Today’s entrepreneurial landscape often conjures images of hyper-ambitious ‘hustlers’, however, founder of global landmark Pacific Runway Jannike Seiuli defies stereotypes to prove great ideas can take global success by surprise.
Featured by Vogue, Pacific Runway is now the biggest Pacific Islander-focused fashion show in the world – selling out every year, with celebrity guests, designers and renowned models travelling to Australia just for the event.
Despite her company’s phenomenal global success and position as an industry landmark, Maori and New Zealander mother of four Jannike Seiuli lives a humble family life in Sydney’s Campbelltown, and offered AESTOLOGYY an authentic discussion of her ‘accidental entrepreneurship’ journey.
Now held at Carriageworks in Sydney, home of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Seiuli asserts Pacific Runway was initially never intended to be the worldwide success story it is now:
“It was supposed to be a one-off event, but it was a full house and sold out, which I didn’t expect.”
“I knew a lot of people would be interested in it, but I didn’t think there was going to be a full house,” says Mrs Seiuli about the first show held back in 2012 at a local West Leagues club in Campbelltown.
Now, it sells out every year in October and is a worldwide event, with guests travelling across the globe just for the show.
“[The Vogue journalist] wrote an article about how the whole event was a cultural experience, and that’s what I like to hear – people from other nationalities can come to the show and they’re able to see a glimpse… it’s not all coconuts and palm trees,” she adds.
Humble family life
Pacific Runway has become Seiuli’s full-time job, compared to a few years ago when she juggled her children, the show, and working at juice bar outlet Boost.
People who attend the global fashion show are sometimes shocked by Seiuli’s humble personal life. She lives in Campbelltown with her family – an ostensibly normal life – and prides herself on not feeling pressured to succumb to the ‘typical’ livelihood of a thriving entrepreneur. She is passionate about honouring where she came from, and the ‘good life’ she has despite commercial success.
“Events wasn’t always my passion growing up – singing and dancing was something that I loved to do, and I was always performing at every kind of event in the community.”
After her first child, Seiuli was unable to dance due to a back injury, so she focused solely on community event planning, which built on the legacy of her parents as community workers.
Whilst she did engage in formal vocational studies for events management, she attributes her tight knit community for fanning it into a pure passion.
In 2012, she had an idea to showcase her pacific islander friends’ and family’s work in fashion, makeup, hair and other creative outlets, with her event planning skills – held at a small local West Leagues club.
“To my surprise the event sold out.”
Seiuli states she didn’t really have any idea what she was doing, but was eager to organise an enjoyable event for her family and friends.
However, a man who attended the show asked if it could be held at Casula Powerhouse next year, leading to its evolution as an annual event.
Mrs Seiuli says that request was a “huge stepping stone” to fuel where it is now, seating over 1,000 people at Carriageworks in Sydney.
Over nine years and three location changes, numerous designers have seen their work displayed at Pacific Runway, but Seiuli has also conquered many challenges – including people’s perception about ‘runway ideals.’
“It used to take a toll on me, but then I realised, hold on, this is how the show is, this is real people and that’s what I’m trying to showcase,” she states.
Seiuli prides her show on promoting people of all sizes, shapes, and colours, and recognises she isn’t going to please everyone in the industry.
“I’ve learned that you know, we can’t please everyone, and everyone is going to have an opinion.”
Battle for trademarks
Seiuli admits that because she did not anticipate the event’s long-term success, the venture was not trademarked properly, leading to a battle with another enterprise who attempted to hijack the brand.
“I didn’t think the show was going to carry on for so long, so I didn’t trademark the name and that’s where the issue came out.”
“Another group tried to trademark Pacific Runway,” she says.
Seiuli states the group attempted to steal not only the name, but everything that encapsulated the event in the first place, which became a huge battle for her and her team for a while. After some time, they came out on top, learning through the process.
Pacific Runway has now been officially trademarked, which was another aspect of entrepreneurship that Mrs Seiuli did not envisage learning about,
“I’ve become stronger because of that experience, and I mean, I can’t believe people travel overseas, waiting to travel here in October to come to the show,” she remarks.
“We have designers and models travelling internationally and interstate so it’s become such a massive event now, which is something that I would have never seen before.”
One of her biggest achievements, however, is seeing her designers and models showcased in major shopping centres – a huge accomplishment for her culture’s representation.
“Last year they had us situated at the front of Myer and staff told me that they had lots of people asking security if ‘this stuff’ is being sold [in-store]”
“Hearing this feedback lets me go back to designers and let them know, which gives them confidence to expand their businesses,”
Mrs Seiuli loves that she not only gets to share her passion with others, but emphasise Pacific Islander fashion into mainstream markets, when it is often only seen as ‘niche’.
“It’s more than just the fashion for me, its for the businesses: it’s for the donors, it’s for the artists.”
The years at Casula Powerhouse were vital to eventually home Pacific Runway at Carriageworks in Sydney, and said to be where she learnt the technicalities and logistics of event planning.
“Lighting and sound and all the tech stuff were what I had to learn along the way, and it’s been helpful for me and pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
“It’s not just performing arts, you’ve got to look at everything now,” she adds.
While most of it comes easier now with the help of a dedicated team, it’s all been part of lessons learnt along the path of an ‘accidental entrepreneur.’