Cliff Cole (right), pictured with business partner Vaga Faalavaau, is the co-owner-operator of Tautua INK.
Born and raised in our neighbourhood, Cliff is of Samoan heritage on both sides of his family, with some Irish in the mix too. He was always into drawing and doodling, but it wasn’t until he saw a good friend tattooing from home that his interest in ink took off. After working under renowned artist, Steve Ma Ching, for several years, Cliff and Vaga opened their own store in Avondale where they specialise in Polynesian tattoos, including hosting traditional Tatau artists using the 'au.
“I’d always been keen on art, especially Polynesian stuff,” says Cliff. “I used to ask tattooists 'how do you get into it?' But 15 or 20 years ago it was a bit hush-hush and hard to get into. I got into it just by chance. I was working for the Department of Corrections and bumped into a mate who was working there as well. I went to his house one time and I saw him tattoo someone and asked how he gotten started. He showed me and I just went from there. So, my last two years at Corrections, I was tattooing from home at the same time; just friends, family, pig heads or anything I could tattoo, even myself.
“Then Steve Ma Ching from Western Tattoo in New Lynn messaged me and said, 'do you wanna work for me?'. My eyes lit up, ya know. There was no better place to learn for what I wanted to do. Working there, there was always good artists around. When I got there, Vaga was there, a good artist. Lance [Hadfield] was there; a good ta moko artist. The stuff I was into, these people were doing so I was sorta feeding off them, picking their brains and watching them.
“Watching Steve work was like watching someone put down a blueprint, the stages and steps. Whereas before I'd just do a little bit here, a little bit there until it all adds up. But he actually mapped out a whole thing. He took me in and taught me a lot. By then I had already done a couple of years at home, so I wasn't just learning from scratch, [but] being there fast-tracked a lot of stuff and cut out a lot of bad habits, and things I wasn't doing right. I’m thankful to Steve for the opportunity.
“Us starting Tautua Ink was just a natural progression. I was always thinking to open up in Avondale, 100%. I grew up here and it just made sense. It's been good man, every day we have schoolmates or neighbours popping in and chatting for 5 or 10 minutes then they're on their way. It's like a little spot to catch up on all the gossip and what everyone's up to [laughs]. The business side I'm still learning, tryna get my head around it. But like anything, just chip away and pick things up along the way, and it'll figure itself out [laughs].
“But I didn't open the shop by myself, it was me and Vaga. We had both left Western Tattoo and there was a shop available here in Avondale. When we got it, it was just a shitty little box. Everything you see now, we put in here. We've got a good foundation. We're lucky a lot of our clients followed us over from Western Tattoo and it's just grown. There's three artists: me, Vaga and Tevita, and we've also got Patrick selling tattoo supplies, all the inks, needles and that. Business is going good. It's busy and that's all we can ask for.”
By #ILoveAvondale. Photo by Bayly & Moore.