Nakita Irvin is an alumni of yher Pacific Islands, a program designed to support women entrepreneurs in the region to thrive. Nakita generously agreed to share her story as we ask for your help to support more women like her to succeed in business. Read on for Nakita’s story, in her own words.
Tell us about you — your name, where you’re from, anything else you want to share.
My Name is Adi Nakita Lewasau Irvin, I was born in Fiji and spent my early formative years and most of my adult life in Fiji but was raised and educated in the diaspora from Kenya to Washington DC, New Mexico, Australia and Vietnam.
What experiences have shaped you as a person?
The experiences I’ve had that have profoundly shaped me as a person are being born in Fiji and the encounters with food, culture, art and the natural world that I’ve been fortunate to experience globally. I grew up in my grandparents business in Walu Bay, they were one of the first indegenous business owners in postcolonial Fiji. I hope to continue their legacy of shattering glass ceilings in my entrepreneurial endeavours.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur to inspire people to strive to be their best by setting an example through the values of my core businesses and the model used to create a more socially equitable and just workplace. The reason I became an entrepreneur and decided to leave the 9–5pm office job culture is that I wanted to carve out my own way and do things for myself on my own time and not somebody else’s. I always had a calling towards food, discovering new tastes and flavours and perhaps the greatest thing about food is the joy it brings to people when shared together. Unfortunately this calling was always deafened by reality, and I was highly encouraged to study something that would earn me a proper income and I guess back then becoming a chef was not part of that category of a respectable job. However, it seems like nowadays with the advent of social media, everyone is a chef or foodie now and it’s amazing!
After 6 years of that corporate life I decided to start my own business with a green business model, making and selling ice pops using exclusively locally grown ingredients.
What were you doing before the business that led you in this direction?
After working in a corporate setting for the bulk of my 20s, I decided that it was not the life I wanted to live. There was very little pleasure in waking up, sitting in traffic, never seeing my children and running my schedule according to someone else’s needs, doing work for people that knew very little about the local context or were tone deaf to it. After 6 years of that corporate life I decided to start my own business with a green business model, making and selling ice pops using exclusively locally grown ingredients.
Tell us about your business — what it is and what it does.
I started Tasty Island Treats, a social enterprise that promotes and celebrates locally grown produce that has low environmental impact and is sustainable. Tasty Island Treats is a small business but we’ve made a splash here and there. Our pops have been flown out to private resorts for exclusive guests, ordered to be sent via ferry or boat transfer to get to another island. They were even requested by a Google Executive on holiday to be flown out to his yacht and ordered by the President’s office. But our biggest fans in Suva remain taxi drivers and locals at the market. This customer base is why we do what we do, spreading joy one popsicle at a time. This little dream of planting seeds is only starting to grow sprouts here and there and I hope that we can start diversifying our production to create other products that celebrate and promote the amazing flavours grown in Fiji.
What is the problem you are trying to solve with your business?
A year after starting up Tasty Island Treats, I saw a gap in the market where local food based businesses needed support to get their products to market but had many barriers to entry.. There was very little support for me when I started up Tasty Island Treats and it was frustrating because I had hit a brick wall in terms of how much I could grow Tasty Island Treats and as a result I started Tasty Kitchen Collective, a not for profit company that supports Fijian food based business grow and enables the local food scene by creating spaces to celebrate and experience Fijian grown food in new ways. Starting TKC allowed me to access funding for growing Tasty Island Treats and now the two businesses work side by side in enabling the local food space promoting long term food security by framing our values within the Fijian Grown context.
TKC currently has a co-share innovation test kitchen that finished construction in January 2022, after nearly four years of trying to get it off the ground! This kitchen will be used by chefs and foodies to take their vision around creating local food to the next level on a platform that collaborates with other partners to bring new and exciting events and experiences to Suva. TKC is still trying to iron out compliance issues related to health and safety, and due to the mundane nature of how business is done in Fiji there have been many delays and setbacks in launching the kitchen. However TKC is very much involved in the community as we have two major projects we are undertaking that involve young people in promoting reconnecting back to the land through sustainable agriculture and a creative arts project that involves creating opportunities for expressions of food in the culinary arts scene.
