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Jewellery designer balances art and business

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Like most artists in business, multi-disciplinary artist Teuila Fatupaito works hard at finding the balance between the creative process and doing the business side of things.

First and foremost, she sees herself as a maker of things and her eponymous online jewellery business is a product of her dabbling in different artistic endeavours.

“I like exploring different techniques and skill sets. I like to figure out how to make something and then I will do lots of research and tutuing in my studio,” she says.

A night time class at Fraser High in jewellery making helped with the basics, YouTube provides a never-ending source of tutorials and an initial financial outlay for some fundamental tools set Teuila on a career path of bespoke jewellery design.

“I started putting my stuff online and people were interested in it, and I ended up buying a new tool each time I made some money.”

Set up in a studio in her home, Teuila designs and makes jewellery that she describes as ‘a showpiece, an expression, an attitude, an extension of one’s personality, as well as a unique talking point’.

Teuila makes all her rings, bracelets and earrings by hand but her range of sunglasses and chains are made off shore to her designs.

Having a ready-made range of accessories like the sunglasses and chains has freed up Teuila to focus her energies on the items she makes herself.

As well as a providing a source of easy revenue, it is also a learning opportunity about outsourcing a design and working with a manufacturer to produce something she is proud to put her branding on.

“It was a really good way to support the business with things that I don’t have to make myself.”

Like many creatives running a business doesn’t come easy for Teuila but she knows it’s a necessary evil.

“I’m always trying to make things and when I’m in my creative flow, I’m good. And then I have to think about how to get my ideas out there and sell it, and this takes time away from the making. I even struggle with doing the social media part of business. I hate it. But you have to promote it and be consistent about it,” she says.

Determined to make a serious go of her jewellery business, Teuila enrolled in Manaaki’s Vaka Pasifika Accelerator online business course along with 50 other small Pasifika start-ups across New Zealand.
Every participant received $1000 towards business setup costs and Teuila was the winner of a $5000 prize for top student.

“It was a programme about all aspects of running a small business, from how to use social media, to using technology to progress business and all the way through to looking at finances and taxes, things that I don’t enjoy,” she laughs.

“Now I’m trying to learn a little bit more about how to grow and how to use the business suites of Facebook and Instagram. Looking at the data and who’s looking at your work and how to target an audience. It’s really not my thing, I just want to create but I know I have to be open to all these other possibilities too.”

When she first set out on her jewellery making journey, Teuila was selling her pieces on her social media platforms and by word of mouth.

Her online shop teuilafatupaito.co.nz, which she opened in 2021, was made possible by the support of family and friends who pitched in to model the products, a close friend helped with the photography and another graphic designer friend helped with the branding, logo design and website setup.

“I’m not big time so I didn’t do anything flash. I just asked my friends and family and asked locally for help, and I was really happy with how things turned out.”

The business has grown organically and at a pace that Teuila can manage as the sole ‘maker’.

“It was very hard going into business. I always call it a hustle because you’re always on the grind. I haven’t been able to afford to pay myself yet fully but every cent gets invested back into buying tools and materials so I can continue to grow the business.”

Starting the business meant giving up the certainty of paid work.

“I knew I wouldn’t be making money to start with and we’re always encouraged to chase our dreams and do the things you love but how will we do it if we don’t have the income supporting us? So, it was such a hard decision to make. But I came to a space where I thought maybe I’ll succeed at it but if I don’t do it, I’ll never know.”

Growing up in Kirikiriroa Hamilton to Samoan parents, Teuila’s passion for the creative arts was hugely influenced by her mother and father.

“My mother was always doing ceramics, flower arranging and decorating cakes, and my dad was always making things too. I didn’t really appreciate what they were doing at the time but it was just always around me.”

She studied media arts at Wintec majoring in photography but painting, sculpture and installation were her
great passions.

“I’m still working in sculpture just on a smaller scale.”

Learning about the business as she goes along, the largely self-taught jeweller knows there is a lot to learn.
“I’m teaching myself how to do things and eventually I might look at going to jewellery school but for now this is working for me.”

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