Nelly Samoa making its mark in Pacific Art jewelry

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi ,

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Founder Nelly is the creative backbone of the family business: Nelly with daughters Arlene and Olivia.

Founder Nelly is the creative backbone of the family business: Nelly with daughters Arlene and Olivia.

Village Artisan meets contemporary design with “Nelly Samoa” jewelry range in Lepea. 

It is a family business with mother Nelly as the founder and her daughters, Olivia Reid Tuilagi and Arlene Godinet Ryan, as co-creative directors who have added their own eclectic flair to the business to further carve out a unique niche in the artisan jewelry market.

The business has been around for as long as their mother has been involved with handicrafts. 

But it wasn’t until Olivia and Arlene resigned from their jobs five years ago that the business started to take a definitive direction adding in the jewelry as their contribution to the family business.

“We resigned because we wanted to spend time with our children and then we decided to work on this project because there would be no income,” said Olivia. 

“So we put our heads down and we looked around at identifying the niche markets that we could target and we got started. It was about three years ago that we started to advertise our jewelry on social media and that’s when it started to take off.”

One can see why Nelly Samoa’s jewelry has been a hit. At first glance of jewelry collection, you can appreciate the bold yet feminine pieces. The traditional, yet contemporary designed motif, paired with the vibrant fresh pastels, gives new meaning to modern Pacific culture without the high art price tag.

The sisters had no startup capital and worked with what little they had, coming with not only creative designs, but also creative solutions on how to start and operate their business on a shoe string budget. Once they started to advertise on social media, the demand grew for their products and they faced challenges in supplying the growing demand.

“We didn’t start out with any capital set aside for our business. With what we had, we started this. We don’t have a website, we only have Facebook,” Olivia said. 

“We built this little workshop and we are still trying to stock the shop, but the orders come in faster that we can produce more creative. That’s why we haven’t opened our shop yet because it’s just the two of us and we don’t have enough workers.

“The orders not only came in from the locals markets, but overseas markets started to take notice and the small business has been working flat out to meet orders.

“We send orders to the U.S., Hawaii, Pago, and New Zealand,” said Arlene. 

“If they all order at once, we have to take care of those overseas orders before we try to stock the shop. But then as we are trying to stock the shop, local customers come in and buy almost all of our stock.

So we have to go back and sit down making items for the shop and still the orders are coming in.

“When we take our stuff to Pago, I come back with nothing and we sell out in two days and I have to change my plane ticket to come back early. It’s popular in Pago because no one there makes these kinds of stuff.

In my opinion I don’t think they have the same passion in Pago to make crafts like this. So when I go over there with our stuff it’s like Christmas for them. It’s quite different.

Nelly Samoa supplies to various gift shop chains with Duty Free being their preferred retail stockiest, but it is their goal to eventually have their own store that meets the demands of local markets. In the past three years, they have realized that they are a destination business and that having a store in town is not necessarily vital to their success.

“We are mostly likely going to operate from home and create a shop here,” said Olivia. 

“What we have seen is that if people want our stuff, they will come. That’s what’s happening right now, people drive to our house to buy our stuff and it wouldn’t matter if we had a shop in town. Once we have our own shop, we won’t be supplying other chains so that’s the goal.”

Due to what the sister’s refer to as “copycat” syndrome in their local artisan jewelry industry; they are always working to stay ahead of the game by experimenting and working on new designs. 

“Because our stuff is pretty different and the challenge for us is that people copy our stuff, but it doesn’t bother us because it actually motivates us to create more and different designs,” said Olivia. 

“We paint as well, that’s our new project. We print our own tapa, but we want to develop something original so we are experimenting at the moment. Once we get that up and going that will be another branch to our business.”

Working together with their creative “muse” they call mum (Nelly), the sisters add a contemporary abstract style to their mother’s more traditional creative style and that this is a part of why their work is so popular and distinguishable.

“Our mum was a dancer, all the handicraft and jewelry were made by her,” said Arlene. 

“Mum was the one who had the talent and then we just added our own ideas to change it a little bit, but still make it look like its Samoan made. We have our own version of the ulu nifo and ula fala. The difference is the quality and we use fabric which we have painted our own siapo on. We also use siapo lau’ua and then we paint on it and it’s actually tapa.”

After a few years developing and specializing in their arts and craft, “Nelly Samoa” also works with S.P.E.C.  where they collaborate with them on workshops held in the back villages and the sisters teach the villagers what they know.

The up and coming business will continue to work on first meeting the local demand with an eye out for international markets they have identified in Latin America and South Africa.

The sisters are finding their work very satisfying and they feel blessed to indulge in their passion for creating beautiful contemporary works that are representative of both personal style and culture. 

 “We are definitely carrying on our cultural tradition and protecting our measina,” said Olivia. 

“And we are adding to it to make it contemporary and uniquely our style. We will still cater to both worlds. Our jewelry has a modern spin to it but of course at the heart of it, it still maintains our traditional and cultural art motifs.”

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