Nama Fiji is a business built on a Fijian delicacy more often associated with lunch than lotions, and the determination and energy of Debra Sadranu.
Sadranu came to Fiji in the mid-1990s. A trained beauty therapist, she started training local beauty therapists before establishing a chain of spas in luxury hotels and resorts.
She quickly realised that visitors “didn’t want to buy products that they could get back home, that were inflated in price. They wanted something that would remind them of Fiji and their holiday experience.”
She also identified the need for skincare products for use by locals that were appropriate to the Fiji climate and skin types.
Sadranu worked with Australia’s James Cook University to create products using nama, a seaweed variety. In doing so, she created what she says is the first “organic hyaluronic acid”, and found a point of difference for Nama Fiji products in a very crowded and competitive product space. Women from Somosomo, Naviti in the Yasawa island group supply the nama, harvesting it through sustainable methods.
COVID-19 forced the company to stop production and close its spas and training school last year. Essence Group (the parent company under which Nama Fiji and Sadranu’s other beauty and spa businesses sit) had sent a large shipment to the U.S. just before borders closed.
She expects they will resume production towards the end of this year or early 2022.
Sadranu’s South Pacific Academy of Beauty Therapy training programs are about to ramp up again, with Sadranu saying they are now ready to train beauty and spa therapists on COVID-safe protocols and provide general refresher training.
“I think, at first it seemed a little bit daunting. How are we going to deliver spa ambience and personal wellness in this very clinical, sanitised, sterilised environment? But you know, we can do it, it’s all about the delivery,” she said of treatments post-COVID.
“At the end of the day, whether the therapists are wearing masks and face shields and gloves and everything is sanitised and sterilised, you can still have personal client care and personal consultation and give a treatment with the effect that’s desired.”
Nama Fiji products are widely marketed and distributed. Sadranu’s San Francisco partners were introduced to her by a customer who had visited the Essence of Fiji transit lounge (a facility close to the Fiji airport that offers spa treatments, a café and many other services for transit passengers) on his way back to the U.S.
She says those partners helped her rebrand Nama Fiji for the premium market and have just launched Nama Fiji “on a massive platform in Dubai which has over 2 billion outreach, covering Southeast Asia, Europe, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. So we’ve pretty much got global coverage.”
Sadranu’s son has also launched a nama-based men’s skincare brand, VS, and the company is releasing Nama Spa, a rebranded line aimed at combination skin types.
Sadranu is very positive about the future, and the resilience of the Fiji economy and people. She says while the pandemic has been a horrible time, “in many ways it’s also been positive because it has brought about so much change.” Amongst the good she sees; a vibrant and growing small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, including in the beauty and spa space; opportunities for Fiji and the Pacific to refine their tourism offerings; and a refocusing on agriculture and aquaculture.