And 5 more reasons to secure your tickets to this unmissable fashion event
A long-standing partner of the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, FashioNZ is proud to support this incredible group of artists from Aotearoa and around the world, all connected by their Pacific lineage and their love for not only fashion, but moving conversations around indigenous design into the mainstream.
Nurtured by PFFS founder Nora Swann, who this week wrote an impassioned open letter to the new NZ government calling for more support for pacific peoples in the fashion industry, we are honoured to introduce the next tranche of Pacific Fusion designers, coming to a runway near you.
Peni Taehia Moala – Peni Taehia
In Peni Taehia‘s designs and creative expression, you’ll find a deep appreciation for the heritage and craftsmanship of his native Tonga. “Growing up in a household steeped in tradition, I was exposed to the vibrant colours, intricate textiles, and timeless designs of my culture from a young age,” he says. “I naturally gravitated towards incorporating these elements into my work.”
Such elements range from patterns, materials, silhouettes and colour palettes, to detailed wearable arts – notably the Pacific shell jewellery that adorns his garments in an homage to the sea. “The interplay between the traditional and contemporary in my work is a delicate and thoughtful process,” he says. “I’ve taken traditional details and techniques and reinterpreted them to suit modern life.”
Less tangible, but just as present in every Peni Taehia piece is a profound sense of personal and cultural connection. The Queenstown-based designer says Tongan stories, traditions, and values “have been a wellspring of inspiration”.
“Many designers draw inspiration from their cultural backgrounds. I strive to create a seamless marriage between traditional elements and modern aesthetics with a goal of bridging the gap between heritage and innovation, making Pasifika fashion more accessible and relevant.”
Peni isn’t joking – when asked where he wants to see his garments worn, he’s emphatic.
“GLOBAL! WORLD WIDE! EVERYWHERE!”
He elaborates: “By offering garments that resonate with both cultural pride and current fashion trends, I see myself contributing to a broader dialogue of diversity, inclusivity, and the enduring significance of cultural heritage in the fashion world.”
Expect to see this play out one sculptural silhouette at a time when Peni Taehia takes to the PFFS runway in December.
Helena Cocker-Valu – KONQUER
“There will always be contrasts within my work,” says Helena Cocker-Valu, whose label is all about the merging of two worlds.
“Things can be simple, but not plain. I love the classics, but I also love the newest modes of fashion. Old-fashioned but timeless. Colour gives me life but I’ll never stray away from neutrals or an all-black moment.”
To call it a tapestry of juxtapositions would be entirely appropriate, being a brand with the Tapa cloth [Ngatu] at its heart. “The Ngatu holds such a serene presence across all Pasifika cultures,” says Cocker-Valu. “You can’t get more traditional than that.”
But it’s ‘merging’, not ‘modernising’ the Ngatu that interests the designer.
“I wish to bring the traditions [of my culture] into the future, weaving them into contemporary life while still allowing them the space to be just as they are, “says Cocker-Valu. “It’s about treating the Ngatu with respect.” For her, that means intertwining old and new in order to breathe life into the traditional garment, elevating it for a fashionable audience in Aotearoa.
Embracing her Tongan roots is still relatviely new for Cocker-Valu, and has involved “a lot of trial and error”.
“The cultural aspect of my fashion journey didn’t enter until quite late,” she shares, adding that “it has a lot to do with the space you’re in at the time.” She recalls the conflicted identity she faced as a Tongan student at a predominantly pākeha school, playing club netball at Waitākere and living in Avondale. “My culture would come through and then at times it wouldn’t because I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself.”
What flipped the script was a stronger connection to her cultural heritage coupled by a few ‘You don’t dress like yourself’ comments from Mum, and witnessing the joy of her younger brothers’ crazy ‘fits. “I am proud of my dress sense now because I feel safe in the way I choose to present it,” she says.
It’s this pride that Cocker-Valu draws on when designing today.
“I don’t want to wave my red and white flag in people’s faces as a way to boost my image into mainstream fashion. I don’t want to weaponise my Tongan heritage as a means to gain sympathy votes. I don’t want to make performative pieces. I want to bring the traditions [of my culture] into the future, weaving them into contemporary life while still allowing them the space to be just as they are.”