What inspired you to start this business / What Tasty Island Treats was doing at the time was the first of its kind in Fiji and nobody understood why I left my job with security to make and sell ice pops. What they didn’t realise was that what I was selling was more than an ice pop, but a dream and vision to change people’s perceptions around the imported modern food culture that is causing disease and early deaths for Fijians. By creating an experience that brings people joy in the form of an ice pop that is local and healthy it’s possible to plant the seed for a new way of thinking. A thinking that discourages people from assuming everything imported is better and realising that we can create amazing and delicious products locally using Fijian grown produce. After doing this for 5 years, people are starting to understand especially in a post pandemic world but it took 5 years of explaining over and over again why the product costs as much as it does and why it’s different from the .50c ice block at the corner shop.
What difference do you hope to make with your business?
I am currently building the Centre for the Arts Suva (CAS), which is literally next door to the TKC test innovation kitchen so that CAS and TKC can collaborate to create these new experiential events that marry local food with local art. I hope that this space will inspire people to discover new creative ideas, flavour combinations and food innovations. I imagine that creating this space will be a game-changer for Suva City in that there will be a central meeting location for people to go to experience the perfect symbiosis of food and art and walk away thinking in a new informed way that ultimately helps them make better decisions around the food choices they make or the process of thinking around this idea of sustainable and local.
What has been the biggest hurdle in your business journey so far?
The biggest hurdle I would say is the exhaustion caused by the work and dedication that comes with building a business and trying to balance that with having three kids and a marriage. As an entrepreneur we all behave like everyone is in the same “go, go, go!” mindset, but realistically, that’s not how it happens. My kids are always wondering why I work so much, why I am always cranky, why I sometimes forget to eat or worse forget to tell them I love them and when I feel at my lowest point, there’s my husband who reminds me that I quit a job I hated to do something I love and not to forget that.
It’s important between the hustle and the chaos of trying to actualize your vision and dreams that as an entrepreneur, you have some grounding and don’t get lost inside your head and ideas. That cycle can be quite disruptive if there’s nobody to give you a reality check because being an entrepreneur is totally all consuming
What/who helped you the most in getting to where you are now?
My husband has been instrumental in this whole process because his support and understanding is the rock that holds everything together. I am also fortunate to have really supportive parents who have created opportunities for me to enable my business.
I think mentorship and a little start-up cash to get one going, as well as access to training to things like financial management, business pitching, contingency planning and training on admin and HR would have been a massive help.
What resources or knowledge do you wish you had when you first started on your business journey?
I think understanding one’s process and how we all mentally deal with them is an extremely important part of being a successful entrepreneur. I wish at the beginning I had mentorship and guidance and access to funds as a start-up with nothing. I spent a lot of time going in circles at the beginning and still find myself in that process when I get hung up on something. I think mentorship and a little start-up cash to get one going, as well as access to training to things like financial management, business pitching, contingency planning and training on admin and HR would have been a massive help. I’ve had training here and there over the years and taken MOOCs on business development. But sometimes being self motivated to go outside of our normal hustle routine can be difficult but it’s important to create this space to learn and grow. If you just hustle all the time and don’t create learning opportunities for oneself, then at a certain point your business will plateau and the entrepreneur burns out.
Why do you think it’s important for women to be in business?
I think women bring a fresh perception to doing business. However, business is very much a male dominated space. As a young woman, I’ve had countless experiences because of ageism and sexism. For example an old landlord would ask to deal with my husband instead of me because he is a man, despite the business being mine and my husband having an entirely separate job. Those are the kinds of barriers women have to deal with, which is a testament as to why more women should go into business.
It’s important women have a seat at the table but if people claim there is no seat at the table then you create your own table to sit at. And eventually when you’ve people will want to join your table because they like the things you are saying or the things you stand for. However, the flipside to an independently thinking woman can be ugly and nasty, which is all the more reason women need to create that space for women to thrive for a more just and gender equal future.
ygap needs your help to support more women like Nakita to thrive in business and transform their communities at the same time. Join us, and help back us to back women entrepreneurs around the world at www.ygap.org/redefine.