Woman entrepreneur on a mission
One of Samoa’s young women entrepreneurial leaders, Esmeralda Lo Tam, is hoping to change society for the better through her company, EI8HT Sportswear.
The company sells compression gear made for the Pacific by the Pacific, according to Ms. Lo Tam, who finalised a deal this week with Mai Gym in Malifa to sell EI8HT products from a physical storefront for the first time.
“It’s been under wraps, I’ve been working on it for a while,” Ms. Lo Tam tells the Weekend Observer. She said it’s been a passion project over the last 18 months to two years, with the compression arm, calf and leg sleeves first becoming available to the public online in December.
The company came fourth at the inaugural Youth Co:Lab in June last year, run by the United Nations Development Programme and Samoa Chamber of Commerce.
“That was the first time I introduced EI8HT sports to the world pretty much,” she said.
From there, she got to present at the Asia and Pacific Youth Co:Lab in China in August, and won the Most Innovative Award for the Pacific region. A month later she was invited as a guest speaker to the Youth Co:Lab event in the Solomon Islands.
Ms. Lo Tam said the initial inspiration for the product came from her own personal experience.
“When I was training in Samoa it was very difficult for me to find gear that was appropriate. I couldn’t find anything that was affordable and of quality, so it was either/or.”
She said a lot of the gear she used for training and sport, she would get imported.
“I was thinking if I’m coming across this problem, you know hitting a brick wall, what are other girls facing who can’t bring in gear from overseas?”
While the products are unisex, Ms. Lo Tam identified a niche market for women, especially in Samoa.
“The idea is making it available for girls to say there is something out there for you.”
She said the material that was available often wasn’t moisture wicking, meaning it would hold in perspiration and let out heat. In order to make that moisture wicking technology affordable here through EI8HT products, Ms. Lo Tam charges different prices in different countries.
“The idea is to have it go overseas to help support Samoa. To make sure it’s affordable for girls here, in general youth here who wanna train.”
Ms. Lo Tam has acquired business licenses to trade in Australia and Samoa, and since launching in December has sent gear to New Zealand and the United States too.
“I’ve just got an order from the Solomon Islands as well, so trying to branch out as wide as we can.”
Ms. Lo Tam said a lot of other thought goes into the products as well. She said the 8 logo itself represents an infinite track, of which not only physical health, but mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well as cultural awareness are all a part.
“That’s the underlying message, awareness of health in Samoa. “I want girls to feel comfortable in their skin, with who they are, whether they’re playing at an elite level or trying a new sport.”
A Bachelor of Health Sciences graduate from Auckland University, Ms. Lo Tam completed her Masters in Public Health, specialising in Pacific health. She said part of starting the company was addressing mental health and raising awareness, without using specific words like depression to avoid the stigma around them
“Approaching it from a different lens.”
Ms. Lo Tam said we see Samoan athletes performing on TV, with no insight into the process behind that.
“We are expected to do well, and if we don’t do well by our families, we are the first ones to put ourselves down.”
She said the patterns on the gear are all well thought out also, and distinct from other products.
“I tried to make it Pacific, what I’ve got on here is personal to me, part of my tattoos as well. The way that they curve around the muscles, to accentuate the muscles even more when you’re out there on the field.”
She said it was important to also have the gear look professional enough for those top-level athletes, and not have the patterns be too overpowering. Ms. Lo Tam said the longer leg compression sleeves aren’t as popular in sport at the moment as the calf ones.
“The reason why I brought these out is because being a girl sometimes you don’t wanna show your legs around the rugby field.”
She said she personally will normally wear the longer ones, because of her malu.
“I’m quite protective of when I wear that out.”
Ms. Lo Tam said this was why having a cultural understanding was important, to empathise with how the customer feels from their perspective.
“Before I had my tattoo I was always in shorts, so I was used to playing in shorts.”
Ms. Lo Tam always played sport during her youth in New Zealand, right through high school.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she laughed, and said her family made it compulsory.
She said that seemed to be different in Samoa, even down to the family volleyball courts you drive past.
“Some girls are still wearing ‘ie lavalavas, it’s still very conservative.”
Her work is not about breaking barriers, but just trying to understand differences.
In her own personal sporting career, Ms. Lo Tam trialled for the Samoan netball team to play at the Pacific Games, and was invited to the National Elite Tournament trials for touch rugby.
“I was a small town girl, and I was able to trial for those national teams.”
She said that’s the attitude she wants to instil in other aspiring athletes.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is, if you have a goal and you aim to get there anything can be achieved.”
She said things appear to be changing for women in sport, with participation up and women in coaching becoming more prominent across the board.
“It’s bringing out what we already have; these girls already have the knowledge in them, the abilities. Ms. Lo Tam currently works at Moana Rentals, her family’s business, but hopes to just focus on EI8HT soon.
In the future, she wants to bring the products to airlines and hospitals, where they can provide health benefits like speeding up recovery time.
She also hopes to get into sports equipment, another thing she found it necessary to import from overseas as a consumer. She wants to sell resistance bands and other stuff so people can train at home in their own comfort.
“These days, one or two people could afford to go to the gym every week. Whereas if you have this thing at home, everyone can train together, it’s a whole family thing.”