I’m on the phone with Samson Lee, he’s in the middle of parking his car. It’s the week before FJFW23 and he’s just finished model fittings at his shop on Butt Street and he’s also talking to staff about rectifying an order for a client in the US.
I last spoke to Samson on my podcast about fashion and indigenous guardianship, I am catching up with him to chat about his upcoming collection and being in business for 8 years.
Inside the SL Fiji boutique on Butt Street
What is your week looking like leading up to fashion week?
Putting out new clothes is the business and you add a show to the mix along with managing staff it gets hectic. Orders still need to be filled, new marketing has to go out but I thrive on this because it pushes me to do better and I think it’s what makes me a better businessman.
You’ve been in business for 8 years now, how do you think you’ve progressed in business and as a designer?
With my business, I’ve had to be strategic with my branding and I’ve learnt to diversify and adapt. Access to quality fabric and change in printing from sublimation to digital is something that I’ve had to be intentional with. At the core of my business, I’m always asking myself, will my customer wear this and as designer I’m also asking myself am I being authentic as a Fijian, telling our stories through fashion.
I also have to gauge the shift in the Fijian market because what we wear here in Fiji is not what someone is wearing in the UK or Australia. For instance my clients are more conscious about wearing linen and cotton pieces so sourcing fabric that caters to the market makes good business sense. Having said that we as Fijians still gravitate to our prints because its our identity.
The last 8 years have taught me to adapt and diversify as a business and a designer because we survive the hurdles that way.
Showcasing the 'Civa' collection in Samoa
In the last two years, you’ve had shows in the US, Australia and Samoa, why?
There’s a couple of reasons why this started. COVID19 meant I had to pivot, look at where my sales were coming from during lockdown and it was the US and Australia and New Zealand. So having my parents in the US made me kill 2 birds with one stone, visit them and show my latest collection at a pop up show to the Fijian diaspora community.
I was amazed at the support of the Fijian community in the US so I had a second show and then went on to have a show in Sydney at Bondi and then Samoa and I think this has paid off for my business because I now stock at SSAB Samoa.
The 'Salusalu' collection debuted in the US during COVID
What can we expect from your FJFW23 collection?
It’s called the ‘Loloma’ collection. I think it evokes a romantic vibe that I hope captures the essence of our islands from the aqua waters to our pink sunsets and flowers and the dark balmy nights and lush tropical leaves, it’s an ode to our landscape.
SL Fiji evening gowns have always had the combination of my signature masi motifs on satin paired with sequins fabric and people can expect that in this collection
We live in Fiji, walk outside our doors and in our gardens are frangipani trees, hibiscus flowers and then at the end of the day we watch the most beautiful sunsets in the world and this always inspires me in my designs, our vanua.
What are you looking forward to at FJFW23?
For me it’s encouraging our up and coming designers because as an industry we’re still very small. I am especially proud to see Lavinia Marama who will debut on Day 1 of FJFW23. La has worked for me as an integral part of my team for 3 years as my seamstress so seeing her achieve this dream is a win for us all.
The SL Fiji label will show on the final day of FJFW23 with established designers Su Samuels, Hupfeld Hoerder, KuiViti and Temesia Tuicaumia
Tickets available at Vodafone Triangle, MHCC and Damodar City.