Danitta Nio-Fretton and JO’LI Elei

Ever arrived at a function in your best outfit, only to spot someone wearing exactly the same thing? Even in today’s ever evolving fashion scene, it can still be hard to stand out from the crowd. Owners of JO’LI, Danitta-Lilly Nio-Fretton and Inez Nio-Goschehave have made it their mission to put a stop to this by offering unique island prints on a range of beautifully coloured material. Inspired by their family matriarch, and their travels across the Pacific, their hard work through JO’LI has paid off with an overflow of orders from women across Sydney. Their story reminds us just how important it is to dream without limitations, and not to be afraid of allowing inspiration to come from the people who are willing to support you most. 

Tell us a bit about yourself, the work that you do with JO’LI and how you came to start the business?

I’m Danitta-Lilly Nio-Fretton and a co-owner of JO’LI Elei, with my business partner Inez Nio-Gosche. We’re both of Samoan descent and live in the Inner West of Sydney, Australia. For as long as we can remember, we’ve always admired the fashion, designs and patterns of the Pacific. We grew up watching our grandmother and mother elei all her materials and create her own outfit for every occasion – whether it be a wedding, church function or a general social outing. Up to today, Inez and I still watch and help her prepare herself before leaving the house. Regardless of the occasion, she always wears her island prints and always presents her island flair with so much elegance, beauty and class. From the materials she wears to her see, and to all kinds of pearl necklaces, earrings and bangles. They were all absolutely stunning and most definitely hard to find in Australia. So hard, that every piece she wore were from the islands – Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Aotearoa and the Cook Islands.

We’ve also travelled throughout the South Pacific and our favourite part has been scoping out all sorts of garments, fashion trends, handicrafts and especially materials each island had to offer. Every time we saw a material, we’d think of multiple ways we could alter and play with colours to make a completely different look. We’d see the material and not the outfit, or see the outfit and not the material. We don’t just see designs or materials as they are, but we see the full potential it can have.

We’ve come to realise that many Pasifika people, particularly young Pasifika people, have their own unique style and ideas with island prints and designs, but have no idea how to go about putting it all together. It was then we realised there has to be so many more people out there that think they are limited to whatever is in the market!

That is where the idea of JO’LI was initiated – a business that provides a service of hand-block printing on fabric materials which is a traditional decorative method compared to printing on materials. We wanted to cater to people of all walks of life and provide an island flavour that was never available to this unrecognised market. We specialise and customise our elei and don’t want to limit your ideas, creativity and imagination to just what we can think of. We encourage and welcome our customers’ ideas and designs to fashionably bring out who they are and their individual island style flair!

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What are you hoping to achieve through JO’LI?

We want to share the beauty of the Pacific through the art of elei and showcase elei on a larger scale. Our personal goal is to open our own shop in the near future and also to expand the range of our Pasifika infused products to handicrafts from the South Pacific, Pasifika accessories, our own clothing line and distribute and support Pasifika products and businesses such as Plantation House, Pure Fiji, Mailelani and much more. We love supporting our Pasifika businesses as we are supporting where we come from, as they have ultimately helped us by inspiring our vision.

What have been the biggest challenges, and lessons so far?

Getting over the fear of business failure. There has been no other known elei business in Sydney, let alone in Australia and we definitely weighed up all of the risks. Our main concern was this: will there be a high demand or will there be enough clientele out there for the business to be successful? Financial resources was also another challenge we had to overcome for this business to start.

How do you stay motivated and inspired to create new designs?

Knowing and seeing a great lack of originality of patterns and designs we have here in Australia. We attend many island functions and amongst the crowd of beautiful vibrant colours, many designs are very similar and the colour coordination is very much alike.

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What advice do you have for other young Pacific people who might be thinking of doing the same thing?

My advice for young Pasifika people working towards doing the same thing is this – at first it may seem too small or not that great for an emerging business, but you have to work hard, focus and plan thoroughly where you want to be. Set yourself realistic goals to achieve for you to grow! Once you’ve set your goals, keep setting the bar high for yourself as you will watch yourself grow and also learn many valuable lessons. Most importantly always remember that with God, all things are possible.

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We’d like to thank Danitta for sharing her story with us, and we wish her and Inez all the best with Jo’Li! If you’d like to get in touch with her and Inez to make an enquiry, or just to get to know them a little better, you can connect with them via the details below. 

Website: jolielei.com
Danitta-Lilly Fretton: 0432 671 970
Inez Gosche: 0412 227 144
Email:jolielei1@gmail.com
Facebook: JO’LI Elei
Instagram: @jolielei
Twitter: @joli_elei

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Arieta Tora Rika is a writer, Pacific storyteller, and Talanoa's Founder. With over 10 years of experience in social impact and non-profit communications across Australia and the Pacific, Arieta has dedicated her career to writing for positive change in vulnerable communities. She is currently a full-time Communications Manager for The Salvation Army Aged Care Plus, part-time student, and sometimes storyteller and cultural advisor for Talanoa.