Gustavia Lui, Managing Director, Staavias

Gustavia Lui

Managing Director of Staavias 

Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Year established: 2016

Samoan/Tuvaluan businesswoman, Gustavia Lui, always loved shoes but found it almost impossible to find stylish shoes to fit her long, wide feet. After travelling to different countries looking for her size without success, she realised it was a global problem and saw a business opportunity. In January 2016, Gustavia launched Staavias – an online store specialising in handcrafted women’s shoes in sizes 10 to 14.  

How do you describe your business?  

Staavias is a footwear brand. We provide premium, handcrafted footwear for women who wear shoes in sizes 10 to 14. Our customers are women who are professionals, who love fashion, love to look and feel good, appreciate the value of quality and are willing to invest in a great pair of shoes. Our customers are from all over the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Singapore. 

What inspired you start your own business? 

I have size 11.5 feet and it has always been difficult for me to find shoes as I don’t fit size 11, but can’t fit size 12 either. I found over the years that the width of the shoes starting shrinking and it got to a point where I had been to all the shoe shops in Auckland and still could not find shoes that fit me correctly. 

When the idea of starting a business came up, I didn’t have to think twice about coming up with an idea. I just knew I was going to pursue large, wide shoes. I was desperate to solve this problem for myself and other women in the same situation. 

What were the key moments that you faced along the way? What would you do differently?

The biggest challenge ever was getting the business from idea stage to launch stage. Our journey has been tough but enjoyable. Some of the key moments along the way included:

·      Securing a great factory that looks after their staff and has ethical standards and processes; 

·      Launching our online store;

·      Securing great media and publicity through SUGA magazine, NZ Herald, NZ Apparel Magazine, NZ Retail Magazine and so many other blogs and media. We were also featured on Tagata Pasifika and in newspapers in the Pacific, e.g. Samoa Observer in Samoa and the national Fiji newspaper; and

·      We’ve recently secured a wholesale deal with a huge retailer in NZ.

We’ve also had our fair share of challenges along the way – mostly with overseas suppliers as we have different cultures, ways of doing things and language barriers to contend with. However, I have found that finding common ground and working out a win-win strategy is key to success. 

If I was to go back and do this again, I would go directly through our sourcing agent instead of trying doing it all myself. I ended up wasting a lot of time and resources through the different suppliers prior to securing our current manufacturer. 

Were there any key people or organisations that provided you with assistance?

The NZ Leather and Shoe Research Association (LASRA) gave me some direction in the very beginning. They helped out with testing our samples, and providing constructive feedback and advice. 

I have a couple of friends who were kind enough to give me a bit of money for capital. This really helped me get off the ground. 

I was a member of an organisation called The Entourage based in Sydney, which is an educational institution for young entrepreneurs. Through The Entourage and it’s community of entrepreneurs in Australia, I learned so much and felt like I was able to grow more as a person but also as a businesswoman. The experience gave me the confidence to keep moving forward regardless of the circumstances. I’m so grateful to the lifelong friendships I’ve made through this community. They continue to encourage, support and uplift me through the good and the bad. 

I have a very supportive husband, extended family, church family and a small circle of close friends who are always praying for me and our business. They’re always checking in with me to see how I’m doing and offering help. 

What advice do you give to women wanting to set up a business?

1. Believe in yourself. It’s actually easier said than done, but it’s super important. No one will believe in you or take you seriously until you do. 

 2. Surround yourself with great, like-minded people. Be around people who are where you aspire to be, people who genuinely care for you and will encourage, support and uplift you during the good and bad times. 

 3. Celebrate even the smallest wins. Sometimes we have such huge goals that we forget about the small successes along the way that lead to us achieving the big stuff. 

 4. Take action! The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is they do what they say they are going to do. Like Nike says – JUST DO IT!

 Final words

As a proud Samoan/Tuvaluan woman in business, I encourage you to stand up and be proud with me. I know our culture and traditions can have a way of stopping us from achieving our goals or dreams but don’t ever let that stop you. After travelling quite a bit I feel like there are no people more creative than Pacific people. We have so much talent and gifts that we are able to achieve absolutely anything we put our mind and hearts to. I also think it’s important that we stick together and support each other to success. 

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