Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

‘Wearing Fiji’ helps expand Horizons for young designers

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Kendall Vano | Reporter

Young designers take the opportunity to experience a ‘mini-residency’ in the Aotearoa fashion scene.

Earlier this year, a group of fashion designers from Fiji spent time in New Zealand, observing and meeting iconic Kiwi fashion designer Karen Walker as part of the Wearing Fiji project.

An initiative co-founded by leading Fijian designer Samson Lee, the project helps empower emerging designers in Fiji, “where formal fashion education is lacking”. 

“It broadened our minds to the vast opportunities available, especially in terms of education,” says Lee.

Heather Vakaosooso, a Wearing Fiji Designer award winner, says the visit has “ allowed me to break out of my comfort zone and pursue long-held aspirations.”

Their visit brought them to Auckland’s Britomart Fashion Hub, where cultural diversity challenged perceptions. 

Group member Aisea Solomone remarked on the expressive styles that contrast with Fiji’s conservative norms, while Heather admired the freedom of self-expression.

“The way they get to express themselves, to be honest. Because in Fiji everyone’s like, uh, very conservative,” Heather says. 

“Coming from Fiji where a lot of that is done. But when you come to a space where people are so expressive,” Aisea added. 

Guiding them through this exploration is celebrated New Zealand designer Karen Walker. 

Last year, she held a fashion design masterclass in Fiji with Wearing Fiji students and alumni and was part of the panel of judges to select the Student Designer of the Year award. 

Her advice to the students this time was get out and experience the world. 

“You don’t even need to have any doors open to you, just go and experience it, soak it up,” she says. 

Heather acknowledges the transformative nature of the experience, saying that she had learnt a lot during the last four days, especially from Karen and her team.

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