All images provided courtesy of Dusk Devi & Pacific Runway
Tell us about yourself – who are you, where are you from?
Born and raised in the Kingdom of Tonga! My father hails from Ofu, Vava’u and mother is from Tongoleleka, Ha’apai. I come from a working class family of fishermen, farmers, tapa designers, mat weavers and educators.
At a very young age, I was raised with the values of Anga’ofa (loving nature), Anga faka’apa’apa (respect and good reverence), tauhi vaha’a (good relations), loto to (winning heart of humility), and mamahi’i me’a (keen spirit and enthusiasm).
I am the eldest of 5 and my beautiful mother now holds the fort, as my father passed away in 2014. I’m also engaged to my beautiful fiancé – Ivana Vaea who has genuinely supported my journey. We’ve been through different adventures together and we both want to explore and experience what life has to offer next.
It started from a passion to become an entrepreneur! I started having conversations with my father’s younger brother, my uncle Sateki Maka – and from there my challenge was to come up with a business idea, have a plan in place to support not only my immediate family but our extended family as well.
When my grandmother was alive, she would ask us grandkids to help design intricate patterns on layers of well-beaten mulberry bark cloths. Those cherished memories led me towards a clothing business with a Tongan cultural design, and a significant brand name that would relate not only to Pasifika, but also to all people. Then, it was by God’s Grace I was drawn to the word “GROUNDED.” I feel that the word itself is deep, meaningful, powerful and relatable, which align perfectly with the business values.
Today, GROUNDED is a clothing and lifestyle brand that allows people to connect and share stories of their upbringing, history, identity, beliefs, values, and culture to name a few. Hopefully their stories will influence and shape the younger generation on their approach towards life!
My fiancé Ivana Vaea was supportive and challenged me to start it up. We prayed about it and kept things simple. Slowly, through hard word, GROUNDED started getting a bit of exposure.
Through your work, how do you hope to make a difference?
Although we are in the fashion and clothing business, we want to empower people to share their GROUNDED stories. We want GROUNDED to be a lifestyle brand that empowers people to have a more meaningful influence on the younger generation. Our message is – being grounded brings more positivity to life. Life should be more meaningful, more purposeful and we can all have a bigger impact today than ever before.
What have been the most challenging experiences in your journey so far?
Personally, losing my father was extremely hard. But eventually we accepted it, and life goes on.
In a business context, starting the business was difficult. I wasn’t afraid to fail but it was difficult to find the funds to get things together and create a product. Thankfully, my fiancé and I together with my uncle and his wife invested in GROUNDED, and we’re happy with the progress so far.
Connecting with the right people. It rewarded me with a small circle of friends that were uplifting, always encouraging, challenging each other and open to new ideas.
I built a lot of resilience when my father passed away, and chose to use that resilience to find the fire that was within me. I fuelled that fire with my passion and ongoing desire to succeed. I’ve failed numerous times, but the challenge was always to get up and to keep going. We make mistakes, but I believe it’s a part of the learning process.
What are the biggest misconceptions in your line of work? How do you feel we can address them?
No one really believes that Pacific Islanders can run a business that can generate millions of dollars. Not that I am a millionaire, but certain mindsets are fixed on that idea. I believe Pacific Islanders can own big companies and do big things, and it has to start with each individual person himself or herself. There needs to be strong commitment, a willingness to sacrifice, and patience as well.
When you look back in 20 years time, what do you hope to be most proud of?
Just the journey itself really! I’m still learning, and willing to learn more. I want to see myself, once the young boy selling watermelons Tonga, providing bread on the table, helping family and also the wider community.
What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of pursuing a similar pathway?
Time is of the essence. Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t be afraid to fail! Failing is part of success but persevere through. Keep on going!
We are more than just a brand! Follow us on instagram at @groundedclothinglabel.
We’d like to thank Tevita for sharing his story, and the story of his business. They’ll be launching their new website soon, so keep an eye out for them, and make sure you follow them on Instagram. We wish him and his fiance Ivana all the best, and we’re looking forward to seeing more from GROUNDED.