Samoa’s distinctive elei is something the passionate co-owner of Rimani Samoa, Laureen Lees-Vaai, cares deeply about.
Established in 2007, Laureen shares the business load with her husband, Saleimoa Vaai, who is an international Pilot.
Laureen shared with the Samoa Observer; the struggles when they first started.
“We started off with a merchandise store called Alofa Peti,” she said.
“The store at the time; was named after my mother and my husband’s mother.”
“These ladies were the glue that held everything together for us as we strived to make the business work.”
“We did not start off elei to be honest; it was not a priority at the time. We sold materials and everything found at merchandise stores.”
“And with the influx of foreigners was no help at all. We were selling the same stuff they were selling but theirs was going for a much cheaper price.
“That was the biggest challenge we faced, was competing with the foreigners,” said Laureen.
“There were suggestions about having our elei on our materials and the idea was considered and that’s when we started with our elei,” said Laureen.
She told the Samoa Observer that initially, they contracted someone to do their elei.
“My passion for creativity with elei grew and that’s when I decided that it was time we did our own elei.”
“Then as the business grew, I wanted to invest in making elei dresses and we hired our own seamstress.”
“We now have a total of 15 employees and it’s been good having hardworking, devoted and committee people who share the same passion for elei,” said Laureen.
About 70% of Rimani Samoa’s customers are online subscribers who order from all over the world.
“We have mailed dresses to Germany, Canada, Dubai, to Australia, America, New Zealand, China, American Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Japan, and Africa and other countries.”
“The women we cater too are Pacific Islanders,” she said. “We have also provided elei uniforms to hotels in Japan and China.”
“We are proud of our contribution in promoting Samoa to the world, through our national wear our elei products,” she told the Samoa Observer.
“Our customers in Samoa are the working ladies, but as for the tourists they don’t really purchase elei dresses.”
“The tourists they come in and most of them they bargain the price where it will be a loss for store, so most of the time the tourists are not really the ones that is keeping this store alive.”
“It’s our Samoan people, here and all over world.”
The different holidays like father’s day and mother’s day, benefits Rimani Samoa significantly.
Mother’s days and White Sunday is Rimani’s busiest time.
“We can’t take all the orders, if the mother’s day holiday is on the same month for us and Australia.”
“The perfect example is that our mother’s day is in May while mother’s day for Australia and New Zealand are on a different day.”
“By time we are finished with the orders of mother’s day in May, we get ready for mother’s day in Australia,” she said.
Laureen believes in perfection in everything they do.
“I pay attention to every single detail of anything that is sold or sewn at Rimani’s.”
“A small hole on a dress and I find it….. feels like a truck went over my legs.”
“I want everything to be perfect for the customers, their satisfaction in how they feel being in a beautiful elei dress is a reflection of our work that is why I pay attention to every little detail,” she told the Samoa Observer.
A hard working mother of five, Pauleen is at the shop between 12-16 hours daily.
“I guess when you have passion for what you do, you literally have to live at the shop,” she said giggling.”
Pauleen is thankful to all the Samoans and Pacific islanders living off island who are keen on representing the Pacific. Rimani Samoa is at its new location in Fugalei.