From humble beginnings, Tepa i Tua takes roots
Adding extra to the ordinary is Theresa Finau, a solo entrepreneur from Malololelei.
Ms. Finau is the owner of TEPA i TUA Samoa, a business she had started in 2014 that makes fashionable necklaces out of the seeds of the lopa tree.
TEPA i TUA Samoa means “Looking Back in History”, which is in line with the company’s slogan “Back to the Roots”.
With that in mind, she focuses on traditional Samoan arts and crafts from the past and fast tracks it into today’s fashion houses, creating elegant and exotic traditional jewelry.
According to Ms. Finau, it is important that Samoans embrace their culture and identity, hence the name of her business.
For Ms. Finau, using lopa seeds to make ulas was already in her bloodline. Her late grandmother, Lise Sapina Finau, used to create ulas using lopa seeds for the Vineula dance group of Apia when Ms. Finau was only three years old.
And now, Ms. Finau is living her grandmother’s legacy, with demands for her ulas reaching markets in Alaska and California in the United States, Hawaii, American Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.
About TEPA i TUA Samoa:
It was just an ordinary day in Savai’i, when Ms. Finau had noticed children playing and eating the lopa seeds.
Out of curiosity and her desire to make something of the seeds, she had asked one of the ladies if she could buy the four sacks of lopa that she had in her house for $200 tala.
“I had brought back the seeds and I thought to myself, maybe I could make the ula out of these seeds,” Ms. Finau told Samoa Observer.
“It took me six months to try and make the ula out of the four sacks because the seeds were really hard and I did not have the machine to make the holes in the seeds.
“It was my first time trying to make something like that. As time went by, I managed to do it and then I started selling the ulas.
“It was exhausting but an invaluable trial and error experience learning how to tangle and assemble the lopa seeds into something special.
“It’s hard work though and it requires a lot of sacrifice. For earrings and just a simple ula, it would take one to two hours, but for very exotic ones, it would take a day or two.
“I need to wash the seeds, make them shiny and sort them out according to their sizes before drilling the holes in the seeds and then I look at finishing the product.
“My nieces and nephews help me with making the ulas. They normally do everything else before it comes to me for the finishing part of the ula.”
Ms. Finau over the years has had to deal with copycats.
According to her, along the streets of Apia, people are selling ulas at a very cheap price, but they are not the genuine product.
“What I do most of the time is to try and take away these products from the streets by buying them and storing them away,” she said.
“At first, the problem was trying to get the right equipment and machines to make the ula, but over the years I have learned to make do with what I have.”
Ms. Finau nowadays collects lopa seeds from around Upolu and Savaii.
From the $200 tala spent on the four sacks of lopa seeds, her business has grown, with her earnings from the past four years invested in the business.
Ms. Finau also has a Facebook page, TEPA i TUA Samoa, which is popular among her followers.
She is thankful to God for the grace and the talent to make something beautiful out of the lopa seeds.