So­cial Work to Fash­ion King

mailife - - Con­tents - By MELA KA­TONIVUA­LIKU Pho­tos by IVAMERE ROKOVESA

HE started out as a so­cial worker but when he re­alised he wasn’t sat­is­fied with where it was tak­ing him, Sam­son Lee took an­other path. It took the 34-year-old renowned lo­cal fash­ion de­signer huge amounts of con­fi­dence to di­vert from what he used to do to what he now does. “I grew up in Suva and at­tended Yat Sen Sec­ondary, then fin­ished off high school in Christchurch, New Zealand. Later I went on to Brigham Young Univer­sity, a pri­vate univer­sity in Laie, Hawaii to study so­cial work,” Lee said. His first job was for a non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion called Pa­cific Coun­selling and So­cial Ser­vices. De­spite hav­ing trav­elled thou­sands of miles to study and grad­u­ate with a de­gree in so­cial work, he changed his mind and de­cided to come back home to be­come a fash­ion de­signer. He’s been do­ing de­sign­ing for the past two years now. The Nalotu vil­lager from Yawe in Ka­davu, with ma­ter­nal links to Dal­i­coni in Vanu­a­bal­avu, said he def­i­nitely had sup­port from his fam­ily and friends. “My par­ents have al­ways sup­ported me, but get­ting into fash­ion was one of those things we just didn’t see eye to eye on,” he said. “The arts and fash­ion were not for them. They are very old school.” His par­ents didn’t think their son could make it big in the fash­ion in­dus­try, but as the adage goes ‘con­fi­dence is very sexy’ Lee had to go boldly solo with his quest to make a name for him­self. “In a way, my par­ents didn’t think it would work, so for me per­son­ally it was just all me. It was my mo­ti­va­tion, my drive to get to where I am to­day. I had to push my­self.” His friends, on the other hand, were en­cour­ag­ing and ad­vised Lee to carry on with his heart’s de­sire. “My friends al­ways re­minded me that I had noth­ing to lose. If I started this busi­ness and it didn’t work out, at the end of the day what would mat­ter most would be that at least I tried.” “So this is a big ac­com­plish­ment, open­ing my own bou­tique just two years af­ter I was de­sign­ing at home.” Lee started de­sign­ing and sell­ing his col­lec­tion on­line. “I first be­gan print­ing on clothes, some­thing I got in­spired with back in the days dur­ing my mum’s Tiki Togs era, and I tell you a lot of peo­ple walk in here think­ing this is a Tiki Togs shop.” Tiki Togs was a pop­u­lar Fiji fash­ion house that printed

fab­rics and man­u­fac­tured cloth­ing that sold through the com­pany’s re­tail out­lets. “Ba­si­cally I am re­viv­ing some­thing that died ages ago and the prints are mo­tifs that have been re­con­fig­ured to give it more con­tem­po­rary flair, so we don’t of­fend any cul­tural group by tak­ing their orig­i­nal de­signs.” Lee’s prints are stim­u­lated by Fiji, its oceans and cul­tures as ev­i­dent in one of the co­ral printed styles on dis­play. “This one I call it the ‘lase’(co­ral) print, in­spired by our rich ma­rine her­itage.The feed­back I got from cus­tomers when they bought my de­signs on­line was over­whelm­ing and it sort of mo­ti­vated me to forge on.” Lee is now the de­signer and di­rec­tor of his busi­ness with a newly opened bou­tique in Butt Street, Suva, with the slo­gan ‘Cel­e­brat­ing the Rich­ness of Life’. The shop is small, but once you en­ter the rich­ness of Lee’s world leaps out from the prints on his fab­rics and fash­ions. “I am into big, bold and ab­stract prints – that’s my thing, that’s what I love do­ing.” Some of his de­signs are done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other lo­cal artists such as in­stal­la­tion and mixed me­dia artist Ge­orge Evans. Since Lee is of the view that fash­ion is an art, he tries to in­cor­po­rate art as much as he can within his de­signs. While giv­ing the in­ter­view, two male cus­tomers en­tered the bou­tique ask­ing for bula shirts. One had al­ready bought a shirt and had now brought his English friend to pur­chase one as well. Un­for­tu­nately, the shirt he wanted was out of stock but they said they would re­turn next day to check if the their choice was back on the shelf – that’s the sort of de­mand for Lee’s de­signs

“I would say that my stuff is af­ford­able for work­ing peo­ple. My printed stuff is ac­tu­ally from $145 for a rayon bula shirt and $165 for a cot­ton while dress prices range from $250 to $300.” Lee’s favourite de­sign­ers are Diane von Fursten­berg (DVF), for­merly Princess Diane of Fursten­berg who is a Bel­gianAmer­i­can fash­ion de­signer best known for her iconic wrap dress; and Carolina Her­rera who is a Venezue­lan fash­ion de­signer known for her ‘ex­cep­tional per­sonal style’ and for dress­ing var­i­ous First Ladies in­clud­ing Jac­que­line Onas­sis, Laura Bush, Michelle Obama and Me­la­nia Trump. “I love their work so much be­cause they ex­ude lux­ury and class and they give back to char­ity as well, which is what I think fash­ion is all about. It is not just about cre­at­ing but also be­ing hum­ble and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity, which is what I try to in­cor­po­rate with my line of work.” Last year Lee had his first launch at which he raised $14,000 to do­nate to WOWS Kids. At this year’s Voda­fone Hibis­cus carnival Lee spon­sored Miss Cure Kids wardrobe. Cure Kids is sup­ported by StyleFiji, a char­ity fash­ion show that Lee is a part of. Lee is not mov­ing back to so­cial work or to any other pro­fes­sion for that mat­ter – fash­ion is his pas­sion. “I don’t see my­self do­ing any­thing else. This makes me happy and I think ev­ery­one should be do­ing what they are pas­sion­ate about. “I will def­i­nitely stay in the fash­ion in­dus­try be­cause it is some­thing that is grow­ing in Fiji and I think it is go­ing to get even big­ger. There are many lo­cal de­sign­ers hav­ing their own bou­tiques or shops which is re­ally good to see and if we all stick to­gether this in­dus­try will take off.” Lee’s ad­vice to fu­ture de­sign­ers who are hop­ing to make it big is to make a start some­where. “Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate your­self. If you are sewing your own de­signs at home, good on you be­cause that’s how I started out too. From that first or­der I took on­line, I am still tak­ing or­ders to­day. So if I can start small and make it big, so can you.”


Self-con­fi­dent Sam­son Lee in his newly opened bou­tique at Butt Street in Suva.

Staff at the bou­tique at­tend to the finer de­tails.

Sam­son Lee will stay in the fash­ion in­dus­try as it is his com­fort zone.

Sam­son at his bou­tique.

Fash­ion is his pas­sion. Sam­son Lee forges on in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

Sam­son Lee in his bou­tique.

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