Anga’aefonu Bain-Vete is the founder of FONU Jewellery, a “Melbourne-based Fiji brand that celebrates Pacific heritage story-telling & textiles through luxe urban jewellery”. From the beautiful melting pot of a diverse cultural heritage, Anga’aefonu presents a unique art – but the transition between artist and business-woman hasn’t been a smooth one. We hope you love her story as much as we do, and that it inspires you to push beyond your comfort zone for the sake of growth, self-expression and meaningful success.
Tell us about yourself – what’s your background and what are you most passionate about?
I’m a Fiji islander with a very mixed cultural background, like many of us. My heritage is Tongan, Tahitian, I’Kiribati, Samoan, Danish, Scottish, English, and Fijian. Originally from Suva, I also grew up in Noumea, Auckland, and New Mexico, and lived in San Francisco, New York and Melbourne. I’d say my cultural roots are informed by all those places as well as my genealogy.
I studied Fine Art on a scholarship at the San Francisco Art Institute, and Visual Culture as well as Community Cultural Development in Melbourne. In terms of what I’m most passionate about – Art, cultural identity and expression are at the center of everything I do in life, both professionally and for pleasure. FONU Jewellery is about that for me: a journey of cultural expression that is about our shared Pacific identities, and my own path as an artist.
How do you channel that passion into the work that you do?
I see FONU Jewellery as a means of connecting contemporary, lived cultural identity as a Pacific Islander in a global world, and artistic traditions in our heritage. Culture is not a fixed thing, it’s a conversation, one that’s built on a history of ritual and tradition, but nevertheless a dynamic conversation. I basically design to contribute what I can to this conversation.
What have been the most challenging experiences in your journey so far?
The balancing act of being a startup entrepreneur! Switching roles between creating pieces, and trying to be a salesperson is sometimes awkward for me. I’ve learned so much over the past two years about branding, marketing, web and print design, and having started on almost no budget I’ve had to improvise and do most of these jobs myself. As a result things often take longer than I want them to, and that can be frustrating at times, challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.
It’s also much more in my comfort zone to create things than it is to sell them, and so it’s been quite a journey of letting my insecurities go. I’m still not yet at the stage where I feel totally confident just putting myself out there and pitching my products to shops for example. But these things take practise, and being vulnerable always leads to growth in the end.
How does your Pacific background influence your work? Do you feel you challenge the Pacific stereotype?
I design with Pacific ethos in mind as well as aesthetics. Because on the one hand our textiles and craft traditions are beautiful and sophisticated on even an international level; but moreover the stories behind, the spiritual connection to nature and to people, the sense of journey across oceans and rootedness in land are equally part of this beauty.
With my first collection I designed jewellery but also a story (The Shark & The Mynah Bird), a fable that paid tribute to Pacific legends, those stories that give us a sense of place and metaphor. My upcoming collection is similarly tied to Pacific story-telling, this time through Tatau as a means of marking the skin with lines that are beautiful but also meaningful and connected to place and to journey. I’m not sure what stereotypes I might be challenging here, but I try to create pieces that are rooted in Pacific tradition; ready to wear in city life; and relevant to an international audience, because our sea-faring culture today extends far beyond the Pacific Ocean.
What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of pursuing similar things as you have?
Know that everything takes longer than you think it will, and take your time to learn what’s involved from people who have experience tackling areas you’re not so familiar with. Ask questions, read articles, watch youtube videos or subscribe to podcasts, find yourself a role model and stalk their work.
Make a list of every step involved from product conception to having that product in a happy customer’s hands, and figure out what you need to make that journey happen – a team, a website, a skill-set, a story people will click with, images, packaging, equipment, media exposure. Then when you’ve figured out how you’ll get those things, because you will get them if you stick to it, throw out all your self-doubt and just do it. Take opportunity when it comes and don’t hesitate, even if you feel like you’re not completely ready. At the very least it’ll be a practise run and you’ll be ready when the next opportunity comes knocking.
We’d like to thank Fonu for sharing her story with us, and we’d both like to thank you for reading it! Just for you, our readers, Fonu is offering a 15% discount from any purchase from her online store. Head to fonu.com.au before 15 April and enter the coupon code TALANOA at checkout to redeem your discount!
To stay up-to-date with FONU you can find her online via these links and handles: