A True Labour of Love: Mailelani Samoa’s 20-year journey from the kitchen to the community
Thursday, 31 January 2019 16:03

Born to a family of missionaries, Mailelani Samoa’s co-founders Kitiona and Sylvie Salanoa, met each other serving others in Hawai’i. And true to their calling, when the married couple moved to Kitiona’s island home, they knew they wanted to do something for the Samoan people. But what that was would take years in the making. Two decades after, slowly but surely this family business has grown roots, and has ventured even further than they had ever imagined.

The Salanoas are salt of the earth kind of people, no strangers to strife and hard work. A straightforward testament to this would be the time and effort alone that it took for Kitiona to tinker around their kitchen to create the one, that perfect organic body soap. Two years. Seven hundred and thirty days experimenting with various mixes and ingredients. Seventeen thousand five hundred and twenty hours diligently trying out different recipes to see which ones are the most extraordinary.

“Mom and Dad always had a heart for others,” Tailani Salanoa, Kitiona and Sylvie’s eldest daughter who is now the Sales and Marketing Director of the company, talks about the why of Mailelani Samoa. In their early years back in the island, when they were looking for what it was precisely that they could do for the community and for their fellow Samoans, Kitiona and Sylvie took their time. They did not want to rush the discovery process, and wanted to make sure they chose the right thing. Originally a native of Switzerland, Sylvie sent a box of Samoan handicrafts and little gifts to her family there. The idea finally came when the Swiss family called Sylvie, asking about the soaps that came with the package. This was the year 2000, and the experimentation to find the best soap recipe in the family’s kitchen began.

Even from their early beginnings, unbeknownst to the Salanoas, they were already in fact defining what would be uniquely their own path as a family business and a brand. Purely handmade and handcrafted, Mailelani Samoa at its heart celebrates the purest concept of craftsmanship, dedicating their time and effort to create exclusive products with only local ingredients that are ethically sourced from farmers and villagers from mostly the island of Savai’i in Samoa. This philosophy is part of the ‘slow movement’ that has been gaining traction in the past 30 years first brought about by people’s concerns about the dangers of processed fast food. This has since permeated every aspect of culture in countries mostly in Europe, from design and fashion, work, parenting, and even how cities are built. The slow movement is a cultural revolution, a shift from mass production and industrialisation to something more personal and individual. It is about quality, not quantity. It is about going back to the time when people were not time-starved, when putting more care and detail into anything was not a luxury.

Mailelani Samoa believes in the power of ‘slow.’ When Sylvie’s mother fell ill, the Salanoas moved to Switzerland for 3 years to care for her. By this time they had already started the business, however they had to pause because of the family’s circumstance. For most entrepreneurs, this would be the death of momentum and would incite great fear about what it would do to their business. But for the Salanoas, they thought this was exactly what they needed. In fact Sylvie considers this a huge milestone in their journey, “I am really convinced that had we not gone to Switzerland for 3 years at that time, Kitiona and I would not have gained the maturity and knowledge we needed to progress in the business. By then we knew what we wanted to do and how we were going to help others in Samoa. We came back as a family to Samoa in 2006, refreshed and ready to take on the challenge of revitalizing the business.”

Upon the family’s return to the Pacific, they expanded to broadening their product range to include lotions. Year after year, Mailelani Samoa has been growing and steadily extending their branches. By 2014, they secured market access in New Zealand, and received some funding to revamp, strengthen and refine Mailelani Samoa’s brand including an online shop. In 2016, Sylvie designed a wide-necked bottle for their oils to make it easier for customers who live in colder climates, to scoop out their oil with any teaspoon. This creative move not only clearly shows Mailelani Samoa’s commitment to listen to their customers, but it also led to the company garnering the Best in Innovation and the Woman Exporter of the Year awards in the 2018 Samoa Export Awards. To date the company has over 52 products, and now has a distributor in Europe. And although Mailelani Samoa products can be found all over New Zealand, Australia and USA, Tailani confirms that their local sales are still the biggest revenue. They have become the go-to place for visitors and overseas-based Samoans to buy gifts. Tailani says, “Ironically when we started there was a connotation by the local market that our products may not be very good because they are locally made in Samoa. But over time this perception has certainly changed, and it felt great to be finally recognised as a remarkable brand especially in a platform such as the Samoa Export Awards.”

2018 was a big year for Mailelani Samoa, not only did the family business win awards, they were also chosen as one of six pilot private sector enterprises in Samoa and Vanuatu to be supported through the form of technical assistance and equipment by the CIDP project, a Euro 4 million (FJD 9.3 million) joint initiative of the Pacific Community (SPC), the European Union, and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) states.

CIDP has enabled the company in more ways than one by assisting them with much-needed equipment such as mixers, commercial steel shelves, a pallet scale, a computer, and a new truck. Sylvie expresses her gratitude, “Our old vehicle had reached the end of its life, and this bigger and newer model has more capacity. We use it to pick up the oil from the farmers to take back to our facility, and it has allowed faster and smoother deliveries to our distributors.”

By supporting small businesses like Mailelani Samoa who work directly with coconut-farming households, CIDP hopes to improve livelihood opportunities for a multitude of smallholders including rural women.

Truly, Mailelani Samoa in its arduous years in business has tirelessly stayed within the path they had set for themselves despite all the adversity they faced. They are still here doing something to make a positive impact in Samoan communities. This labour of love that was started by Kitiona and Sylvie, is now catching on to the rest of the family with their eldest and second daughters now being more involved in every aspect of the family business.

‘He creates all things beautiful in his time’ is a verse that the Salanoas has continuously held on to from the start, and indeed after 20 years, now is Mailelani Samoa’s time.


For more information about Mailelani Samoa visit: https://mailelani-samoa.com/