Yello Interviews: St Lucian Entrepreneur Noelina St. Ange, Tifi Zouk
by Karen Rollins Jun 10, 2019
St Lucian Noelina St. Ange is an entrepreneur and a visionary.
She started her business, Tifi Zouk, in November 2017 after coming up with the idea for a “revolutionary interchangeable handbag”. The accessory is a three-in-one product which allows women to transform it into different looks to match any outfit and any occasion.
Find Yello St Lucia asked Noelina to share her business story.
She told us about the genesis for her idea, the challenges she faced starting Tifi Zouk, and the invaluable lessons she has learned as a young businesswoman.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I come from a single parent family. My mom has worked her entire life to provide for me, and I believe that witnessing that, instilled a similar work ethic in me.
I have many childhood memories. I remember being very adventurous and I had to deal with many bruises and fractured bones as a result of my daredevil tactics. Like, one time I fell from a tree and landed on my head (come to think of it that might be why I suffer with migraines as an adult)!
I was always a good student and performed well in school. I had no older siblings to help with homework, or other assignments, and my mom wasn’t very strict on academics, so I was a self-motivated student.
I chose visual arts and clothing and textiles as vocational subjects. I enjoyed both very much and now I see why!
When did you discover your creative talent?
I was around seven or eight.
I sat down to colour with a small packet of markers and I saw a beautiful picture of a deer on the label, so I decided to try to draw it. To my surprise, I was really good!
I later bought a creativity book and drew a whole lot. One time my classmates borrowed my art, to show the drawings off to other students, and to this day I have not see that creativity book again.
So, I knew I was creative and that I could do things other people liked.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Yes, I did. I was coerced into choosing accounts as a main subject at secondary school. Even though I was good at accounts I never really loved or enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to work for me, to be my own boss.
I got work as an accounts clerk, but my desire to be an entrepreneur never wavered, it just took me a little while to actually become an entrepreneur!
How did you come up with the idea for your interchangeable bag?
In my case the cart came before the horse.
I was informed about a grant opportunity for small businesses in the creative sector. So, I applied for the grant, but I wasn’t going to submit any ordinary proposal because I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to do something unique and invent something new.
One night the idea of an interchangeable handbag came to me. Fortunately for me I can draw very well. So, I sketched the blueprint for my idea and submitted my proposal with great optimism.
I never received that grant though, but I got something better – the revolutionary interchangeable handbag, Tifi Zouk. It really is the only handbag a woman will ever need!
When did you launch Tifi Zouk?
I launched Tifi Zouk at the Taiwan St Lucia tradeshow in November 2017.
Of course, I couldn’t do it alone. I had unwavering support from Mr Hubert Emmanuel, chairman of Paradise Foods St Lucia. I also had, and continue to receive, much needed assistance from Mrs Ruth Carasco Phillip who is a business officer at the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) in St Lucia.
I’m also thankful to be blessed to have received help from family and friends.
What is the meaning behind the name Tifi Zouk?
Tifi Zouk is actually my nickname.
My mother calls me Tifi Zouk because I was very close to my grandfather Zouk. Tifi means little girl in St Lucian French Creole. Tifi Zouk therefore means Zouk’s little girl.
What was the biggest challenge you faced setting up the business? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for me was sourcing start-up capital. Of course, I imagine many small businesses experience the same problem.
I was very blessed to receive financial assistance from the world’s most generous, kind and supportive businessman.
What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned so far?
That Rome wasn’t built in a day! I knew I had a million-dollar idea, but here in the real world a person doesn’t just make a million dollars overnight (unless you gamble, which I don’t lol).
So, I have learned to be patient as an entrepreneur. It takes tenacity and hard work. I am thankful to have already realised how important it is to have a great work ethic.
What are your plans for Tifi Zouk over the next five years?
Partnership, partnership, partnership. I have been through the initial stages, or the start-up stage on my own, now it’s time to grow and for me to do that I need a partner.
I am already sourcing some ideal partners but if anybody reading this is interested – give me a call.
What do you love about St Lucia?
I love the small island life. It can get frustrating, especially since opportunities are hard to come by, but I am proud of my unique St Lucian heritage and love my Creole language.
I love how most St Lucians are still genuinely caring and friendly. You can literally meet a Lucian at the hospital and by the end of the conversation feel like you’ve known them forever.
What do you do on your days off?
I’m not going to pretend I like going to the beach or going out or whatever. Those who really know me know I’m a homegirl and always have been. But when I do get the time, I like to do things with my family.
Mostly my days off are utilised doing creative thinking at home.
What makes St Lucia different to other Caribbean islands?
I think what makes us different, may also make us similar, to other Caribbean islands. After all we do share very similar cultures in the Caribbean.
The obvious thing that comes to mind though is our local patois and the rich heritage attached to it. I think Creole has influenced our mannerisms and so you know a Lucian when you hear one.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean start-ups?
Count the cost!
Of course, it is important to just do it, to just take risk and start. However, starting a business comes with many sacrifices. So, measure what exactly will be involved in the undertaking and then make the decision based on your findings.
What is your philosophy / motto in life?
I’ve always lived by this philosophy and it’s now my motto – motive matters! Whatever you do, do it for the right reasons.
My motive for wanting to own a business was to assist my family and it still is!
Please tell us something no-one, or only a few people, know about you.
What is there to know? I’m lactose intolerant, many people don’t know that lol.
Seriously though, I’m a comedian at heart. Many people don’t know it, but I enjoy cracking jokes and hoping I get a laugh – wink wink.