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From Rarotonga to the world

Walter and Tara Tuarae-White

As Covid-19 continues to pose a challenge to Pacific economies, many businesses in the region have looked to embrace alternative business models and methods. We hear from two Cook Islands businesses that have adapted to a lack of tourists and are using ANZ’s eGate technology.


As a child, Tara Tuarae-White remembers her mum buying clothes on family holidays to wear at home as a reminder of where they’d been.


Perhaps this is what inspired Tara’s love of fashion, which turned into a 25-year career in the fashion industry.


Growing up in Sydney, Tara now calls Rarotonga, with its pristine sand and crystal clear lagoon, her home.


On her first visit to the country with her native-Cook Islander husband Walter in 2007, Tara was surprised by the local fashion options and she felt there was an opportunity there. She began to dream of a new life in this island paradise and, one day, starting her own label. But it wasn’t until 2019 when the pair moved to the Cook Islands with their young daughter Te Aroha that her dream started to come to life.


“I wanted to create an inclusive brand for every woman, with clothing that made them feel beautiful,” Tara says. “It’s important to me that our clothing is created to fit all different sizes and shapes.”


Tara says they named their brand Manini Wear after the local manini two-toned reef fish.


“It’s not the most colourful fish, but it somehow always stands out in the crowd,” she explains. “Most of our prints are one-of-a-kind. It’s all inspired by a warmth, freedom and connection to nature that’s uniquely Pasifika.”


Tara and her husband started by selling their goods at the local market and the customer feedback was extremely positive. Market-goers told Tara they’d never seen anything like it.


“People even sent me messages on social media after they’d gone home to tell me how many compliments they’d received.”


But after just six months, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Overnight, Cook Islands’ borders were shut, international tourism disappeared and the local economy plummeted.


“We were devastated,” Tara remembers. “Fortunately, we received a grant from the Cook Islands government to set up an online platform, so we got to work.”




With a shortage of skilled web designers in the Pacific, Tara, like many others, needed to look offshore.


“I knew I wanted a particular look and feel so I had to look abroad to find the right skills.”


She reached out to a company in New Zealand who took care of her web development and integrated it with ANZ’s eGate platform so Tara’s customers could safely make credit and debit card payments through her website, with the funds depositing straight into her account.


“The team at ANZ have been so supportive and passionate about our brand - there were challenges with the development of the website and the eGate but we worked through it.”



With her online store now running and a New Zealand-Cook Islands reciprocal travel bubble open, things are looking up and Tara is considering growth options.


“This has been a dream for a very long time, and it’s even more special to be doing it all here in the Cook Islands,” she says. “Of course, there are challenges running a business from a small island nation during a pandemic, but I always try to find solutions.”


Tara says she wants to continue to grow Manini Wear in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and eventually ship around the world.




Manini Wear is not the only Cook Islands business seeing the benefits of e-commerce - Rarotonga-based company Island Craft, established in 1943 by Ron and Elizabeth Powell, is now run by the couple’s grandson Fletcher Melvin.


Primarily a souvenir and crafts company, Island Craft has three retail outlets and a factory where they produce and sell crafts, jewellery, flowers, precious metal and gems and soap - and they will soon offer 3D printing.


When COVID-19 hit and tourists stopped arriving, their retail sales dropped 70 per cent.


“We relocated our resources from retail shops to online selling and started focusing a lot more on marketing through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, as well as other promotions,” Fletcher says. “We’d had a website for a few years but since COVID-19 sales have grown about 50 per cent compared to the previous year.”


Fletcher, who is also the Chair of the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce, hosts a number of other businesses on his company’s website.


“I encouraged all 26 of our employees to take courses in eCommerce and social media,” he said. “I’m confident the progress we have made on our website and staff training will make us more resilient in the hard times.”


Fletcher says the New Zealand bubble has really lifted staff morale and the team are excited to be able to produce products for new clients.


Watch a video about Island Craft here. 


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