For National Women’s Day, we celebrate Vasemaca Justine Pikoune who embodies what it means to be a modern Pacific woman – mother, student, wife, professional, community leader – with grace and style. Having a baby at a young age and still acquiring her bachelor’s degree, Vasemaca is someone who appreciates kastom and culture but is also very progressive. A true lover of fashion, Vasemaca puts in the work when it comes to her clothes and accessories, even going as far as designing most of her outfits herself, all the while balancing her family life as well as her work life. Vasemaca lives by the quote; “Dream it, believe it, achieve it!”
#NationalWomensDay #PacificIslanderQueen #Fashionista #Student #Mother #Wife #BossLady #Family
Vasemaca Justine Pikioune
Where are you from?
I identify myself as a Ni-Vanuatu woman as I was born in Santo. My father is from Port Olry village, and my mother is a naturalized Ni-Vanuatu, originating from Levuka Yale village, Kadavu Island, Fiji.
Tell us about your family?
My parents are Gaetan and Asinate Pikioune. They are the most supportive people I know who have taught me some of my current qualities, such as being courageous and helping others. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for them. My parents took care of my son while I continued my studies (as I had him at 20 years old) and earned my bachelor’s degree. I am grateful for all they have done for me.
I am the eldest of six; I have two (2) sisters and three (3) brothers, all of whom inspire me with their entrepreneurial spirit. My son, Lote, is turning 15 years old this year, and I have been with my partner, Griffith Kalpokas, since 2004. We have had a traditional wedding but are yet to marry legally.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am adventurous and love doing adrenaline-type activities, from jet skiing to quad biking and riding a helicopter, to name a few. Skydiving in Wollongong and climbing the Sydney Harbour bridge were probably the most daring activities I have done so far. You can do many activities in Vanuatu, like exploring new places and/or doing activities out of the ordinary (hiking, horse riding, going on sunset cruises, etc.). When just having a chilled day at home, I love watching crime scene documentaries or any documentaries on a topic that would interest me.
Three Netflix documentaries I watched last month, which I would recommend:
- The Great Hack
- Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King
- Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes
Since high school, the French program I have been hooked on is Envoyé Spécial (investigations/reports on current news/events worldwide). I also listen to podcasts and read online articles. One of the online platforms I would usually go to is Harvard Business Review (HBR). I share the article on my social media if I find it interesting and think it would help spread a message on something I believe in.
The latest article I shared was “Why Women Volunteer for Tasks That Don’t Lead to Promotions.” You can read about different topics in HBR; the ones I like to read are related to Leadership Development and Diversity and Inclusion.
Whatever online material I read on any platform would be related to my job, my professional growth, gaining knowledge and understanding of topics or issues I am passionate about, or just by curiosity.
What did you study?
I completed a Bachelor of Business Management and Commerce (majoring in Finance) from the Ecole de Gestion et de Commerce in New Caledonia in 2010, sponsored by the French Government. In 2020, I graduated with a Master of Finance from the University of Technology Sydney, funded by Australia Awards. I am now undergoing a 12-month coaching program for Developing Leaders, sponsored by my employer.
Do you work?
I am currently working as a Finance Manager at Titan FX, an online broker, since September 2020. I am grateful to be working for a company where I feel valued, have a voice, and feel empowered. My job allows me to connect with a fantastic group of people based in Vanuatu and around the globe, who motivate me to push beyond my limits and inspire me to become the best version of myself. I also participate in other projects within and outside the office, such as being a key player in official events management and being the Events Manager of Gaetan Junior Pikioune (my brother), a Children’s book author.
What do you aspire to do in the future?
Since 2016, I have taken an interest in Women in the workplace, precisely the challenges women face and how to overcome them. In November 2020, I took a Gender-Inclusive Leadership Certificate course with the East-West Center, which gave me more knowledge and understanding and benefited my professional development. I hope to continue promoting and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace by spreading awareness of gender stereotypes and biases present in our workplaces and how we can speak out against these in order to support women’s career advancement, specifically to shine a light on the role that organizations can play in promoting inclusivity.
What is a quote that you live by?
“Dream it, believe it, achieve it!” – Unknown.
How would you describe your style?
I define my style as unique since I love to personalize my look. 80% of the outfits I have worn in past events were tailored to me. I would usually decide on the design, not the tailor, and sometimes sketch it (not perfectly, but I’m learning). I started sewing classes this year; it’s never too late to learn a new skill. I put a lot of time into planning for an event; usually, a month to decide on an outfit, going into details such as the color of the material, the gel polish I would use, and the handicraft bag/purse, earrings, and the pair of shoes to match my attire. All those little details do make a difference. Most of the G&M prints I wear are custom-made prints, which have significance for me. The prints I have worn are to express my identity and spread messages that are important to me. My best friend, Annette Garae, calls it ‘dress with a message’.
For example, I had a yellow Kimono made with the Fijian comb printed to remind me always to embrace my natural Melanesian hair (The kimono is in yellow because the color is associated with optimism and confidence). If you see me wearing the Bubu shell print, it is because it reminds me to speak on issues that matter to me as a Ni-Vanuatu woman.
My style would not be complete without a handicraft bag/purse and earrings (wearing locally made earrings most of the time).
I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the amazingly talented designer, Gilbert Mermer Iata, a trendsetter of the modern island dress. His work is an inspiration, and I am very proud of him.
Who influences your style?
Everyone influences my style (from a world-famous artist to a person walking down the street), but I would say that I am my biggest influencer since I always ensure that I bring a personalized touch to my look.
What beauty products do you use?
I use moisturizer and sometimes coconut oil on my skin. I do not have a favorite perfume, but I love floral scent ones; Sky Di Gioia from Giorgio Armani is what I am currently using. I apply Cantu leave-in conditioners to my hair, and occasionally I would use a styling gel to define my natural curls. If I ever attend an event, I would choose a natural look for my makeup.
Any fashion tips?
Be confident in whatever you wear, and if you have the opportunity to personalize your look, go for it. Stand out from the crowd!
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
Creative, meticulous, and committed.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to face?
I had to leave my son twice for studies; Lote (my son) was only six months old when I left for New Caledonia, and I was away again when he was 11 years old. Although I had regular trips back home and/or my family visited, I do feel that I have missed some important stages in my son’s life. These are some of the challenges women and men face when deciding to further their studies. Being away from my family was challenging, but it was worth it, a small sacrifice for a better future. In Australia, I learned the importance of mental health, specifically not to hesitate to seek help through counseling services available at University.
What is one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?
Be unapologetically you! Don’t be afraid to express your opinion; talk about your accomplishments and put yourself forward.
Photographer: Niki Kuautonga
Assistant: Umi Nompavos
Make-up: Noella Bong
About designer: Gilbert Mermer Iata – G & M
Gilbert (better known as ‘Kiki’) first appeared publicly when he amazed the audience at the 2020 V-Pride fashion show with his beautifully designed pieces, especially when he showcased his ‘modern’ island dress which took the internet by storm! He now has his own brand name ‘G&M’ meaning ‘Gilbert & Mermer’, Mermer being his mother’s maiden name.
Gilbert went from designing for a fashion show to getting orders from many clients from diverse backgrounds and ages. He was also a part of Sista’s very own ‘Yumi Gat Style’ fashion show in September 2021.
If you like what you see on our model, you can contact Kiki on his Facebook page – G & M.
This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s May 2022 Life and Style magazine edition.