Hemi Pou is a man of many hats. And not just actual hats (even though he has had a stint in the rag trade).
He's a dad, a husband, a Wellington on a Plate producer, an artisan boot-maker, former retailer and skin care businessman. He also is a bloody lovely man who can take you on a journey with whatever he turns his attention to selling.
WHO IS HEMI POU?
Hemi is known to many as 'that guy from Wakefield Hotel', which until recently was one of the coolest joints on Cuba Street. Nowadays, he's turned his attention to his new skin care range, Made By A Samoan, started by him and his wife Nina. Hemi is also the driving power behind an exciting Wellington on a Plate event, to which he has lent the name of his business (the Wellington On a Plate event and the skin care line are both called Made By A Samoan).
WHAT IS MADE BY A SAMOAN AT WELLINGTON ON A PLATE?
Hemi explains: "Nina going to take you on a journey from Samoa to Aotearoa" he explains. "It might seem strange. But in traditional culture, food is also used as a health remedy. Our skin care line, Made By A Samoan, uses very special Coconut Oil from the plantations of Samoa... food that heals. Plus it's a great way to gatecrash WOAP. Our event is the Samoan "square peg in a round hole" so to speak."
WHO ELSE IS BRINGING THE PARTY?
Hemi has gone all out and persuaded some amazing talent to pull out all the stops for Made By A Samoan. Andrew Matautia, photographer extraordinaire, is a creative artist who will be displaying stunning photographs of the Samoan families who farm and produce the same oil used in Nina's skincare range and exported all over the world. Acclaimed Chef Monique Fiso will be bringing the food. This rebellious and innovative chef is normally known for her modern interpretation of Māori cuisine. This time she's elevating some of her favourite Samoan dishes. Think delicious canapes like steamed pork and coconut buns with a twist. Good old Ray Letoa (who you can read his whole interview here) will be stirring up a storm with the drinks and finally, Ian Seumanu (DJ Raw) will be spinning the decks. Tempted yet?
IN A NUTSHELL?
"Made By A Samoan brings together a group of modern Pacific navigators," says Hemi "They all reinterpret what it is to be Samoan through their passion for food, drink, art and music."
WHERE DID HEMI COME FROM?
Hemi was born in Wellington. "We moved around a bit - Linden, Ngaio, Crofton Downs, Newlands. My father was a plasterer and my mother worked in administration and was a full-time mother. I have a brother and a sister too."
For college, Hemi was at Onslow and Rongatai. "Two different approaches. We still had the cane when I was there at Rongatai" Hemi explains. "I've been back mentoring there for the last 4 years via the rugby programme."
School wasn't quite Hemi's cup of tea, to say the least. "We were racially taunted by teachers. I was naughty. No one ever saw much potential in us as a minority as Maori and Pasifika people and didn't talk to us about going to university or anything. This was the time of the Springboks still, remember. We didn't have a lot going up and so our dreams were a lot more real. We were worried about whether there would be food or whether the power would be on. We didn't think about going on to more study" he explains.
Hemi ended up taking a job at the West Plaza as a teen and, as a result never went back to school. He relished the experience. "That was my first experience of how crazy chefs could be - they swore and smoked and drank - it was all rock and roll out the back," Hemi laughs. "We were poor, but we had our own money so we were our poor. I used to earn $300 a week and that was a fortune to us. If you had your friends over they'd clean you out. We were rat bags and still young."
Through his West Plaza years, Hemi got into his sport, particularly Rugby. "Rugby was the one area we got some wins. We had bad habits and would live by the scruff of our necks" he says. "We all turned up at a club at Western Suburbs - all of us misfits who had never won anything - and we all turned out together to be unbeatable." Hemi went on to play for the Wellington Lions and New Zealand Maori team.
However, the great love story of Hemi's life took place when he was just 18, meeting his wife - Nina - at the school ball. "She moved away to Samoa not long after that and then, one day, I just happened to enrol at University and suddenly she was next to me. It was crazy. We just started to connect and hang out. "From when I first met her she was this bright light. Whenever I was around her, that is what I would think about. My proudest achievement is Nina. We're best friends and we're young at heart." The other key driver for Hemi today is kids Caden (11) and Bailey (8). "The idea that I have to be their superhero and live up to that expectation - that's what motivates me."
HOW DID HEMI GET INTO FASHION?
"In the period I grew up in, there wasn't a streetwear store. You had to take something like workwear, such as Dickies or Carhart, and flip it or customise it. There was always a creativity to it" Hemi says. It wasn't until he finished Rugby that he got into fashion, starting his business Wakefield Hotel. "I still remember the first day the shop opened I couldn't use my EFTPOS Machine. The customer had to go and get cash out. I was so embarrassed. I met some amazing people owning that store." After having had the shop for 5 years, Hemi decided to close the store and focus on making things. "I could get out with money and that was the beauty of it. Some places can't do that" he says. He still keeps his footwear business 'Last & Loom' which makes custom boots, specially made for the discerning foot (Hemi even was asked to make some boots especially for actor Bradley Cooper).
Now, however, Hemi is most proud of his work amongst those from his roots in the community. "I've worked with the Basketball Team in Wellington to re-design their logo with a friend who does Polynesian fusion tattoos, and also the Rongatai School Logo." He also works with kids and families to help better understand communication.
Hemi's wife creating Made By A Samoan Skin Care was born of their love of natural oils. It now has two oil products, a Lemongrass Oil and Vanilla Oil for the body, and two scrubs, one Coffee and the other Lemongrass. The brand is the basis for the event Hemi dreamed up which has now evolved into 'Made By A Samoan' the event, on 25 August 2017. "L'Afffare gives their coffee granules for our products and they offered their amazing space - it has now turned into a way to showcase what we are all doing."
WHAT WILL PEOPLE TAKE AWAY FROM MADE BY A SAMOAN?
"I hope people are challenged by what we are all doing. You'll meet at least 5 real life Samoan's at this event" Hemi laughs. "Nina dreamed up that tag-line. We want to be the black sheep: people showing other our different way of doing things. Everything is based around organic coconut oil which comes from Samoa."
"Wellington is where I'm from" Hemi says. "My tribe is Nga Puhi in the far north, but my roots are in this place. Wellington is great because it is small. We are forced to share space. Auckland is big but you are separated by geography. Wellington is full of creatives, doing their own things. I know so many people who are doing amazing things. And we just walk down the road and hang out with them. We are surrounded by water. I love it here. It's home."