Real Life

Noeleen Tuala’s baby business ‘Dreams do come true’

The South Auckland mum has reconnected with her culture and created her dream company

Noeleen Tuala is the first to admit her South Auckland home is usually messy with scattered toys and piled up dishes from loved ones visiting. After a full day’s work as an executive assistant, she often walks in to find grandchildren racing around, before she juggles dinner duties with entertaining a busy 10-year-old son on the spectrum.

When the chaos finally settles in the evening, however, it doesn’t mean relaxation for the mum-of-five and nana-of- four. Instead, she puts on her entrepreneurial hat and sits at a laptop, working on her dream business that exploded after she launched it in December.

Noeleen, who has Samoan and Tongan heritage, is the founder and owner of PELE, a small at-home company that sells culturally designed baby items. As well as providing Polynesian families with gorgeous products that express their young ones’ culture, the Manurewa local is proud to celebrate her own family roots.

Noeleen’s living her best life, taking care of business and her whānau.

“When I was a child and my parents split, I went to live with my dad and it sort of defined my values because I saw him struggle as a Samoan solo father, who couldn’t read or write in English that well,”

says Noeleen, 38.

“I was always the one who had to fill out the Work and Income forms for him, and read the letters. It wasn’t until I grew up, I realised we hadn’t had much and he had to ask others for money on occasions. That helped me push for what I want in life, so those struggles weren’t in vain.”

For Noeleen – whose father Saveu moved from Samoa to New Zealand at 19 for a better life – there had always been a burning desire to connect with her culture. While she grew up understanding her dad’s Samoan heritage and the Tongan roots of her mum Adele, who is also half Irish, Noeleen was never fully immersed in the Polynesian cultures. Creating PELE, and naming the designs after her grandchildren and youngest son Bass, was an ode to her parents, who met as workers at the Arnott’s biscuit factory in Auckland.

“A couple of years ago, before I launched PELE, I went and did a Samoan language course. Belonging and cultural identity are so important, especially to kids who are born in New Zealand as opposed to the islands,” explains the executive assistant for a community housing provider, whose father sadly passed away in a work-related accident in Australia in 2010.

Noelene’s beautiful playmats.

“If we lose that connection, what kind of future does that hold for our young kids? It’s very common for children to grow up without that cultural identity, but as you get older, you realise you really want it.”

Noeleen sells playmats with Polynesian designs that are made from soft quilted velvet, as well as mink blankets. In a month, she’s set to release a third product and by the end of the year, she plans to launch another few ideas she’s been working on. Already, just over six months into sharing her business dream with the world, she has sold almost 1000 items.

“When I was trying to find a Poly-designed playmat for my grandchildren, I only found a company in Australia who sold them and when I received it, I was disappointed in the quality,” recalls Noeleen, who has been with her husband Joe, 48, a warehouse manager of a medical company, for 21 years.

“I knew I could do better and I put in the extra effort to produce a high-quality playmat, rather than relying on the fact that people will just buy it because of the design. I wouldn’t sell something I’m not happy to have for my grandchildren and that’s my core value behind PELE.”

Renewing her vows with husband Joe.

Her business idea came to light in late 2021, but it took a couple of months for Noeleen to decide she could do it. Unable to stop thinking about her dream, the busy mum eventually took to Google and searched for suppliers, trialling four or five samples for her playmats before choosing one that matched the quality she imagined.

“I thought, ‘I’ve come this far in my life, so why can’t I make it happen and why should it just be some dream?’ I decided to figure out how to do it and by some miracle, it paid off.

“I did 16-hour days after coming home from work and spending time being present with my son who has ADHD. I spent three months creating my website without any IT experience and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!”

In the evenings, Noeleen keeps up with PELE’s social media, works on new designs and liaises with suppliers. She doesn’t remember the last time she had a proper sleep and admits it has been a struggle, but creating PELE was one of the best things she ever did.

“I get messages from strangers telling me how proud they are that a Polynesian woman from Manurewa, South Auckland, is putting herself out there and making things happen,” Noeleen smiles. “I love being able to show others that dreams do come true.”

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