Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Moving Fashion Forward in Aotearoa with Louina Fifita

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
While she may not be a familiar face to the average fashion pundit, Louina Fifita is very much part of the fabric of Aotearoa’s fashion industry. Photo: Alice Lolohea / Tagata Pasifika
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Alice Lolohea | Reporter/Director/Videographer

You might have spotted her glorious, silver mane shining from the front row of various fashion shows around Aotearoa. And while she may not be a familiar face to the average fashion pundit, Louina Fifita is very much part of the fabric of Aotearoa’s fashion industry.

From costume and fashion design, to film, stage, runways and music videos, Louina has done it all. Her experience and extensive industry knowledge has brought Louina to the steps of Mindful Fashion NZ, becoming their newest board member earlier this year. 

The clothing and textile collective work to achieve goals of inclusivity and sustainability within their industry, is a perfect fit for Louina. She says textiles are her big passion. 

“I love the fabric – don’t come to my house cause’ I’ve still got fabric there when I was working for Karen Walker,” she laughs.

Like many other designers and stylists, the family home was where it all began. She recalls her mother, Feletoa, would make clothes for her and her sister.

“I still have her machine, you know those old Singers? I still have that.

Louina co-founded Starboy, a steampunk line which she exhibited at London Pacific Fashion Week in 2015. Photo: Joanna Mitroi Photography

With my mum I was always around fabric…I think I kind of knew from an early age that I would be doing something in clothing,” says Louina.

After starting her own family and working as an apparel merchandiser for Kmart, Louina’s passion for fabrics and fashion grew. 

She completed a fabric design course at AUT and was set to take up a fashion degree the following year. However with a 3-4 month wait in between, Louina thought, “I can’t sit around. I have to do something”.

She did some old-fashioned door knocking, looking up various Kiwi designers, showing up to their offices and asking if they had any jobs available. It paid off and she caught a break with Zambesi.  

For a year she developed her skills in the Zambesi workroom and from here Louina moved on to work for Karen Walker for six years as a production assistant.

Although she ended up walking away from her degree, Louina has no regrets about her decision.

“I just learned everything fashion when I was at Karen Walker. I think I made a good choice regarding my degree – the degree would never have given me what I learned during that time, ” says Louina.

Louina also collaborated with renown artist Lindah Lepou, working on Lindah’s famous AITU showcase.

Often “the only brown face” in these spaces, Louina was yearning to see what Pacific fashion was like. “I left Karen’s and I met the great Lindah Lepou,” she smiles.

Louina and Lindah collaborated on a variety of projects, including Lindah’s well-documented Aitu exhibition, London Fashion Week and the costumes for Kila Kokonut Krew’s The Factory.

She then went on to co-found the steampunk line Starboy. The line was a huge hit with cosplayers and metal fans and Louina continues to hire out costumes and outfits from the line. 

These days Louina is helping other designers with suppliers, sourcing fabrics and production. Other times she’s meeting with design students, sharing her experiences and connecting them with job experience in her former places of work. 

And while the world of fashion can seem glamorous from the outside, Louina is brutally honest about the reality of making it in the industry.

“I’m just straight out with them,” Louina says.

“Maybe just one or two [students] will make it. But I tell them ‘don’t put your mind on being a designer cause’ it might not happen.’

Photo: Alice Lolohea / Tagata Pasifika

“There are amazing roles –  there’s cutting, there’s suppliers, there’s pattern making, so many different roles and equally important as well. Cause’ if you’re designing something and you can’t get anyone to make it, then what are you doing?”

Louina is also trying to encourage more Pacific people into the mainstream side of the industry. “It’s not a scary thing being in that palagi workroom, they will get exposed to what I got exposed too –  fashion shows, events, just everything. And who knows, it might take them overseas.” 

As for her new role at Mindful Fashion NZ, Louina says, “it means responsible fashion, you know, thinking about things before you do it.”

With the fashion industry being the second biggest polluter in the world, Louina is keenly aware of reusing and repurposing materials, and Louina would often donate leftover materials to schools for aspiring fashion students to make sure there was no wastage.

“Any spare fabrics we got, these beautiful fabrics, there’d be leftovers –  quite a reasonable amount. I’d give it to the students and they’d sew it into their jackets and things, leftover zips, cotton and thread.

Louina adds, I’ll probably get into trouble one day – sorry to the designers who would see a student walking around in their designer fabrics!”

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