Hard work paying off

Mele Wakolo with her mother-in-law Elena Wakolo, and daughter Annebella Wakolo. Picture: MATILDA SIMMONS

MORE than five years ago, a couple who met at high school and went onto university, took the risk and embarked on a screen printing business.

Even though they didn’t get to finish their university studies, the couple stuck together.

Mele and her husband Josefa Wakolo were young, carefree and in love.

Wakolo, a graphic arts student practiced drawings and screen printing on T-shirts and materials, while Mele helped sell it to fellow students while they were at the university.

“I would carry a backpack filled with the merchandise and walked around campus to help market and sell it,” laughed Mele.

I met Mele at a trade show in Suva where she was showcasing their products.

The couple operate Joseph and Brothers Design Solutions which specialises in printing for T-shirts and materials.

“My mother-in-law Elena Wakolo has been the backbone to this business start-up,” said Mele.

“She saw what we were doing and suggested that we get a stall at the Flea Market in Suva. She helped us financially and supported us. We’re grateful to her advice and help.”

Mele said getting their business registered and compliant with the law was a bit challenging.

“My mother-in-law helped us get the proper documents and a licence to operate from home.

“You know, when we first started, we just wanted to make and sell our products, but getting our papers and the legal aspect of the business set up has a whole different side to it.

“Luckily, we are members of the Women Entrepreneurs and Business Council (WEBC) an organisation that helps women entrepreneurs with training and how to improve their business.”

“It has been a journey and now it’s time to contribute back to the family.”

The couple started with just 10-20 T-shirts when they began operations in 2012. But most of their products are sold on social media, Facebook.

The designs are based on traditional Polynesian, Fijian and Micronesian art.

“We have two cousins and a couple of boys in the neighbourhood helping us out,” says Mele.

“We’re based at home in Nadera. We recently acquired new machines which we hope to set up soon, but our main goal is to get a bigger space so we can increase our printing and earn more money. We have three kids,” she smiled.

Most of their orders are custom made for clients and they print in bulk for kalavata material, T-shirts. They also do prints for comforters and pillow cases.

“Most of our customers are gained through social media and by word of mouth, and most are returning customers.

“Our main market is the high school games when the zones, rugby competitions and the Coke Games begin. It’s a busy period for us,” she said.

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