By Pauline Mago-King
There is nothing we love more than homegrown fashion like the carefree, island line Lavagirl – a collection of jewellery, clothing and décor pieces.
The mastermind behind Lavagirl is none other than Annette Sete – an innovative designer with good taste in contemporary designs. Like any other creative genius, Annette’s unique and traditional flair for the arts began at a young age where she would observe her avumeri (grandmother) go about the making of bilas (traditional garments). Additionally, Annette traces her resourcefulness to Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) myriad of cultural arts.
“I probably started making bilas – many of which were jewellery – at a very young age. I then graduated to sewing which usually involved using [my avumeri Lina’s] sewing machine when she was fast asleep… she let me sew and process supplies like ️seeds, shells and ropes. I think that’s where the influence of this passion started,” said Annette.
Influences like the bond Annette shared with her grandmother have brought Lavagirl to fruition. This December the brand, which as the name suggests originates from the volcanoes of East New Britain Province, will turn three. From a thought bubble, Lavagirl has morphed into a household name.
“[Lavagirl] came to life when I was discussing a project with a very talented Fijian graphic designer… I wanted the brand to be not so serious, catchy and hot yet relaxing with a PNG twist – the ️style that any girl or woman next door could wear. At the time, I had just quit the corporate world of uniforms and was enjoying the comfort of maxi dresses so my emotions played a role in the brand and ️type of wear we wanted to get into,” explained Annette.
Annette shared that as a “home based/kitchen-table-hobby-turned business” most of the work is done at home which is the norm for small businesses. From brainstorming designs to the actual crafting of jewellery, Annette and her team are often on the go to deliver an eco-friendly and sustainable line.
For Lavagirl, the art embodied in PNG’s cultures is a guiding light for its pursuit. Whether it is the use of natural materials like the bleached-white pebbles from remote Pomio or twisted natural fibre from East Sepik, Lavagirl endeavours to blend a wealth of cultures and at the same time protect the environment.
“The [way] our people use natural items for bilas is something I find fascinating. We collect and buy seeds, shells and ropes/natural fibre from the New Guinea Islands right through to Momase and the Highlands with current work towards the Southern region. I would love to take all these materials and create more modern, trendy items to be sold in one place! That’s the dream.”
Annette admits though that this is a work in progress. In saying that Lavagirl has encountered challenges ranging from capital to the novelty of fashion in PNG – all of which required a whole lot of learning as Annette comes from a journalism and sales/marketing background. Yet Annette has found that these obstacles can be overcome with good networking and an optimistic attitude.
“I do ask for help most times and people in the industry are naturally willing to help which I’m grateful for. Lavagirl is something I love doing! I get a lot of job satisfaction from not only creating beautiful stuff but also seeing my team grow,” said Annette.
Lavagirl has also developed as a result of social networking sites such as Facebook. Annette said that the business has not formulated social media campaigns as it is still collecting data in terms of customer preferences. Still, it faces a plethora of orders via social media.
“I’m quite happy that PNG women actually enjoy our stuff and Facebook has helped us sell and market our products abroad in places like Australia and the rest of Pacific although freight is costly. We do not have an online shop as yet but plans are underway to build a brick and mortar shop for Lavagirl.”
In the meantime, Lavagirl has opened a small gift shop at Gazelle International Hotel in Kokopo and supplies a growing number of resellers around the country.
While Annette manages Lavagirl, she also wears numerous hats. As a work-at-home mother, she runs a marketing business called TMC and Maku Gifts which produces and sells Lavagirl products. The head of Lavagirl additionally devotes her time to the Katim Na Halivim Pikinin – a children’s charity providing life changing surgeries to PNG children born with congenital defects.
For those who have a creative dream brewing, Annette has one message for you!
“There is never a perfect time to start! Find your passion; find your drive even if you do it as a side business.”