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Island Thrift and Karla Leota

We found Island Thrift on a late night, scrolling through the explore page on Instagram, and boy are we glad we did! We’re huge supporters of young Pacific people who have the courage to find their way and follow their dreams, especially when they’re based back home in the Islands. That’s probably why we were so excited when we found out Karla, game-changer and founder of Island Thrift, was willing to speak with us and share her story. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what Island Thrift is all about?

My name is Karla Luaao Leota, I’m 22, an admirer of passion, creativity, culture, individuality and a lover of Jesus. Raised by an Australian mother and very Samoan father, I grew up in Samoa until I was 13 – that was when I moved to Australia to complete high school and a Bachelor of Business.

While studying in Australia, I was the only Pacific Islander in my school, and spent a lot of my time convincing people Samoa wasn’t in the middle of nowhere or in Africa, that we had coloured TV, wireless internet, street lights, air conditioned buildings, and most of our people have it pretty good with the little they have.

After finishing up in 2013, I moved back to Samoa to live with my parents and little brother, first working for my mothers’ party hire company Rees Hirage, and then for the Central Bank of Samoa.

Island Thrift is a small space, in the form of a blog, where I can express my love for thrift shopping and fashion. It’s also a door for my expression of art, and a way to show off my island of Samoa. For me, it means a change of perspective – I want people to see that no matter where you are in the world, no matter how limited your surroundings are, you will find that opportunities are present, and you have a lot more than you think! It’s a matter of turning limits into endless opportunities.

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Island Thrift started out as an idea as I explored different business ventures, and at first I was very hesitant to get started. The real motivation to push past that and create the Island Thrift (social media) pages came when I realised I was surrounded by amazing young people, who were also beginning to establish their talent.

They were into makeup, craft, cooking, singing and photography. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be great if someone was able to combine all those talents together?” That concept was so cool to me and what started Island Thrift.

Through my experience of establishing Island Thrift, I found people were asking me questions like, “what is the purpose of Island Thrift?” “Is it a shop?” “Are you going to sell things?” And, “Why do you have a blog promoting second hand clothes?”

Before these questions, I had never translated the purpose of Island Thrift into words, or fully grasped the concept myself. All I knew is that it was something I loved doing, and was a way of creating my own opportunities.

Over time, it has evolved into something more than I had ever envisioned and I’m starting to understand what it is. People have come to recognise its as a blog, a place to showcase second hand clothes, a hobby, and lastly, a place to share my story, based on the island of Samoa.

Island Thrift has followers from overseas and locally, and I want them to see that life is incredible, and that genuine fun is in doing things you’re passionate about.

In some way, I hope Island Thrift makes people feel empowered, inspired, and even loved!

Island Thrift

What inspires and motivates you to move forward with your ideas and goals?

All of the support from friends and family who love the idea of Island Thrift. I find it especially encouraging when strangers share an interest and love for it, and I love that others who want to be a part of it are just as passionate as I am about new projects.

Also, I get so excited about entering into new projects and pushing forward with ideas. I’ve come to a place where I don’t think it’s fair to say that Island Thrift is just about me – it’s moved beyond me and has incorporated the passion and the talents of other people.

Alexia Rae of Rae Photography is also an advocate for all things thrift and has a talent for photography; she also saw a fun and great opportunity in working with Island Thrift. We decided to partner up and combine my thrift styling and her photography once a month, calling our collaboration – Operation Thrift.

We recruit models and dress them in our monthly theme, for example, Dapper in Denim, and release the photos on the 10th of every month.

Over the last four months we’ve been blessed and fortunate to receive the help of other talented and generous friends in makeup, hair, scene sets, food preparations, prop holders and location.

We look to improving our shoots every month by putting 110% effort into them. My parents have always told me that if you’re going to do something, do it well; which is something I try to keep in mind.

Along with that, I’m always looking at other fashion blogs, thrift stores, magazines, and websites for inspiration and ideas. The creativity out there is tremendous! I love that it’s always changing and always moving, therefore the ideas for Island Thrift are endless.

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What barriers have you come across while working in the Islands?

One barrier I find working in Samoa is having limited resources – it’s not always easy to find props and tools to assist us in photo shoots. However I believe this isnt necessarily a major concern because it allows us to be creative, imaginative and pushes us to use what we have to make it work.

Personally, I’ve come across many barriers working in the islands in reference to culture and language (I’m still learning), although with Island Thrift, I’d say working in the Islands is a huge advantage.

Samoa is constantly growing and developing; we’ve officially graduated from being a least developed country, and continue to prosper at a fast rate.

This means there is so much space and freedom to start a small business, or in my case, to create interest. The concept of Island Thrift has never been done in Samoa, and it seems like something that never would have come about otherwise.

Also, when you’re working in the Islands, it’s easy to create a solid networking base, travelling is minimal, and communication is effortless.

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Do you have any advice for other young people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t start anything with a selfish ambition; don’t start anything to simply glorify yourself. Start with humility, start with ambition and start with something you love. Go from there, and if you’re anything like me, I couldn’t have done this alone.

Propose your idea to trustworthy people who know you and people who empower you. They’ll build your confidence, and give you genuine encouragement.

Focus is key and keeping a Godly perspective is important to me – it’ll filter your words, your actions and mind set. When doors open I want them to be the doors He has opened for me.

Learn your strengths and your weaknesses, learn how to work with others, learn how to love them, and learn how to face challenges. Not only will you be building practical skills, but you will also be building life skills.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. Proverbs 31:25

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We’d like to thank Karla from Island Thrift for sharing her story and exciting vision with us. To follow Island Thrift’s journey, you can find them on Facebook and Instagram


Photo Credit: Rae Photography


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