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Turning illness into inspiration, Upokoina’s story of resilience

Saturday 2 March 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend


Turning illness into inspiration, Upokoina’s story of resilience
Upokoina “Chyna” Bishop-Cuthers displays one of her vibrant original designs on pareu. MELINA ETCHES/24022713

Upokoina Bishop-Cuthers, a Cook Islands woman who battled cancer, created her own homeware brand CuBis Creations to inspire others and support her family.

CuBis Creations offers vibrant tropical colours and original Cook Islands inspired designs printed on pareu, tivaivai sets, bedsheet sets, sarongs and cushion covers, all made from 100 per cent Rayon cotton.

Created by Upokoina Bishop-Cuthers, fondly known as “Chyna,” the CuBis brand offers home apparel with a difference. Her unique drawn designs will brighten your homes.

It all began during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2022.

“People were losing their jobs, and I was worried for my family so I decided to launch my brand then,” said Bishop-Cuthers.

Two years later, she suffered a minor stroke. During her hospital stay, medical professionals discovered she had cervical cancer. Her world crumbled.

“I was shattered, I just broke down when they said I had cervical cancer … Everything just rushed at me, I was just 46 years old.”

Going through her treatment, with the support of her family she regained her positivity and turned her focus back to her small business.

That year, she designed her first pattern “Tiare Vaine Toa” representing strong women and the journey of her own life since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

“I poured my whole heart into this design, my first, so it really means a lot to me,” she said.

Keeping inspired and positive she kept on drawing and now has 11 original designs she is proud of.

“A special one I designed is the cattleya flower (Christmas orchid) I did for my mother who loves her flowers,” she said.

Now in remission, she has returned home for a break and to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday and to promote her business.

Bishop-Cuthers was raised in Nikao, she is the daughter of Rouru and Enua Bishop. As a young girl she would cut lawns and sell fruits and second-hand clothes at the market when Rosie Blake was the manager.

“I knew since I was little that I always wanted to do my own thing, and now here I am,”

In 1996, Bishop-Cuthers and her husband Junior Cuthers left Rarotonga for Australia.

They still live in Melbourne, Australia, with their three children Andrew, Drew and Lovinia.

“I love what I do and will keep drawing and creating my own original patterns,” she said.

She encourages women who want to start their own home business to create a strong foundation support at home with their family, and to make time for themselves.

“We are always on go and the last to sleep, always working in our minds so we have to train our minds and bodies to rest.

“Also, I’d like to remind women to get themselves checked, get a pap smear and a mammogram, early detection really is best.”

Bishop-Cuthers would like to acknowledge her husband and children for their support.

Pop into the Punanga Nui Market this morning and purchase a pareu or linen from CuBis Creations which will be displayed in Stall 20 near the main road side. This will be her last day at the market before she returns to Australia.

Visit the CuBis Creations Facebook page for more designs and contact information. Online orders are welcome.