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Regina Khan and the author in front of Island Fresh (Photos: Supplied)
Regina Khan and the author in front of Island Fresh (Photos: Supplied)

BusinessMarch 16, 2024

Inside the only Pasifika goods store in Dunedin

Regina Khan and the author in front of Island Fresh (Photos: Supplied)
Regina Khan and the author in front of Island Fresh (Photos: Supplied)

If you’re after coconut cream, floral wreaths and a Manu Sāmoa shirt all at once, there’s only one place to go in Dunedin.

Regina Khan’s bula vinaka smile is more than a match for the cyclone weather that recently passed through the South Island. The Fijian Dunedite is the smiley face of, and gale-force behind, Island Fresh, the one-stop, Pasifika supply-shop no self-respecting Pacific Islander can do without, such is the variety of her products.

Go through the boxes, she ticks them all.

Taro – three varieties, cassava, floral wreaths, Pasifika fabrics, pale, ula, cabin bread, pisupo, canned palusami, Mate Ma’a Tonga, Flying Fijian and Manu Sāmoa shirts, aloha, and of course coconut cream. Have I missed anything? Oils and creams? Tick.

“There was nothing down here for Island stuff, Island food so I thought maybe I’ll tap into this,” says Khan, who opened Island Fresh in 2020. “I did some research and saw there was a demand in the market and now I am fulfilling that demand.”

A small sample of Island Fresh stock (Photo: Loveni Enari)

She’s come a long way from her childhood in Suva, 1970s holidays to stay with grandparents in Otago, marriage and Melbourne, separation and Dunedin in 1994, back to Melbourne, then the definitive move to Dunedin in 2019. 

As the ex-wife of a professional football player, a mother of two, and a grandmother of four, she says she would love to return to live in Fiji but simply finds it too expensive.

Life has been an adventure for the 60-year-old. She’s still experiencing its sometimes whirlwind effects, this time in the business world, but she has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.

Initially only a provider of frozen foods and the odd can of mackerel, visits from customers wanting more led Khan to taking the lease on the shop next door and expand into fabrics, accessories and a very long etcetera.

Her exuberance is infectious but it’s no wonder she’s smiling as her shop goes from strength to strength. “You’re not only running a business, it’s a passion. You’ve got to have passion and I’ve got the passion. I’ve got the drive, I’ve got the determination. And I’m still learning every day,” says the woman most commonly known as Gina.

The first thing that captures your eye when facing the storefront is the colour. The Pasifika style red dress in the shop window calls out to be tried on by an adventurous soul, and when you walk in, the space is surprisingly large. There are wall displays on either side with floral headdress (pale), kava bowls, Khan’s personally designed cups and aprons, aloha shirts, creams and oils. It’s certainly not lacking in colourful, floral Pasifika motifs.

Walk through to the adjoining room in the back and you encounter the much-needed rolls of fabric, which are becoming more and more popular with the locals. “Women and cultural groups come in wanting their lavalavas and schools for their performances.”

In this back room, behind the flowery front, you also find the fuel for the engine-room, which builds all the beautiful Pasifika bodies – cans of corned beef, palusami and all other manner of “traditional” Pasifika food.

Support for the Island Fresh business, from the Pasifika community has been significant and not limited to Dunedin, says Khan. They come from Invercargill and Queenstown too. Her website should soon be ready for online sales but it’s the human touch she feels works best. “Online selling is the modern thing but people want to come in and feel the product, see the quality,” she says. “I sell fabric by the metre but it flies out the door by the roll.”

Regina Khan and the author in front of Island Fresh (Photos: Supplied)

It’s not just Pasifika people though, as many of her customers are local palagi keen to support local shops. “The first customers I had were neighbours coming in to support the business just because it’s local,” she says. “Often it’s just curiosity, the palagi love the colour. They come in and buy oil soaps or they’ll see a dress on the mannequin and they’ll come in for a short dress in summer.”

Khan has also dipped her toe into the design world and is pleased with the results – her aprons and cups with Pasifika motifs and Pacific “Islandisms” are proving popular – but she feels she has yet to scratch the surface of her own potential. Her attitude is contagious and, despite all the difficulties faced by a solo businessperson, she has plans to continue to expand her business.

Watch this space. At the moment she prefers to keep her ideas to herself but the future, she feels, looks bright.

This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.

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