow allowing her to sell other products which is why she called her business 360 galore, so that her customers can have a variety of products to choose from.
In the future, I won’t be selling just clothes, I will be expanding to other businesses like catering and other stuff,” she says.
“My products will not only be coming from around PNG but around the world as well.
“So it’s more like bringing a variety to women (and men) in PNG to have a selection of goods and services right at their door steps.”