Two years ago, she quit her marketing job at a Petroleum company and began an entrepreneurial journey.
Today, Annette Sete’s small growing brands Maku Gifts and Lava Girl have some of the most sought after small gift items and clothing pieces.
“When travelling overseas, I found that there were no authentic Papua New Guinean gifts that were small enough to carry and that were properly packaged.”
This was one of the primary reasons for creating her first brand, Maku Gifts – an innovative concept that blended the demands for small sized gifts and Melanesian-Papua New Guinean authenticity.
She later developed Lavagirl, which is an ever evolving clothing line revolving around her love and passion for interesting fabrics.
“Initially, I found that we were getting a lot of cheap fabrics in Asian shops in East New Britain.
“And because they didn’t know what the images meant, sometimes you would see prints of a highlands man on a canoe.”
Both brands are simple and elegant.
They don’t have the elements of overpriced foreign fashion and accessories, yet exude style and creativity that is in a class of their own. That is what draws customer attention from all over the country. Each piece, hand crafted, from local materials by families associated with the business.
“The idea was to create something from nothing….From coconut shells, twigs, shells while still keeping with the trends.
“We started making wind chimes, candle holders. When we started making the earrings, that’s when a lot of women became interested.”
Annette tapped into a market that was being drowned in cheap run-of-the mill imports from Asia on one end of the scale and expensive clothing and gifts from Australia.
Both had no organic feel. Her brands, however, connected with her cultural roots.
“My grandparents are from the Sepik River. They are creative and very proud people. My designs are very… Sepik-ish.”
Starting Lavagirl and Maku gifts has become a creative spiritual journey for Annette Sete. She draws on her childhood memories of seeing her grandmother and grandfather working on men’s and women’s crafts with innate skills passed on, unwritten, through many generations.
“Sometimes, I am closing my eyes trying to remember…. Then I say, ‘I think I know how it is done.’”
The fashion industry is relatively new ground in Papua New Guinea. Annette has become one of several women in a larger movement in the colorful artistic revolution that is happening in the country. But there are challenges.
Annette Sete sees fashion and handicrafts as an important part of the preservation of arts and skills that are fast dying out with very few young people realising their value.
“I saw them bring some Milne Bay women to weave mats. There were no young women among them because they didn’t know how to do it.
“We have to take out culture and tweak it so it fits into a modern sense.”
Annette is now working with others including donor partners who are developing a set of standards which could later become guidelines incorporated into tourism regulations.
“I think I like the fact that we are developing. There are big opportunities ahead.”