Excel beyond limitations
19 January, 2018, 12:00 am
WITH a zeal to excel in the local business scene, a couple one day made the decision to step out of their comfort zone and move into their “faith zone”.
The couple — Emosi and May Sawailau — were both employed in their respective professions before they took a leap of faith to establish their own small screen printing company.
The name of the nascent family business speaks for itself — ABL Designs which stands for Acceleration Beyond Limitations.
According to company director May Sawailau, the business idea was birthed out of the various functions that their church congregation organised.
And as she ironically recalls, her love for kalavata, or motif printed garments was also behind their business venture.
“Because we go to World Harvest Centre church, we do a lot of functions, so we maximised on the opportunity,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“For me I always buy kalavata almost every week, so this was something I did to supply materials to our congregation.”
A teacher by profession, Mrs Sawailau said she had to resign from her job to manage the daily operations of the newly established business.
“Acceleration Beyond Limitation, it’s a family business that my husband and I started in February of 2016.
“The name speaks for itself to excel beyond limit.
“I used to teach for 16 years before I started doing business. So we thought why not we start something.”
This business started after the several businesses they had before didn’t really work out, she said.
“I had to leave my profession because every afternoon after work we had to come to the office and it was too much,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“We had the manpower, the boys some of whom are youth members of our church.
“So we asked around if they were interested in starting this business.
“Our first ever business was a small fish business, we used to sell fish supplied from Lau.
“We used to get supplied fish from Lau and sell it here in Suva but it didn’t really work out.
“Then we ventured on into a taxi business. We still have taxis running. We also had an internet shop that used to be at the Harvest Plaza in Kinoya which is now no longer there because they had to renovate the plaza.
“This also included an internet shop and a restaurant at the plaza.
“Apart from that, we also have a honey farm in Vanua Levu which is still running now. So ABL is like the latest one.”
ABL Designs’ services mainly include fabric screen printing and it started operations in 2016 out of a humble office space and mainly focused on customised T-shirt screen printing.
“We started off at the Harvest Plaza in a small office space and it wasn’t enough as our business was growing,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“This factory space (situated in Laucala Beach) that we are in now was just like a warehouse and we did all the works to it turning it into our production facility.
“We moved here last year in April and started our operations here.”
The business venture was somewhat risks worth taking for the Sawailaus, as both had no prior background knowledge or experience in the field of screen printing and apparel manufacturing.
The venture saw a lucrative investment of more than $100,000 which included costs to acquire capital and machinery from China for their various services.
Eventually, over time, the business expanded in their services provided as its customer base and clientelle.
“When we started we didn’t have the embroidery, and we did not have fabric printing as well,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“When we started, we mainly did T-shirt screen printing. Our main focus area was Christian wear. All our T-shirts are based on Bible verses and things to do with the gospel.
“We started with that and people began to like and started ordering custom made merchandise so we were doing both.
“This business is what it is today also because of all of those who helped,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“We’ve got a few employees who are very experienced in this field and that’s why the business too has grown very fast.”
From an initial six-member staff, the company grew in manpower as well with 16 staff, mostly youths, being employed at ABL Designs.
The team includes graphic artists, printers and tailors, all with a combined experience of more than 10 years.
Without a standard marketing strategy, Mrs Sawailau said their services were publicised mainly by word of mouth including their Facebook page.
This saw their customer base growing further from their initial target of church members to those out of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu and a few overseas clients.
The company is also at its production peak during major national functions such as church conferences, reunions, bazaars and sporting events.
“We have a lot of corporate companies come and do their kalavata done and also embroidery.
“Some just walk in, some contact us through our Facebook page,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“Most of our clients are through Facebook. And majority are word by mouth because we have done jobs for someone who recommended us to others. Most of our customers are now non church members.”
ABL Designs will soon branch out from their production facility and open their retail outlet at the Harvest Plaza in Kinoya, Nasinu where most of their end products will be displayed and sold.
The company also has ambitious long term plans to expand to the main town areas.
“I believe that we will expand and even this space is getting too small for us,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“We’ve taken it one step at a time since we are going into our second year.”
When asked whether she had challenges after she left her job, Mrs Sawailau said it was a decision worth taking.
“It was a smooth transition especially leaving teaching,” she laughed.
“It also feels so good and I encourage everybody to start up their own business. Because you get to do your own thing at the same time challenging having to manage the business.”
If it was one thing that was the driving force of inspiration and motivation behind their business, Mrs Sawailau said it was the God that they served.
“This business started with an idea and we just had to pray about it,” Mrs Sawailau said.
“For me and my husband I can say that our biggest inspiration is the God we serve.
“Because we took this little tiny step of faith which was something beyond what we knew.
“We are not both really into this field, we don’t do screen printing, we don’t sew, we don’t do embroidery but we believed that it will work.
“We prayed about it and God just brought the right people.”
And as Mrs Sawailau can attest to, business has its risks and challenges, but with hard work, determination and tenacity for growth, success will eventually come.
“I urge those who want to start their own business to do so, many have the fear of failure with starting businesses,” she said.
“If you put your mind to it and work towards it, you will eventually get it.”