Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

From Lower Hutt to New York Fashion Week: Samoan designer makes debut

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Samoan fashion designer Ina Malama. Photo: Oxford Fashion Studios
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Breanna Tugaga-Rogers | Te Rito Journalism Cadet

Ina Malama has fulfilled the lifelong dream of every fashion designer worldwide, all by the age of 25.

Ina’s collection of men’s streetwear called 505A, named after her childhood address in Wellington, took the runway of one of the biggest global platforms for aspiring trendsetters.

“I didn’t realise how much of a big deal this was leading up to Fashion Week,” Ina said. “I didn’t think I’d be like one of the first islanders, Polynesians, or even Kiwis actually to get on the main stage.”

I.N.A Apparel was hand-selected by a UK agency called Oxford Fashion Studios, which discovered her brand through Instagram. They represent emerging designers around the world at all the Fashion Weeks, and they wanted to represent Ina.

Two months later, she was signed to the agency and planned to head to New York Fashion Week in 2020, but then COVID happened.

I.N.A Apparel men’s collection backstage at NYFW Photo: Oxford Fashion Studios

“This process was actually three years in the making and there were points where I wasn’t even sure this was going to go ahead. On the way to New York, I couldn’t sleep on the plane and I was stressed backstage thinking of what-if scenarios. Now that it’s happened, I can finally relax. I’m so happy with how it turned out.”

Ina’s collection was inspired by a time of reflection during the COVID lockdown. She wanted people to forget about all the bad things happening in the world and to really identify with the colourful nostalgia of 505A.

“I wanted to make a collection about all the things that defined my childhood, so the colours of this collection were very reflective of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. I love early 2000s R&B and hip-hop music, just pop culture, MTV.”

When Ina did her Bachelor of Design (with Honours) at Massey University, she researched how men’s clothing changed over the years depending on stereotypes and gender norms, like how pink is supposed to be for girls and blue for boys. She wanted to make a collection that broke that stigma and was free of those restrictions.

I.N.A Apparel men’s collection on runway at NYFW Photo: Oxford Fashion Studios

“I try to make sure that everything I make embraces different aspects of fashion. In my first collection, I actually had a skirt and that went really well, men loved it! It was inspired by the lavalava so it was like a wrap skirt.”

Ina’s talent for fashion didn’t come all at once. She didn’t take sewing seriously until year 13, but even then she said she still didn’t know how to use a sewing machine properly.

“I initially took fashion as a filler subject to get NCEA credits to pass school. I sucked at sewing but I liked it. I did a wearable arts competition and that was the one moment when my teacher was like, you should take this up to a tertiary level, and it all happened from there.”

When Ina first got the invitation to go to New York Fashion Week, she said she was actually going to say no because she was scared about being the only Pasifika person in the emerging showcase.

I.N.A Apparel previous collection ‘Unfiltered Man’ featuring skirt. Photo: Supplied

“I was also scared about judgement, about people saying ‘oh well you only have this one chance and you’re doing bright menswear,’ but I took the risk and was like maybe someone might like my stuff, and it turns out a lot of people do!”

Ina said this opportunity provided a good platform as there were so many buyers in the crowd, and people from all areas of the fashion industry came to the show.

“From Lower Hutt to New York, I still feel like the same person, I don’t think I’m higher than anyone else. I guess I’m humble like my parents have always taught me to be. It doesn’t matter how successful you get, always remember where you were and your roots.”

Ina said she’s overwhelmed with the achievement of this great milestone in her career, and after she soaks it in for a couple of months, she plans to start a new collection: “maybe a winter one.”

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