Samoan Company’s Revisited Traditional Prints to Sail the Physical and Virtual Fashion World
Eveni Carruthers has been a family business in Samoa for over 90 years. Starting as a trading company it has become one of the largest apparel companies in Samoa and neighboring countries, from school uniforms and sports apparel to fashion collections with revisited traditional Samoan and Pacific elei and tapa motifs. In bold steps, the company now intends to get a foothold in the Metaverse, using artificial intelligence and digital wearables.
When Richard Irving Hetherington Carruthers, a Scotsman from Melbourne arrived in Samoa in the 1890s as a lawyer for the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, he probably would not have foreseen that his son, Irving “Eveni” would establish a successful business starting with cocoa and copra, and later adapting to general import merchandising trading from 1970s to the early 2010s.
Some 94 years later, Eveni’s descendants are heading a successful Samoan apparel business, Eveni Carruthers, and own several department stores in the country. The company is now looking at expanding its reach to new international markets and the Pacific diaspora, and establishing a presence in the Metaverse.
Lisa Vaai, Eveni’s great-granddaughter, is the company’s Creative Director. She leads the creative team and works on developing export markets for the company. Her brother, Alexander Vaai, is Eveni Carruthers’ CEO. Lisa’s younger sister, Hether, joined the company in 2018 and is its social media, marketing, and branding specialist.
From Trading Copra to Fashion Designers
After the cocoa and copra trading, which spanned into the 1970s, Eveni’s family turned to the national market, and sold groceries before moving into consumer goods setting up as a department store.
It was, however, not until 2010 that Eveni Carruthers launched into fashion design and manufacturing, to differentiate from the growing retail competition and offer customers genuine Samoan products.
After a slow start, the business took a sharp turn for the better in 2015, after the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby union team, decided to wear the company’s Elei (Samoan traditional form of hand block printing) short-sleeved shirts when visiting the country for a rugby test.
With 50 staff, and hiring, Eveni Carruthers now supplies school uniforms for all Samoan schools, as well as schools in Tokelau and American Samoa, operates a department store in Apia with branches in Sogi, Faleolo Airport, Salelologa Savaii, and a family distributor in American Samoa and New Zealand.
Lead Product: Men Elei Shirts, Women and Kids Lines in the Pipeline
The fashion line started with the men elei shirts’ line, which has been expanding ever since, Lisa explained. Woman wear, she said, “is such a difficult market to break into,” with different sizes, proportions, and body types. The company that has been testing its women’s line for the last couple of years, is now aiming at expanding the line. “That’s our challenge this year,” Lisa said.
The company’s kids wear range is also being developed to increase styles offered to complement men’s and women’s wear.
Eveni Carruthers’ fashion lines feature authentic traditional Samoan designs, Lisa said, “but we modernize them by trying our best to convert runway and trending color schemes to be incorporated with our collections.” “It’s important to us that whilst we keep the authenticity of Polynesian designs we keep it modern and appealing to our younger Pacific Island generations who want to showcase their culture,” she said.
The company currently has three signature apparel brands with its largest being Eveni Pacific that offers mens, ladies, boys and girls clothing, Lisa explained. KokoPacific and Marks Samoa are the company’s premium brands that offer a more exclusive fabric, style and prints.
Using traditional designs promotes the Samoan traditional knowledge and culture through the company’s creations, Lisa said, adding that she would like Samoan and Pacific prints to be as recognizable as Hawaiian or Aztec-style prints.
Eveni Carruthers creates the designs and tightly controls its supply chain. Samoa does not have the skilled labor and equipment to manufacture shirts or fabric in large quantities so the company turned to a mix of Pacific and Asian suppliers for assembling its fashion lines. Those partners have the required expertise and manufacture according to strict specifications, Lisa explained.
However, Lisa said, the company has a hard time keeping up with the demand, and the Covid-19-related disruptions to the supply chain have been an issue. Speed is key in becoming an international player, she said, adding “we are such a small country far away; it is very expensive to do business.” Fabric samples are checked in Samoa before placing an order, and everything takes time. The company, she said, is working on strengthening its supply chain and its logistics, and making sure its products are available in all its markets while working on different fabrics and styles.
The company, which is working to expand its exports, currently sells online from New Zealand and Australia through family distributors, and has a distributor in American Samoa that serves the United States and the global market.
The Covid-19 crisis jeopardized their direct export to Japan, Guam, Cook Islands, and Hawaii as most of their customers were in the hospitality business, and had to close during the crisis, but the company is now working to rekindle those commercial ties.
Eveni Carruthers is also trying to target the Pacific diaspora. “There are more Samoans in USA than in Samoa,” according to Lisa. “It seems easier for us to reach out to customers who already know what an elei shirt is.”
As a participant in the Samoan branding bureau activities, under the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (MCIL), in collaboration with WIPO, Lisa said the branding bureau helped her register two trademarks: EveniPacific and KokoPacific, and all of the company’s designs. The company is also about to register two new EveniPacific collections.
Eveni Carruthers also firmly intends to be part of the global digital world “putting a small Samoan company out there.” The team is considering digital designs online, and more specifically how to protect digital prints online. Toying with the idea of providing digital wearables in the metaverse, the company is seeking the best way to register and protect them from misappropriation.