Letila Mitchell, Managing and Artistic Director, TiPau Ltd

Letila Mitchell
Managing and Artistic Director, TiPau Ltd
Suva, Fiji & Brisbane, Australia
Year established: 2009

TiPau Ltd is a social enterprise that has brought together a strong hold of artists who have worked together since 2009. The key objective of the company is to develop beautiful, high quality products and services that showcase the best of Pacific cultural knowledge and skills. TiPau’s RakoDesigns was the winner of the 2015 Fiji Fashion Entrepreneur Award – cementing the business’ growing reputation as a social enterprise that creates beautiful, unique and ethical practices. Pacific Women in Business asked TiPau’s Managing and Artistic Director, Letila Mitchell, to share her story.

How do you describe your business?
We’re a social enterprise that empowers and provides sustainable livelihoods for Rako artists with a foundation built on strong values, respect for community, family and the environment. Our aim is to alleviate poverty, hardship and unemployment amongst creative people by building supporting artists to build sustainable, fulfilling careers through enterprise.

To do this, TiPau Ltd has developed four key project focus areas:

  • RakoDesigns: fashion, Interior and Home ware design;
  • RakoPasefika: dance, Music, Design and Arts project focused on the development of professional artists;
  • TiPau consultancy and project management; and
  • RakoProductions: International distribution, touring, artists management and agency, media and event production (Brisbane based).

With a commitment to practicing fair trade principles and respectfully utilising traditional knowledge and skills, we also create a safe space for our youth to engage in projects where elders can share knowledge freely to promote inter-generational experiences, learning and consultation.

What inspired you start your own business?
I was concerned about the social and economic situation of our artists. I saw that many of our artists, without the platforms, guidance and space to be creatively excellent, that they then fell into bad lifestyles and didn’t have the opportunity to find their niche in life. I was also concerned about the fact that the majority of our artists lived a life of poverty, with few platforms for growth and development, and without the opportunity to lead sustainable careers, to feel valued and recognized for their creative gifts. Yet our local and Pacific markets are flooded with imported cultural products and services and a thriving tourism market that should have a vibrant, lucrative cultural market alongside it.

There was also a perception that Pacific artists were unproductive and unreliable and without much to contribute so I wanted to start a business that would prove this wrong and to show that artists are creative, innovative and that with the right professional platforms, space and guidance that we could have a lucrative and successful business that would change the lives of our artists. With the products and services of international quality I also want to change the negative attitudes towards Pacific artists and to ensure that we were able to provide for our own local and regional markets.

As a mother of three I also wanted to develop a business that would enable me to provide for my children but enable me to be part of their daily life and for them to be a part of mine. I didn’t want to just be a ‘night time’ mum but my career is important to me and I wanted to also work. So I went into my own business to create a better life for us and to so that my kids grow up with me at work, dancing, singing, creating and helping me to build a positive space and life for other young people.

What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome?
Our biggest challenge has always been financing. There is limited support for start-ups and even less support for those working with creative people and youth at risk. Our growth has been slow because we have self-funded everything all our own training, equipment, space and materials and so its been a slow process but fulfilling knowing that after five years of business we have no debts. It was also hard to find the right people to help us realise our vision, and particularly to find trustworthy and hard-working administrators. So, not only are we overloaded creatively and in production, we are also doing all our own administration and finances. And as we are working with a lot of young people who come from broken homes or difficult backgrounds, we have to invest a lot of our time counseling and helping them get through these issues and this does affect our business productivity. We are slowly finding a good balance.

Were there any key people or organisations that helped you?
My husband, Paul Dominiko, and our key members Samuela Taukave, Howard Kotoitubou and Laudan Kotoitubou came together in 2009 as artists and so we formed the core of the organisation. We also received wonderful support from our families, who have invested a lot of time, energy and support. Our business has now grown to another level with our Production Manager David Yalimailakeba and Theresa.

The key organisations that supported me from day one have been: Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s Creative Arts Program, Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and Fiji Fashion Week.

What advice do you give to women wanting to set up a business in the Pacific?
It’s tough but with sacrifice, hard work and developing a strong network it is worthwhile being in charge of our own life and having the ability to work while also caring for your family. Use the networks that are out there to help build your business. Do your research and develop a business that you are passionate about and truly believe in. Be different, innovative and challenge the norm!

What advise do you give to women about running a business?
Find a great administrator and finance mentor from day one and build a team that you trust.

For more information visit www.rakopasefika.com