The work of their hands

IT’S almost that time of the year again when secondary schools students from across the country converge on the ANZ Stadium in Suva to go head to head in what some regard as the world’s biggest schools athletics meet posing some of the largest school rivalry in the most electrifying atmosphere.

The games, like any other sports meet, bring with it its lively atmosphere with fans donning their different coloured T-shirts, waving their school flags and painting their faces in their school colours as well.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the games, you will find people who carry on with their daily schedules as they try to make ends meet.

One of whom is Taito Lawakele, the owner of Vanua Clay Fiji, who designs and creates handmade clay creations of unique pieces exclusively made for each client.

Mr Lawakele from Burotukula, Matuku in Lau will for the first time this year be selling his unique handiwork specifically for schools at the Coke Games.

“We will be at the Cokes this year and I encourage students and old scholars to check out our stall at the stadium for the customised pendants and earrings for your secondary school,” Mr Lawakele said.

Vanua Clay Fiji is a family business run by husband and wife team Taito and Lavenia which began on April 1, 2015.

They bring their designs to life using the medium of pottery which is 100 per cent Fijian made.

The business started when three family members who were working for an art and craft business in Nadi were about to be laid off because the business was to be sold.

The brothers decided to pool their resources to buy the equipment from the arts and crafts organisation, to nurture the skills and knowledge already acquired and to continue the clay making business to keep the family employed.

“We needed to help family members as the pottery business they were in was going to be sold. After putting our resources together and doing homework on the clay business, we decided to try it out,” Mr Lawakele said.

“When deciding what name to use for the business, we thought that clay is made up of soil/mud, and the soil is from our vanua. It was a unanimous decision in our household to use vanua and clay,” he said.

Vanua Clay Fiji was awarded the tourism award at the Fiji Development Bank’s National Small and Medium Enterprises awards night this year.

It was the first win for Mr Lawakele as a businessman who designed unique crafted necklaces for delegates who attended the COP23 meeting at Bonn, Germany last November.

“It was a great honour to receive the Tourism Award from FDB’s National SMEs Awards this year,” he said.

“Our goals at Vanua Clay Fiji are to create more jobs for unskilled people, go out to schools to teach children pottery to nurture the art of using clay in Fiji and to foster small businesses to provide vau, treated magimagi etc,” he said.

The father of two said his greatest motivation were memories of his childhood in Kalabu.

“Those formative years were harsh financially, emotionally and physically. Those stimulants have helped me face challenges in life this far.”

Mr Lawakele said his passion was working with children in kindergarten.

“I graduated with a Certificate III in early childhood education, and learnt to appreciate mothers and children more than ever before.”

He hopes to one day open a school for clay classes, employ more people and sell their products internationally. He will can only do this with a proper marketing team and of course the finance.

The engine that drives Mr Lawakele to succeed is his family, to provide for his family, so that they will not face what he faced in life.

There are many trips back to the village in Lau, where Mr Lawakele spends most of his time in the water, free-diving and catching fish for his family.

He takes much of his inspiration from his free-diving trips, which can be seen in the Vanua Clay Pottery collection — an array of beautiful pottery inspired by Fiji.

Mr Lawakele describes his originality, creativity and uniqueness as what he is confident about in his role as a businessman.

And highlights God, honesty, dedication, loyalty and consistency as the values he regards as the most important in his life.

“There are quite a number of people who have inspired me in the Vanua Clay Fiji journey, but Steven Buksh of Honey Dew and Moira Solvalu-John of 8 Mountains have helped us in many ways.”

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