The Herald profiled Agnes Loheni, who replaces Chris Finlayson in Parliament:
It will be a proud moment for Loheni, who grew up in a state house – with up to 15 family members in three bedrooms – on McGehan Close, the “dead end” street that epitomised hopelessness for former party leader Sir John Key.
She went on to graduate with an engineering degree from Auckland University, and had a two-year OE based in London before starting a family business that became a trailblazer in contemporary Pasifika fashion.
From a state house to an engineering degree and then her own business. A great example of National being a party which attracts people who reflect what it means to have equality of opportunity.
“There was roughly a family in each bedroom and always people sleeping in the lounge, because at that time our families were coming from Samoa. It was a hub where we supported each other as they made a new life in New Zealand.
“There were rituals, prayer every night, communal eating, some adults staying at home looking after children while others went to work.
“Looking back, it was one of the sweetest memories for me. It was a very secure, loving home with lots of uncles and aunts, and no shortage of cousins to play with. There wasn’t a lot of money, but an abundance of aspiration.”
Aspiration is so important, and almost the opposite to the politics of victimhood where you are taught not to aspire but to blame others.
“We were just working from a room in the downstairs of our home, and some people came in and saw some of our stuff hanging up, and asked if it was for sale.”
They decided to take a leap and, with a small business grant, opened a small store in Apia. It had 90 dresses on opening day – and they all sold in four days.
“We were excited, but then we panicked because we had an empty shop.”
All four sisters joined the business, which they named Mena after their mother Filomena.
“She’s such a key influence in our lives and the inspiration for it. We were doing the designs and printing the fabric, but she was the expert dressmaker and would say to us, ‘No, you can’t do that dress like that, you have to do it this way.’
“Within five or six years, the downstairs room at our house became like a factory of 20 staff. Women sewing, men printing, buckets of fabric paint everywhere.”
Loheni worked in all facets of the company, including teaching herself how to use software to make digital prints.
She returned to Auckland as the business grew, and today Mena designs are sold in Samoa, Auckland, and online throughout the world.
A great success story.
She joined the National Party because of its values of “enterprise, hard work and personal responsibility”.
Which her life reflects.
As well as running a successful business, she is also a mother to five children ranging from eight to twenty years old.