Moana Tupou and Lafolafo Filipo share a laugh with sons Savea Phillip, 11, and Tauatele Junior Tupou, 10, while shopping for White Sunday.
Parents hit the shops to buy clothes and shoes for children ahead of special day this Sunday.
Members of the Samoan community are gearing up for a special day this weekend - a day dedicated to children and young people, known as White Sunday.
Also called Lotu a Tamaiti, which translates to children’s service, the day celebrates the nation’s young people and sees them conducting the full church service - everything from singing hymns, reciting Bible memory verses, sermons and performing plays.
The annual event is usually held on the second Sunday of October and sees children and young people learning, practising and rehearsing their special items and performances for weeks ahead of the big day.
White Sunday was started by Christian missionaries in the 1800s and in Samoa, the day is even observed with a public holiday the following Monday.
Traditionally, children wear white from head to toe for the special service and parents take the opportunity to buy youngsters new clothing and shoes.
At Ōtāhuhu’s main shopping strip down Great South Rd, there is a hive of activity on a sunny afternoon as parents and children alike can be seen looking through racks of ready-made outfits and trying on dresses and shoes.
Moana Tupou and Lafolafo Filipo travelled from Henderson, West Auckland, specifically to buy their sons special white shirts with a gold print elei (island pattern design) and ie faitaga (formal pocket lavalava).
“As parents, we want to raise our children to be the best they can be. God gives us the strength to live every day and we have to share with our children. When they grow older...I want them to follow the same path of goodness,” Filipo says.
“They’re a gift from God. We have to look after them,” his wife adds.
The family attend the newly established Westgate EFKS (Congregational Christian Church of Samoa).
Sons Savea Phillip, 11, and Tauatele Junior Tupou, 10, are all smiles as they show off their new shirts. Their 4-year-old brother Lafolafo Lafolafo, who is at kindy, also has a new outfit for Sunday.
Asked if they knew their memory verses, the boys eye each other before laughing: “Yes.”
A few shops down is the Lam Sam family, who are spotted looking around one of the stores decked out with white girls’ and boys’ outfits in display windows and even hanging on hooks from the ceiling.
“We’re still looking,” mum Sera Lam Sam laughs.
Daughter Esther, 15, says she wants a plain white puletasi (island two-piece formal wear) while younger sisters Blessing and Loraine would like dresses.
The youngsters will also wear a red ribbon as part of their service at the Assembly of God Mt Wellington church branch.
Over 30 years of selling White Sunday outfits
Over at the Billi’s Fashions store is a White Sunday story with a difference.
Owner Mahendra Billimoria and his wife Usha have been selling White Sunday outfits for 32 years.
“Because it’s school holidays, they stagger themselves when coming out shopping. But sometimes we get a White Sunday [outside] of school holidays, it’s just one day of last-minute shopping.”
They specialise in clothing for boys and men and have a range of white island shirts with different coloured elei prints or white-on-white prints. There are suits, ie faitaga, blazers and long-sleeved island shirts to answer to Auckland’s unpredictable weather.
“It’s the customer’s choice and sometimes it’s the child’s choice.”
Billimoria acknowledges how the economic situation after Covid-19 has affected some families and says that is also reflected in sales.
“Cost of living makes a big difference. Sometimes they just want to recycle last year’s [outfit].
Romola Levi’s store - Levi’s, named after her late father - specialises in women’s island wear dresses, sarongs, pale (flower crowns) and sei (flower accessories).
The 34-year-old and her husband create the island and flower print designs themselves, before creating the unique dresses to sell.
A special day for everyone
Levi says they decided to run a special promotion last month ahead of White Sunday, dropping their prices from $180 to $100 per dress.
“They just flew out,” she says.
“We had so many customers come in and make the most of that promotion because they knew White Sunday was coming. We sold about 80 white dresses.”
The family has only been in business for about six months, but has enjoyed a steady stream of business thanks mostly to word of mouth, Levi says.
Some of their most famous customers to come through the shop include Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni, Labour MP Jenny Salesa and Australian-Samoan social media personality Joe Fa’agase.
Levi’s daughter, 12-year-old Tomai Feagaiga, is trying on her specially-made White Sunday dress when they are spotted.
Levi says many mothers had also decided to buy dresses for themselves for the big island feast that usually follows the Sunday service.
“Pink, yellow, navy blue - lots of dresses went to the mums. It’s a special day for everyone.”