Skerah recently had the pleasure of interviewing Christopher Lam, a 20 year old Papua New Guinea entrepreneur and the mastermind behind the popular street apparel business Barata Streetstuf, known for their stylish and culturally influenced headwear.
When asked where he’s from, Chris explains that he’s a “full national guy”. With a mixed parentage of Manus, East Sepik, New Ireland and Eastern Highlands, his background helps to explain the source of his inspiration: the culture of Papua New Guinea. Chris was inspired with the idea for Barata Streetstuf after witnessing the popularity of Team Papua New Guinea’s headwear during the 2015 Pacific Games in Port Moresby; it dawned on him during the games that caps, specifically flat-brimmed snapbacks, had increased in popularity, and that there was little, if any, headwear available that represented the culture of Papua New Guinea – thus, his niche was formed and Barata Streetstuf was born.
Chris and his team began this venture days after the Pacific Games concluded in July 2015. Their product line currently consists of snapback caps and bucket hats, but they have more products scheduled for release in the coming year (2017) and are planning for the release of more great products in the future.
Cultural inspiration is, as Chris says, what makes Barata Streetstuf products unique, as they are the only business in Papua New Guinea focused on culturally inspired headwear such as this. He likens their designs to the work of fashion designers with respect to clothing, but specific to headwear, something he sees as an “affordable and casual” way for people to represent a bit of their culture with their style.
Though Chris’s inspiration was the driving force behind developing Barata Streetstuf, he doesn’t do it all alone; Chris is backed by a three person team consisting of Channell Anivai, their Graphics Artist who can also be found working at TVWan, Jimmy Segodi, who is their illustrator and works at The PNG Cancer Foundation, and Deborah Alois, their co-manager and a final year Environmental Science student at UPNG.
Barata Streetstuf is marketed mainly towards young people, male and female, ranging from teenagers to people in their early twenties (though Chris cheerfully mentioned how awesome it is to see people in their 30s and beyond wearing the caps). Based on the target market for their products, it makes sense that social media is their main marketing tool. Chris finds it “super effective” as a means of promoting new products, sale dates and other news, especially considering most people within their target market use social media on a daily basis. However, “if there were to be a challenge with social media” he says, “it would be that you’ll get many people who will react to your posts, but won’t necessarily make a purchase.”
As with any entrepreneurial business venture, the Barata Streetstuf team face certain challenges, primarily when it comes to finance and sales. With high production costs due to overseas manufacturing, and the difficulty that can be expected with any new business in establishing consistent sales, it has been beneficial for Chris and his team to develop a partnership with Genevieve Igara of Wantok Clothing. This partnership has helped improve sales and, in turn, their planning and production cycles. Barata Streetstuff have also currently partnered with DJ TraVy, a local DJ rising in the local music scene, and Chris tells us we can expect more partnerships and collaborations in the future, along with a strengthening of their existing ones.
As Barata Streetstuf is primarily a youth-focused company, Chris and the team also plan to work toward more involvement with youth programs that they are passionate about; their goal is to be a model business that has a positive influence on the youth of Papua New Guinea. Chris embodies these goals in his day to day life outside of Barata Streetstuf, as well, keeping himself busy as a youth leader and volunteering his time with youth based programs within Transparency International (PNG)’s Youth Against Corruption Association (YACA). He is also a climate change activist, working voluntarily with climate change NGO 350.org and their Pacific Network, 350Pacific. On top of all this, Chris can be found working as a show producer, and has produced a few fashion shows in Lae and Port Moresby; most recently, he was the runway choreographer and curator for PNG Fashion Week in August of this year.
When it comes to finding time for all of this and working on Barata Streetstuf, Chris tells us that he relies on his team for keeping him focused. “Barata Streetstuf is actually my day to day life” he says of balancing life and business. “I take care of it full time, from managing social media to sales, purchasing and all else related.” Luckily for Chris, he seems happy to have Barata Streetstuf as his main focus; he enjoys being his own boss, being able to make decisions that will shape what the business becomes in the future, and having the flexibility in his schedule to allow him to do all the other things he enjoys and is passionate about.
Now that Barata Streetstuf is established, Chris continues to gain inspiration from Papua New Guinea culture; “what inspires me to keep this going” he tells us “is the fact that there are still so many stories about our culture in PNG, often told through motifs, that need to come out, be shown and appreciated by a wider community.”