The meke – traditional Fijian foot spa – is worth making a special trip to Pure Fiji for! It’s hilarious and sensational all at once – and sadly over in a jiffy.
I flew to Suva, the capital city of Fiji, purely to visit Pure Fiji. These divine beauty products sold all over the world in 5-star hotels are made right here in a factory with a spa attached – and a yoga/zumba studio that they’ve just built next door.
We’re staying at the Novotel, about 10 minutes out of Suva on a calm little piece of ocean at Lami Bay. The hotel driver hurtled us through the pot-holed roads through the maze of streets, traffic lights and round-abouts that weave across this city of about 200,000 people. I’m glad he did, cos I wouldn’t like to be in charge of the steering wheel. The city has a commercial hub with shops, a beautiful cinema and plenty of eateries, but to get to it you pass yards with broken down cars, dilapidated buildings and the local prison with a wall sign-written by Vodafone.
Then suddenly with a left turn we pulled into the car park of Pure Fiji with an entrance just as you’d expect such a luxurious range of products to have – exotic plants and stone floors.
Started in 1996 by (the now 60-something) Gaetane Austin and her daughter Andree in their kitchen making soaps with virgin coconut oil, it’s a totally different empire today. 100 local people are employed here in the factory (about 80 of them are their family’s only bread winner) and 500 more people are supported in 7 villages where the ingredients are sourced and paper and baskets are hand made.
But back to the meke:
I’ve never experienced anything like it. My travelling companion – Thelma (to my Louise) – and I sat in chairs with copper bowls of warm water in front of us. Beside that were the potions to be used in our traditional foot spa treatment. But what I didn’t expect was the music that was operated by 2 girls singing, clapping and whooping behind us, while the therapists did their work, punctuated by beating drums, synchronised clapping, giggling and singing as they went about the 6-minute ritual.
Coconut milk was first tipped into the bowl, then colourful petals all mixed together with much whooping. Our feet were placed in and our legs washed with the milky water and feet and calves massaged with a sugar cane scrub. Then our feet were painted with coco butter and wrapped in towels to marinate for a few moments, then were wiped down and it was all over. I’d fly here specially to do this again!
Pure Fiji products
Pure Fiji’s biggest market is the USA where you can wash your hair in coconut shampoo or slather your skin in mango moisturiser at Four Seasons, Wynn, Bellagio and spas and salons in the States, New Zealand, Australia, Korea, UK, Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Their products are all made from cold pressed nut oils, which takes longer than the heat process other companies use, but the great thing, says Andree, is that the villages can supply these ingredients without using electricity. Coconut, for example, is grated, dried and pressed by hand. This technique also means that the pure end products are absorbed more quickly into the skin.
They take their responsibility to their community seriously too. Employees have their own vege garden here at the factory as Gaetane is eager to see them eat healthily (and teases them about their endless passion for noodles). They take a vitamin each day, provided by the company, and are paid above the average wage. Working for Pure Fiji is a highly sought-after job and many have been here since the beginning. The income villages earn from being Pure Fiji suppliers is, in some cases, their only income and schools and other buildings have been built from the proceeds.
Some of the nut oils have been used in Fiji for centuries because of their healing properties. The dilo nut is good for inflammation of the skin, insect bites, scars and for use after microdermabrasion treatment (for example). Sikeci, or candlenut, is used as an emolient and is high in vitamins A and E. And they use macadamias, which I’m not sure what they do except taste good. (Read my totally unrelated Macadamia Nut satay recipe here >>>)
Next door is the newly built yoga studio which has only been open a month, but the classes are full. Yoga followed by the inhalation of Pure Fiji products, or zumba and pilates, are what the locals and ex-pats flock to after work.
Pure Fiji is more of a family business with all seven of Gaetane’s children working in some capacity – most here in Fiji but also from Australia. And the employees that I spoke to say it’s like being in a family, just being part of the business. I like that.
Oh and on weekends, if you get here early you can scoop up one of the popular 10kg bags of soap shavings that the local ladies love to throw into their washing machines and enjoy orange blossom or milk and honey clothes. (I’m not sure what the men folk think of the girly whiff.)
What’s next for Pure Fiji? They’re relaunching a facial line and adding fragrance – orange blossom to start with.
Visit Pure Fiji >>>
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