About Lavelua Woffinden

My name is Lavelua Moungatonga Woffinden. As you can see in the photo, my sister Finau is on the left and I’m on the right. I was born in Houma, Tongatapu Island, Tonga, and grew up in Tongan culture. From ancient times, our people have worn mats, tapa cloths, and leaves. Now we wear modern Western clothing, but we have not forgotten our roots.

Mats are made from all different kinds of pandanus leaves. There is a kind for each thing to do. Some types of leaves we just leave till they are dry. Others you boil in water until they are cooked and dry in the sun. Others you boil and then take it and leave it in the ocean for weeks to be cured. Then you wash it and dry it. I have woven mats, hats, and baskets.

I not only learned how to weave mats, but also learned how to make tapa cloth from scratch. This is how it is done: we begin by peeling the bark of the mulberry tree, and drying it in the sun.

Then we leave it until we are ready to use it. When we decide to use it, we soak it overnight again and pound it until it is thin like a fabric. Then it is dried again. We join the strips together with glue made from tapioca root. Then we add the designs. The dye is made from the bark of the coca tree, tongo tree, loa fruit seeds, and special red dirt all mixed together to get the proper color.

I also learned how to sew from the time I was a little child. My grandmother had a Singer sewing machine with a wheel you turn with your right hand and sew with your left. She gave it to me when I was four years old, and I immediately starting sewing clothes for my dolls. I always sewed.

I moved to New Zealand. I started at a lingerie factory, learning how to use industrial sewing machines. I moved from there to a men’s clothing factory and learned how to make men’s clothing. I moved again and made chairs! Then I worked for a company that made overalls. Then I moved to a big company that made denim clothing for men and women.

When I came to the United States of America, I worked in Hawaii making muumuus, aloha shirts, and child-wear. I moved to the mainland, and worked for Fila Sport, then a tailor store, then worked at a big company in San Francisco called Lily Ann. I worked there for sixteen years.

I worked in the position of first sample maker. In other words, I made the first sample for the company, before the item was duplicated. The workers would have to exactly follow that first sample. I also learned how to make patterns, and how to run every machine in the factory. Later, I became a supervisor. Then I started Lua’s Island Fashion in 1998.

I love my roots and my culture. I decided I would do what I love most: creating beautiful modern island clothes.