Meet the founder and CEO of groundbreaking footwear brand Staavias. The handcrafted footwear that caters to women in sizes 10 to 14, including wide widths. Before launching her brand Gustavia Lui had no previous experience in business or the footwear industry, only a hard work ethic and a passion to see her vision through. As a result of Gustavia’s and her husband’s hard work they were able to fund travel around the world to set up partnerships and attend workshops. After 2 years of ongoing planning and education in both business and the footwear industry Staavias was born in January 2016, opening an online store. Story covered by contributing writer, Elissa Baledrokadroka.

Tell us about yourself – who are you, where are you from?

Hello hello, my name is Gustavia Nia Lui, I’m a Samoan Tuvaluan girl born in Wellington city and raised in Manurewa, South Auckland. I come from the Tavita Roma family from Saleaula and Le Auva’a in Apia, as well as the Taefu family from Falelatai, Apia.

How did your story begin?

I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with shoes! I would always buy a whole heap of shoes for my husband and children because I couldn’t really find anything that would fit me. I’ve always had big feet, I remember wearing size 10 shoes in Intermediate Form 1! Even then, I remember wearing Pulp shoes from Hannahs and they hurt so bad, but I had no other choice. Every time I fell pregnant, my feet grew a little more lengthwise, and then I put on weight and my feet started to grow in all sorts of directions!

In 2011 I started a part time Money Management course and the idea of business popped up in my mind. I knew straight away I wanted to open a shoe shop selling big shoes. The biggest pain in my life up until that point was not being able to find shoes in my size, so naturally I was desperate to solve my own problem. However, the more research I did, the more travelling I did, and the more I realised the lack of plus size shoes for women wasn’t just a problem for women in New Zealand. There was a lack of plus size shoes all over the world! I spoke to a few of industry leaders who recommended I start my own brand. Also, seeing as I couldn’t find any suppliers – I took on their advice and started Staavias from there.

Through your work, how do you hope to make a difference?

I share my story in the hope that people can relate to it, and be inspired and motivated to chase their own dreams. I want people to look at me and think, “well if she can do it so can I”.

You spoke at the TEDx Manukau Institute of Technology event, how did that come about and would you like to do more speaking engagements?

I enjoyed doing the TEDx talk, I was so humbled that they approached me to speak – there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity. I actually do a lot of public speaking engagements to a wide range of audiences and I enjoy it. Yes I would love to do more speaking engagements.

Who are your biggest influences?

My parents and my mum’s siblings. My Mum’s siblings all helped raise me, I’ve lived with most of them at one point of my life. They are all very hardworking, intelligent, independent, strong-minded and all successful in their own right.

Pastor Chris Sola – Senior Pastor of The Dream Centre. He’s another big influence in my life.

What have been the most challenging experiences in your journey so far?

Finances – maybe I should say the lack of finances. It’s been challenging trying to squeeze money from everywhere and anywhere in order to fund this business and keep it going. People expect so much from you as a brand once you launch and there’s no other way around it, you just have to figure it out.

Mindset – in order to push forward despite the challenges and setbacks, and in order to be resilient, you have to have a certain type of mentality. My biggest challenge was my mindset; I had to be bold enough to see things from a different perspective.

Lack of experience and knowledge in business – it’s so hard not knowing what the next step should be. Business is a journey where you have to learn on the job and sometimes it’s a very expensive lesson.

What are the biggest misconceptions in your line of work? How do you feel we can address them?

I’ve heard people say the funniest things. People assume everything made in China is of the lowest possible quality. Assuming that everything that’s made in China is cheap is like saying everyone in New Zealand sits around and collects benefits from the government all day. They are both false assumptions and unfair statements. Every country has good and bad, China is no exception. Not everyone in China does dodgy business and not everyone in New Zealand sits around collecting benefits and doing nothing all day.

Also, people have said our shoes are way too expensive. They tend to forget that anything handmade is expensive, whether it’s handmade in New Zealand, Australia, United States or China – it’s still expensive. They also tend to forget that larger sized shoes are hard to find, hence Staavias existence. That alone should speak of the effort and how far we have gone to ensure every woman in New Zealand has choices, regardless of her shoes size. In saying this, no one works for free. Like you, I still have a family to feed and bills to pay.

What’s your goal for Staavias?

My goal for Staavias is to dominate the plus size footwear space globally. Within the next 3 years Staavias launch a few different products and accessories to complement our footwear. We also have a huge passion for our women and our community so we want to provide social services for our community – I don’t know for sure what that will look like right now but it’s definitely something we’ll be working towards for sure.

When you look back at your life in 20 years time, what do you hope to be most proud of?

I would hope that my work made a positive difference in the lives of people in our local community, like providing sustainable employment opportunities through our company.

What advice do you have for young Pacific people who might be thinking of pursing a similar pathway?

You are in control of your own life. Not your parents, your siblings, and not even your partner or children have the key to your life – it’s all yours, so take control.

Be careful who you spend time with and who you surround yourself with. You’ll never hear or see any successful people associating themselves with people who have zero motivation. You can’t be a winner when you’re hanging out with losers.

Excuses are seriously overrated – to be honest, no one cares about excuses! So please stop with excuses. Stop thinking of all the reasons you can’t, and find ways so that you can.

How can we support you and your work?

I love that you’re offering me a platform to share my story and my dreams, it’s a great way of showing your support and I truly appreciate that. Support doesn’t have to be in the form of purchasing shoes, but I certainly won’t complain if you or anyone else did!

We’d like to thank Gustavia for sharing the Staavias story with us. To find out more, or to shop online, you can find the Staavias website here, or you can follow them on Instagram and Facebook too.