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Making a living on an island

Saturday 25 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Business, National, Outer Islands


Making a living on an island
Toka Charlie and Jemina Samson-Tangi from Manihiki attended the Taki Tahi Women In Business programme. 23021602

Manihiki entrepreneurs Jemina Samson-Tangi and Toka Charlie have joined forces to boost and grow their ‘side hustle’ businesses from their remote northern group island.

Samson-Tangi is the creator and designer of her clothing brand “Karalina Creations” and weaves rito into delicate jewellery pieces. Charlie takes care of the baking side making speciality cakes and also looks after the marketing side of their business.

“We do a bit of everything that is not in Manihiki,” explains Samson-Tangi.

Manihiki is divided between the two main islands of Tauhunu and Tukao, which are separated by a 4-kilometre deep lagoon.

Both women are originally from the island of Tukao, but now live in the village of Tauhunu.

Samson-Tangi works for the Ministry of Justice on the island, and for almost six years her side hustle has been block printing fabric and sewing shirts, dresses and garments.

She doesn’t advertise her clothing line since she has enough orders to fill just through word-of-mouth from customers on the island and overseas.

“We are isolated in Manihiki and because we lack transportation we don’t want to start up on social media because we won’t be able to meet the demand and supply the garments to the customers on time,” says Samson-Tangi.

However they use their private Facebook pages to post products they have sold and accept new orders with many coming from overseas.

Raised in Manihiki, Samson-Tangi left the northern group island after the devastating Cyclone Martin in 1997. She attended college in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Entrepreneurs from Manihiki attended the Taki Tahi Women in Business programme. From left: Nitika Karaponga, Jemina Samson-Tangi, facilitator Ana file-Heather, Jane Makira and Toka Charlie. 23022328
Entrepreneurs from Manihiki attended the Taki Tahi Women in Business programme. From left: Nitika Karaponga, Jemina Samson-Tangi, facilitator Ana file-Heather, Jane Makira and Toka Charlie. 23022328

After some years she yearned for her home island and returned with her family.

“I felt like I needed to go back to Manihiki to serve my people,” says Samson-Tangi.

The mother of five children, with eldest a 13-year-old and the youngest three, is a self-taught seamstress. Her grandmother showed her how to use a sewing machine and the first basic thing she learnt to sew was curtains.

“Then all these ideas started popping up and I started experimenting sewing things for my children, I knew if I was moving back to Manihiki I would have to learn how to sew my kids clothes.”

Samson-Tangi and her husband Tangi Junior Toka tried to adapt to New Zealand but felt the country was a place best suited for young couples.

“We felt Manihiki is the best place to bring up kids, it’s a small community and people look out for you and your kids.

“I love living in Manihiki and I don’t see myself living anywhere else, it just feels like home and the life there is simple and easy.”

Samson-Tangi started sewing little cute outfits for her kids which were well received.

“People started to get interested and it kicked off from there.”

She can sew pretty much anything – the customer selects the size, colour and style they want which she can create free style from a picture.

Buying in bulk is the norm and Samson-Tangi ships her materials and products to Manihiki from Rarotonga. There have been “desperate” times when she has had to fly in fabric by plane which is limited because of the restricted air freight and travel.

Jemina Samson-Tangi’s children wear the garments she block prints and sews. 23022329
Jemina Samson-Tangi’s children wear the garments she block prints and sews. 23022329

Charlie was also raised in Manihiki and she too left for Aotearoa after Cyclone Martin.

Two years ago, she returned to Manihiki to bury her grandfather and stayed on.

“It was so hard for me to leave so I stayed and now I don’t see myself moving back to live in New Zealand,” says Charlie.

Employment opportunities on the island are minimal and Charlie says she is very fortunate to be helping Tangi who introduced her to baking.

With Manihiki being so far away from the “bright lights” of Rarotonga, the women are always thinking of new products to create and are open to learn more about business.

Earlier this month, four women from Manihiki – Jane Makira, Nikita Karaponga, Samson-Tangi and Charlie – attended the Women in Business free online business programme in Rarotonga facilitated by local businesswoman Ana File-Heather.

“Our older sister Nitika (Karaponga) told us about Ana’s email, so we both thought let’s give it a go and I’m so glad that we did this course because it has been a real eye opener,” says Charlie.

Samson-Tangi says “We always feel like we get left out of these opportunities because we are in the north and we feel so isolated. This is a first for both of us and we are grateful to Ana for reaching out to us in the Pae Tokerau, we really appreciate it and have learnt so much.”

Learning how to structure a business was popular with the women and the programme compelled them to think about resources they can utilise back home to create more products.

Visiting service providers and businesses in Rarotonga was also a big hit for the women.

“Living in the Pa Enua we don’t really know which services are available to us,” says Charlie.

“And when you live in a place so far from everything you feel like you need to learn all these things.”

Motivated from the learnings in Rarotonga, the women would like to expand their product line.

“We are looking forward to our airport being tarsealed, then there will be more cheaper flights which will help with our business,” says Samson-Tangi.

Shortly after the completion of the business programme both women flew to Aotearoa to purchase more goods for their business.

“We are excited, we now have more ideas… so we need to get this and that and get back home (Manihiki) to create more products,” says Samson-Tangi.