BY CHRIS ALEX
FOR many years since childhood, Navab Gwaeta has developed her talent, knowledge, and skill in the art of traditional shell money making – an art that originated from the coastal community of Langalanga Lagoon in the province of Malaita in the Solomon Islands.
The 27-year-old entrepreneur previously started her small home-based online retail business called ‘Solo Fashion and Jewelries in 2018. The business specializes in making and selling traditional shell money including traditional jewelry like earrings, necklaces, headpieces, bracelets, hairpins, chest necklaces, armlets, foot anklets, and many other fashionable items.
Navab’s purchased products are often physically managed and transported to local customers in Honiara.
“My grandfather was a rural trader during British protectorate days, he used to trade shell money with expatriates for other goods and money.
“As rural coastal dwellers, our wealth and livelihood are more centralized on our sea resources.
“The values and culture of traditional shell money-making were passed to us from our forefathers,” she told SOLOMON WOMEN.
The Langalanga people have made shell money (isae galia) for use among themselves. At the same time, they also make shell money (akwala afu) both for exchange within their society and for trading with other peoples for a restricted range of items (e.g. pigs, canoes, yams). The Langalanga also make the shell money or string (e.g. safi for the ‘Are’are and Kwaio and fafa’a for the Kwaio) purely for exchange, according to the SPC’s Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bullet,
In 2012, Navab’s passion and talent for creating fashionable jewelry caught the attention of the local organizers of the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Solomon Islands, which allowed her to showcase her handmade seashell jewelry and shell money at the festival.
“I was very fortunate to participate in the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara, after all, it gave me a sense of purpose to recognize my talent and pursue a business ambition.
“After all, this was my first ever event to showcase handmade traditional products,” she recalled.
Nowadays, Navab’s online business has grabbed the attention of both local and international customers, fashion entrepreneurs, youths, academics, and others. Her ambition in the jewelry business has taken off to a whole new level; incorporating it into the local fashion industry.
In early 2018, the same year she established her online business, she was invited to join the UNICAF Dubai Conference 2018 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Conference allowed her to establish networks, and expand her business ideas and opportunities. Her international exposure was recognized by the UNICAF Educational Group, which supports African and UK universities, including Nicosia and Marymount University.
“The Conference allowed me to enroll in a Bachelor of Business and Administration program through UNICAF’s Malawi campus, to further enhance her skills and knowledge in business.
“It was in 2018 an opportunity came about and I’m really happy to be of it because it enhance my skills and knowledge, the UNICAF hosted that event in Dubai, after all, it triggered me to start my online business ‘Solo Fashion and Jewelleries’,” she said.
“I believed that my decision to start an online business has allowed me to reach customers worldwide and keep my operating costs low.
The young and energetic entrepreneur is now more determined to expand her traditional fashionable brand by sharing the beauty of the Solomon Islands’ traditional shell money and jewelry with the world.
As a skilled local artisan and online entrepreneur; she is also a cultural ambassador for the people of Langalanga Lagoon and their traditional art of making shell money.
Her passion, talent, and drive are a living testament to other young and inspiring people not only in the country but across the globe.
Meanwhile, Navab is adamant to say that online businesses solemnly need a genuine business plan to drive profit.
“With a genuine online business plan, you are not limited to selling products to the individuals walking or driving past your store, but you can reach clients all over the globe. You are leveraging the online world right at your fingertips by having an online business.
“One of the biggest reasons entrepreneurs and small-business owners start online businesses is the minimal start-up costs and the overall low operating costs.
“Starting an online business has plenty of advantages. Some of the main benefits of starting an online business are of course to make money, but also to create brand awareness and customer engagement.
”One thing to keep in mind as an entrepreneur who has the freedom to work from anywhere is that being disciplined is key to successfully balancing freedom and responsibility. This is how your online business and personal life will thrive,” she noted.