Mother-of-Pearl Jewelry and Natural Beauty Products from Fiji

Women in Fiji receive livelihood and handicraft training from BA Women’s Forum to make mother-of-pearl jewelry

Less than half of Fiji women hold a formal job. In the informal economy, women often struggle to have their work recognized and rewarded. The Ba women's forum was created to train and support women to gain self-reliance and economic stability in the Ba district on Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu. Several years after its creation, some 1,000 women have been trained.

Vani Rokobeta, founder of AngelVTera sitting on a chair
Image: Fesau Talei

Vani Rokobeta is a jewelry designer and trainer at the forum. She participated in setting up the forum in 2012. She is also a producer of natural beauty products and wants to expand her market.

Vani trains women in mother-of-pearl products, making home accessories and jewelry. She designs necklaces, earrings, and wall hangings that women learn to make. The mother of pearl is the inner shell layer of oysters. It has the same structure and quality as pearls, with strong, resistant, and iridescent qualities. "We buy the shells from the oyster breeders, clean and polish them, and make jewelry, fans, and wall hangings," she explained.

: A table with several handcrafted items, including fans, colorful pouches, and earrings
Image: Mark Dy

Life-skills and Livelihood Training Programs for Women in Fiji

The forum was registered as the umbrella organization for 106 women's groups in the Ba district, under the Ministry for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation. In the forum's training center, financed by Japan's Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects (GGP) Programme, women are taught different skills, trained in production, and how to run a small business. Sewing, computer literacy, food preparation and presentation, arts and crafts training, and outreach courses are offered to women against a small contribution if they can afford it. There is no fixed fee for any course.

A woman sitting in a stall displaying several crafts made by Ba Women’s Forum members including bags, jewelry, and tableware
Image: Ba Women’s Forum

"We have a lot of divorcees, widows, and single mothers," Vani said, adding they produce a variety of crafts, including weaving, screen printing, homeware, tableware, and bed linen.

Finding buyers for mother-of-pearl jewelry has proved difficult. Vani explained that Ba is a rural area; "people don't have the money to buy the items that we make." The products were showcased in Fiji's largest department store, but the move did not convert into sales. The forum went online with little growth and finally engaged with markets in Nandy three Saturdays a month.

The forum also participates in events, such as the recent 6th National Women's Expo in November. 

Several colorful pouches featuring coconut leaves and flowers on a table
Image: Mark Dy

Fiji Coconut Oil Body Care based on Fijian Traditional Knowledge

Vani is no newcomer to handicrafts. She financed her four children's education by making crocheted items and selling baked products. "Cooking is my passion," she said.

Vani Rokobeta at a Ba Women’s Forum fair, standing next to a stand displaying jewelry
Image: Ba Women’s Forum

Vani, now 63, turned to hand-made body oils, soaps, and hair protein and started a small business in 2021. Following the knowledge she gained from her grandmother, she uses Fijian herbs for flagrance and traditional shrubs, flowers, herbs, and seeds for their health benefits. "She was my inspiration," she said. 

The primary medium of her products is coconut oil, "which is found everywhere in Fiji," she said, and her lead products are turmeric and charcoal soaps. Her hair protein mixes coconut and carotene for hair growth and damaged hair, particularly, she said, to restore hair damaged by chemical dyes and treatments. "All my products are chemical-free and can be used by everyone, including babies and pregnant women."

She sells her products on markets in Nadi and Ba and takes orders by phone, relying on word of mouth.

Strategic Use of IP based on Traditional Knowledge

Vani now wants to register her company, AngelVTera, and apply for a trademark. She joined an exhibit organized on the margins of the Heads of IP Office Conference jointly organized by WIPO in Suva, where she displayed and sold her products and some of the Ba Women's Forum products.

During the conference, she received training on the strategic use of IP based on traditional knowledge from a WIPO expert, and she will be invited to join the upcoming IP Management Clinics to learn more about IP protection.

Coconut Shell Jewelry – Upcycling at its Best

In the next five years, Vani wants to expand her market and dreams of opening a small shop. Her needs for machinery are small, and she can quickly grow her production. She also intends to launch a collection of earrings, necklaces, and fans substituting mother of pearl with coconut shells, as value-added products of coconut. "Coconut is easier to buy, less expensive than mother-of-pearls, and it would prevent coconut shells from being thrown away."

Last update:

April 2, 2024


Company name:
Ba Women’s Forum

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