SUGA Agnes Loheni is no stranger to Pacific success. As an owner of arguably Pacific Fashion’s most recognisable brand MENA, Agnes, 45, is spreading her wings in the hope of being influential on much bigger scale. The NZ elections will be held in September of this year and Ms Loheni is the National candidate for Mangere – a suburb with a Parliament seat that has long been held by Labour’s MP Aupito Sua William Sio.
She chats to SUGA about the movie from a successful fashion label to Politics, why complacency in Politics does not phase her, and her passion for seeing Pacific people succeed.
Well done on all your achievements! You have come from a very successful Pacific brand MENA and have won a multitude of business awards. It is obvious Pacific success is important to you, but what else motivated the move to Politics?
After 15 years running a successful Pacific business, raising five children and completing a degree in Chemical Engineering, the move to Politics is an extension of my vision for more Pacific people in New Zealand to be visible and influential in leadership. I am proud of my business journey with MENA and what we have achieved. MENA is an aspirational Pacific brand and in the same way I have chosen to stand for the National Party because it is the party of aspiration. My migrant Samoan parents instilled in my sisters and I values around education, enterprise, hard work and the rewards that come with it. These are also National Party values and I’m proud to have been selected as the National candidate for Mangere.
How was the transition over to Politics from Fashion particularly as MENA was no doubt such a big part of your everyday life?
The biggest transition at the moment is spending less time at home with my children. The daily school run, making dinner for my family and helping the kids with their homework is largely being managed by my husband and other family members. I am so fortunate to have a supportive husband who not only has supported me with my business but is really stepping up on the home front to ensure that I can focus on my goal to serve as a Member of Parliament. No doubt politics is challenging and I’m learning a lot. That said, as a business owner I have had my fair share of challenging experiences. I’ve learned from these experiences about how to be resilient and to stay true to my core values. I have acquired a set of skills that will stand me in good stead for the path ahead should I be given the privilege to serve the people of Mangere and New Zealand in parliament this year.
Pacific Islanders are well known to be traditionally left-wing. Do you believe this complacency is hindering Pacific progress? What do you believe National has to offer for Pacific people?
Actually Pacific Islanders are traditionally conservative. Our traditions, our faith and our belief in strong families is underpinned by our adherence to culture for example Fa’a Samoa. The traditional alliance to Labour does not come from left wing politics but from our time when our parents and grandparents worked in factory jobs where the unions had a strong presence. Pacific Islanders owe no allegiance to any Party. All Party’s must earn the vote of our Pacific people based on the merits of what they are offering. The National Party is firmly focused on Pacific success. The National-led government has raised NCEA Level 2 achievements from 50% to 79% (2008 – 2016) for Pasifika students. Initiatives like the Maori and Pasifika Trades Training Scheme, STEM scholarships for Pacific students and the Pacific Employment Support Service (PESS) are all aimed at supporting our young Pacific people to fulfil their potential.
Some would say that you are representing an area that is famously “owned” by Aupito Labours Sua William Sio. Do you think change is critical now more than ever for Pacific people in Mangere, South Auckland and in New Zealand?
Nobody owns the Pacific Island vote. The moment a Party believes it does, then arrogance and complacency creeps in. I’ll say it again we should be fighting to earn EVERY Pacific vote. The big issue for Mangere is that barely 50 percent of eligible voters voted in the last election. It is difficult to influence policy if people don’t engage. I believe National has a platform that should better engage our Pacific people on the issues that really matter to them.
What would you like to tell young SUGA’s especially, particular ones who are entering university, graduating, or heading into their chosen careers?
I would say a big Congratulations and especially congratulations to any who are undertaking tertiary or vocational studies. You are making a great decision to better your lives and to create pathways that will reward you greatly in life. You will make friends, create networks that will be invaluable in your chosen career paths. I know this because that is what happened to me as a result of my tertiary studies. I would also like to say congratulations to the parents and family members who have supported and will continue to support you during your learning journey!