I have had major writer’s block trying to get this article out. Arrnott (my illustrious Editor In Chief) asked me to write something about my partner Ilai and I’s Fiji based fashion brand, ZUBER. He asked me to talk about how we’ve been surviving the pandemic as a business, and as creatives. But, despite popular opinion, I am really not that self indulgent, and so I found it difficult to express fully the success we’ve experienced in the time of Corona.
And I think this is where it starts – how does one define success? So let me talk about this instead. Success, for a long time, has come to be synonymous with financial escalation and economic advancement. Success is, essentially, money in the bank, and assets on a balance sheet. And I am sad to say that this is how I, for so long, also defined success for our brand. Success in business is all that counted, and we were successful.
Before I carry on, let me explain that the effects of Covid-19 hit different when you live and operate in a place like Fiji. While we managed to escape the horrors of the health crisis that much of the world felt and is still feeling, the immediate impact on tourism was felt hard by 1 out of 3 people in our workforce, dependant upon travellers visiting to experience the gorgeousness of our landscapes and our people. Beyond this, the feeling of isolation, the severing of connectivity with the outside world, and the immediate impacts on shipping and courier logistics all but left creative businesses, in a part of the world already often overlooked as a place of artistic pursuits, crippled. We had to reinvent ourselves in a way that no longer relied on global systems because, as a fashion business, we were no longer able to import our own fabric, and logistical costs had become astronomical overnight.
So we went back to the drawing board, reimagining, at first, our business model. After wracking our heads, eating way too much coconut cream pie, and guzzling gallons of long blacks, the verdict was in – there really wasn’t much we could do. Suddenly, success seemed like something we might have to pursue later. We would have to settle for lower than usual revenue, and settle for less than lucrative contracts, at least until 1. Things returned to “normal” and 2. We could travel to Sydney again.
Then it happened, the lockdown. In dividing our time between Australia and Fiji, we primarily live in Sydney and the Fijian capital, and largest city, Suva. With the first 3 corona cases recorded in the densely populated city, the Fijian government made the wise decision to lock us in and shut us down for a period of 14 days. This decision ultimately saved many lives, and has resulted in eradication of the corona virus from Fiji, with any new or remaining cases coming from overseas returning citizens, in isolation. However it was in these 14 days of lockdown that we were struck with the realisation that while we were financially successful, we were not creatively. We had started to do “what worked” not what truly expressed who we were. The brand had become seperate to us. We were, we realised, unsuccessful.
This realisation led us to a new pursuit, to rediscover what real success looked like. So we started with cosmetic changes to our flagship boutique in Suva, so that it would reflect us a lot better. Then we started to design differently, so that we saw ourselves in what we were making. But we are so much more than just the cosmetic changes. We realised that at the heart of what we do is collaboration. After all, ZUBER itself is the result of two minds coming together to express a unified vision. And so, naturally, we sought out other creatives to collaborate with, to imagine with, to create with.
Our brand went from being just another business, to being a personality, formed from an amalgamation of ideas, but ultimately seeking to express one common factor – identity. In rediscovering ZUBER, we also rediscovered what success is. Success is in the frustration with your makers because they messed up your button holes. Success is climbing sand dunes on a hot day and not being able to breathe after that final steep incline. Success is in not quite getting it right and starting all over again. Success is in the elation of finally creating what you envisioned. Success is the unquenchable joy of pursuing, with excellence, all that you are in something other than yourself. Success, it seems, is so much more than a positive balance sheet. It took this time, the time of Corona, to teach us that. And I will never forget it.
Please enjoy our most recent campaign video for the ZUBER Aurora Collection. Shot in Fiji… where else! There are no planes!
Words by Faraz Ali ( Fuzz )