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Brush with success: Tongan entrepreneur credits mum for stellar rise

Alakihihifo Vailala

Sione Vailoa Mahe turned his Covid job loss into the chance to start a new career, and he's now an award-winning businessman.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A simple online purchase of a hair mannequin set Sione Vailoa Mahe on a path to success after being made redundant in 2020.

“I was on Trade Me just online shopping because there was nothing else to do during Covid. Then I came across the hair mannequin. I saw it and I was like, 'oh this looks like fun' so I just purchased it. I just started learning how to play with it and how to do hair and everything.”

Mahe started his own business online doing hair in 2021 at the age of 21 and then added makeup services a year later.

He says his first job as a hair and makeup artist was a bridal shower for ten women that he describes as a challenge.

“I love a challenge. I love being put on the spot."

With the success of his beauty business, Mahe books more than twenty clients a day on an average Friday and Saturday.

“My busiest days start at 3am which is like a 2am wake up and then 8pm pack up."

On being a male artist in the female dominated beauty industry, he says it was relatively easy for him.

“Because of being a femme boy, it was easy for me to adapt into the industry. We don’t look at gender. It depends more on your work. You can't tell someone’s work by their gender."

Earlier in December, Mahe won the Tongan Youth Trust’s Business Award for 2023.

“I’m always the type to attend other people’s award ceremonies but to be a recipient. I was grateful. I actually cried on the way home."

Despite his business doing well, Mahe says he’s had to sacrifice a lot of time with his family and friends.

He grew up in a single parent household, being number eight of 14 children, 10 of them sisters who he practised on at the start of his career.

“My mum inspires me a lot. Especially with our upbringing. She never gave up on us. I used to see her get up early for work. When my alarm breaks for work, early hours in the morning, I’ve always wanted to just carry on sleeping. But then I think, if my mum can do it, I can do it."

“My mum is my hero."

He also says his grandmother played an essential role in how he carries out his business.

“She always told me to be feofo’ofani (always maintain harmony). I take that with me all the time because in this industry, it’s always so competitive but I don’t look at it as a competition … I’m always eager to help because I never had the chance to study. No one helped me. I taught myself but I’ve always wanted to learn from someone with experience.”

Mahe encourages other young and aspiring hair and makeup artists to give it a try.

“You don’t have to be the greatest at doing it, as long as it’s the greatest to you, that’s all that matters."

Hero Image: Sione Vailoa Mahe applying make-up to a client. Photo/ Supplied

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