The moment I met Gustavia I knew we would be great friends. What I didn’t know was that behind her warmth was a story that would inspire, encourage and give hope. The past has a way of shaping us into who we are – the question is whether or not we can overcome our challenges to shape our own lives into what we want them to be. Gustaiva Lui is a young entrepreneur, the Founder of Staavias and designer of plus size shoes. Not long ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Gustavia and talking about how she got to where she is today. Read on to learn more and be sure to watch our impromptu interview – but a little warning – you might need some tissues…
You live in New Zealand, right?
Yes I do, I was born and raised in New Zealand.
What’s your favourite part about living in New Zealand?
Definitely the people. People in New Zealand are generally so friendly and caring.
Tell us about your family, who are they and what do you love most about your family?
I’ve been married now for eight and half years. We have three beautiful boys Demetrius (eleven), Deniro (seven) & our baby Detroit (three).
What I love most about my family is the fact they are very understanding and supportive of me chasing my dreams. My husband is my number one supporter and because he’s so vocal about it and openly encourages me to achieve my goals, my boys have started to do the same thing. They are encouraging me to make the most of my trips and to work hard. I’m definitely blessed with the best for sure!
How do you balance work and personal priorities?
Planning in advance, I personally believe is the key. I include my entire family in our planning, even our youngest son has a say. It makes everyone feel included and helps us stay accountable as we all have a say.
We have a strict routine and I have a calendar with reminders going off all the time. Monday night is family night and I even put my laptop/phone down for this time, it’s not easy but it’s a must LOL. I have a super supportive husband, who honestly has made balancing work & home life so much easier. He’ll pick up my side of the things if I have urgent deadlines to meet etc.
Gustavia, in our video you tell us about your motivation for striving for independence and self reliance – what advice do you wish you could have had when you were younger and were facing challenging times?
Hmm… this question has definitely got me thinking LOL. I wouldn’t trade my life or experiences for anything so I think if I got some good advice, I may have followed it and would’ve had a different outcome today. I do wish as a child going through hardships someone said the words “I love you” to me regularly.
Thinking about dreams and making them happen are two very different things. Was there one specific moment or event that pushed you to move from dreaming to taking action?
Well yes, there were numerous times in my previous role where I felt I was ill treated by my employer. One particular event stirred inside of me a deep desire to become more successful than those who made me feel hurt or angry. I know it sounds a little silly but that’s what pushed me to actually take action. Every time I thought about how angry I felt over those events, I would work even harder and do more and more research to see what my next step was. It worked, however, today I know my purpose and I have a vision which is what pushes me today to keep taking action.
In your journey you have done new things, conquered some fears and travelled. Tell us about some of the new things you have learnt and the places you have been. Tell us more about Staavias!
My journey with Staavias has been so awesome!! I found that there was very little help in NZ with regards to starting a business in the footwear industry. Having no knowledge or experience in the footwear industry makes things just that much more difficult but wasn’t enough to make me stop. I found out about industry trade shows and arranged to attend the very next one. In January 2013 I went to a show in Las Vegas via LA, I absolutely loved it and learned so much there! I actually went with one goal in my mind – to soak up as much information as possible about how to start a footwear business. At this trade show they had hundreds of footwear wholesalers and manufacturers showcasing their products. I felt like a little kid in a store covered in just chocolate and lollies. My eyes lit up every time I saw different designs. I registered to sit in a few of the workshops there and met some awesome people. I met the owner of Jupi Corp who does the Kardashian Kollection. I met one of the Zappos founders. It was such a great experience. I left Las Vegas more inspired than ever! This just added fuel to my desire to be successful, I was determined to see my vision through. This very first trip changed my life, I finally realised how huge the world was and if I worked hard enough, I could become one of the guys that spoke at the workshops.
That same year I went to New York and completed a 3 day shoe making course where I made my own pair of shoes from scratch. I’m one of those annoying students that have a million questions all the time. Even though we only had 3 students in our class I still managed to get a lot of one on one with the tutor. It was so much fun and such a good learning experience. What I learned stuck with me because it was practical course where I did everything myself, very minimal theory, all practical. It was during this trip I made the decision to start my brand, Staavias.
Towards the end of that same year I attended the Canton Fair in Guangzhou China via Hong Kong, it was a little scary going alone especially when the first language is Mandarin. I stayed focused on walking away with at least five manufacturers and I did just that. I did a few factory visits and saw shoe factories for the very first time. Hong Kong was good, I met a few business owners there but did a lot more tourist type activities as opposed to business. You have to play too right? LOL.
Recently I went back to China but to a different city – Chengdu. Here I finalised our very first collection, completed fitting, samples, went fabric shopping, hardware shopping (this is buckles, zips etc.) spent time in the factory. I loved it, I felt like I definitely belonged there. I’ve always travelled alone and although there are times where I appreciate my alone time I would prefer to have a travelling partner.
I also attend workshops in Sydney every 8 weeks with The Entourage which is so inspiring. So far I’ve attended three workshops and loved every minute of it especially being amongst other like minded people.
One of my biggest fears was leaving my full time job of 9 years, my security, to work on the business full time. I contemplated leaving my job for a couple of years, it was such a difficult decision, just the thought of leaving my safety net scared me. One day I finally had the courage to write up my resignation and just handed it in straight away without hesitation. I was so proud of myself and come the last week I was starting to have doubts. Today I’m super proud of that decision and I overcame my biggest fear.
You’re a shoe designer, does that feel a bit surreal?
Yes totally, I find it a bit weird sometimes to even say that I’m a shoe designer haha! Not many Polynesians, if any, are shoe designers so when I mention it people are almost shocked haha! But in saying that I am very proud of to be a shoe designer for my own brand.
What is the number one lesson you have learnt so far, about making your dreams a reality?
I have learned that anything is possible. Bringing your dreams to life takes a lot of courage, hard work and perseverance. If you can think or dream it, you can achieve it.
Gustavia, thank you for sharing your story with us – we know that many will be inspired by you and your journey. Visit Staavias at http://www.staavias.com/, follow them on Instagram @staavias and Facebook.
A must watch – find out why Gustavia launched Staavias in our short interview here: