On trend: Melanesian fashion on show in NZ

On trend: Melanesian fashion on show in NZ

By Manoa Dawaibalavu
Tuesday 05/10/2021
Pacific island designers in Auckland with New Zealand MP Agnes Loheni, fifth from the left, and stylist Nora Swann, far right. [Photo: Christine Rovoi]

Melanesian designers will showcase their spin on high fashion for the first time at the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show in Auckland on Saturday.

The event returns for its fourth year with a collection of creations from 13 emerging Pasifika and Māori designers.

Organisers say a wide range of fashion styles from Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, United States, Australia and New Zealand will be on display.

The show will also feature a new generation of skills from streetwear to resort wear.

Four Melanesians are taking part.

That includes Lava Grossmith from Solomon Islands who has been involved in the industry for 30 years.

She was self-taught by her mother who was a tailor and said her designs are influenced by her roots. She enjoys creating outfits that can be worn at all occassions - from the casual, street, evening and bridal wear.

Ms Grossmith, who hails from West Kola Ridge, also specialises in plus-size wear and aims to make fashion comfortable for everyone. She runs her own tailoring business, Lava's Original Fashion Wear.

Passion for fashion

The Pacific Fusion Fashion Show is the brainchild of stylist and social entrepreneur Nora Swann.

Having worked in the industry for seven years, she has seen a real need for emerging designers to test their ideas in the marketplace.

"My goal is to provide the essential skills the designers require to help them reach their full potential that will enable them to bring out their best," she said.

"This show is about out potential and our unique spin on high-fashion."

eight-col-Nora-Swann-mall-cropped[Stylist and social entrepreneur, Nora Swann, who is the founder of the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show. Photo: RNZ/Todd Niall]

"Since our first show in 2016, many designers have reached out because they believe in our philosophy.

"They also view the opportunity as a great way to build their confidence and test their ideas beyond the traditional Pacific design category."

The proud Pacific Islander said her mission was to build the confidence of emerging designers to step into the fashion industry and entrepreneurship in style.

Papua New Guinea

The AA's Tribal Fashion label originates out of Papua New Guinea textile designer Anna Amos' love for art and her country.

She has been fascinated by how art repeats itself in both nature and man-made objects through colour, lines, shapes and texture.

The 49-year-old uses PNG tribal motifs, prints to create contemporary wear.

Her inspiration came from traditional items such as Stone Axe, Kundu drums, shields, spears, plants and patterns.

"We are from a country where we are a very colourful people with different kinds of traditional elements," she said.

"And through our face-painting, in our bilas, the traditional costumes and even the landscape of our beautiful country.

"So I tried to look at all these things and then incorporate them with contemporary wear."

eight-col-20191002-114033[Anna Amos of AAs Tribal Fashion in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Christine Rovoi]

Ms Amos has been in the design profession for more than 14 years and works with local communities.

"I help empower women, people with disabilities, youth, vulnerable individuals, transgender and miniority communities."

The Simbu native said she hoped to bring alive her country's tradition and love for colours on the runway.


For Tongan Leiola Finau-Rakau, 31, it's a dream come true to be selected to represent Vanuatu at this year's show.

She moved to Port Vila with her husband and children four years ago and they now call it home.

Vanuatu was a diverse country and her collection included clothing and handicraft depicting the Pacific nation's cultural and modern twist on fashion.

"The prints on my garments are from Vanuatu's cultural tattoos and the plants, leaves are also from Vanuatu," she said. "So I combine it with my collection - some things like the coconut husks and my ear-rings and the flowers - that's all from Vanuatu."

Ms Finau-Rakau started making handicrafts in 2012 and she launched her clothing label - Native Wear - last year.

The style of her brand was a mixture of Pacific culture and modern fashion - from her adopted home Vanuatu to her Tongan heritage.

eight-col-20191002-115850[Tongan Leiola Finau-Rakau is proud to represent Vanuatu at this year's Pacific Fusion Fashion Show in Auckland. Photo: Christine Rovoi]

But the mother-of-three said it had not been an easy journey.

She met her husband while studying computer programming at university in Fiji and during her final year, she abandoned her studies to get married and start a family.

Ms Finau-Rakau then realised she wanted to become a designer.

"I was only studying for the sake of my family but it was not what I wanted to do. I'm a full-time mom and designer now and it can be very tough.

"But I have had to manage my time well with my work and my family. I'm also lucky to have a supportive husband and family."

This is Ms Finau-Rakau's first appearance at an international fashion show and she said she felt proud to showcase the culture and people of Vanuatu.

Solomon Islands

Elaine Maepio, 59, from Solomon Islands has never been to a fashion show before.

With no formal education for tailoring in the Solomons, she was taught by her mother when she was 12.

Ms Maepio hails from Marovo Lagoon and said her inspiration came from the beauty of the coral reefs and small surrounding islands of the lagoon.

"The Solomon Islands is rich with culture and tradition and through its diverse designs, patterns and colours which is the theme of my collection," she said.

"It is evident in the beautiful prints and patterns, mostly inspired by the local hand-made carvings in Marovo.

eight-col-20191002-121335[Elaine Maepio of the Solomon Islands hopes to continue to inspire and encourage her people. Photo: Christine Rovoi]

"I also help teach the local men and women."

She has facilitated fabric art workshops through her passion to inspire and encourage Solomon Islanders.

Ms Maepio, who runs a store in Honiara, said her creations had also been inspired by missionaries who taught her mother.

She hoped to one day teach her grandchildren this "family tradition".

The Pacific Fusion Fashion Show is being held Saturday, 5 October, at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, Auckland.

[Source: RNZ]

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