Ellena Tavioni – Tav Pacific
In an age of instant gratification, a moment with a stand-out garment can have a huge impact on our psyche, and designer Ellena Tavioni has expertly harnessed this dopamine rush through her brand, Tav Pacific.
“The minute the garment is on the body, a transformation in the confidence of the model can be seen immediately,” she says as she preps for the PFFS show in December. Not just specific to the runway, it’s a feeling of metamorphosis that should translate easily in real life, too. “Our items are not only beautiful, but comfortable and easy to wear,” says Tavioni.
Hailing from the Cook Islands, Tavioni says her approach to fabric involves mixing “traditional motifs with the environment that I live in – including the abundance of flora and fauna.”
Both patterns and process are authentic products of the Cook Islands, where what starts as block printing, painting and dip dyeing of patterns is finished with a hand-placed drape or tuck, no outsourcing needed.
Such hands-on, local experience allows for continuous adaptations of key motifs. “Styles are adapted to current trends, but the objective is always to create a timeless piece,” says Tavioni, seen here in the midst of a Dolce Vita moment, traipsing around Venice’s canals.
Impatient to get your hands on Tav Pacific ahead of PFFS? The Melbourne-based designer’s global reach covers both Cook Islands and Aotearoa, with a Tav Pacific store tuckled away in Rarotonga’s Vakatini Road, and Auckland’s 163 Onehunga Mall Road, respectively.
Phillip Heketoa – Lipo
Phillip Heketoa is on a mission to create clothing “that sets you apart in a good way – individual cool, I call it.”
It’s a mission that’s proving to be worth all the hard mahi – handsewing garments on night shifts at The Warehouse and working out of his tiny shed on a 5-year old sewing machine and an ancient overlocker that belonged to his aunt.
Having debuted his first collection Secret Garden at PFFS back in 2022, his label Lipo – a play on his nickname – is set to show for a third time at PFFS in December, after his second collection was hand-picked for the Viva Next Gen runway at NZFW: Kahuria 2023.
Somewhat of a homecoming, then, this December’s showcase looks at “the story of where Lipo is now, and where Lipo wants to go.”
Ideating is one of Heketoa’s favourite parts of the design journey. “Right now I have 15 looks I need to narrow down to 10, so a little bit still to navigate,” he says. “But I really enjoy the pre-production and behind-the scenes aspects of a project.”
As for his designs: “They don’t really have a recognisable Polynesian aesthetic,” he says. “I’m Polynesian and have always believed that this is enough as a designer. My family and friends are proud of me.”
At the same time, he does occasionally wonder about adding some more polynesian flair to his work. “The thought of it is certainly exciting,” he says. “It’s something you might see someday. I have so much more to share.”
For now, Heketoa’s unique take lies in his ability to work with what’s presented to him. Cut offs, donated fabrics and scrap materials all lay a foundation for long-wearing pieces that the wearer can incorporate into their existing wardrobe. “Fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world and it’s everyone’s responsibility to do better,” he says.
Not afraid to stand out from the norm, Heketoa remains inspired by those in his design network who have a point of view, and something to share and say. “As an emerging designer, it’s very powerful to have someone say, ‘just do you’. The community has layers and layers of creative, talented people, and I am starting to see myself reflected in that.
As he gears up for PFFS, it’s fitting that the track ‘Cozy’ by Beyoncé is on repeat – “Comfortable in my skin / Feet up above your sins / I love myself, goddamn (cozy, cozy)”.
Niquita Samuel – KQTA
In Niquita Samuel’s world of KQTA, incorporating recycled elements isn’t just a way of making a fashion statement or a nod at sustainability, it’s part of embracing Te Ao Māori.
“My fashion journey has led me to recycling pieces of clothing that have been given to me from my family that have passed away,” shares Samuel. “By redesigning special garments that have a connection to memory, I can retell the story of my whanau on this journey that I am on.”
It’s a journey punctuated with pure energy and raw grit. Think distressed textures, diffused yet thematically-blended colours, brought together with avant garde sculptural silhouettes and a touch of punk.
For Samuel, it’s precisely these colours, textures, layering and draping, as well as the handcrafted accessories that “bring the mahi [of the clothes] to life – giving them the extra mana that is needed to reveal the true mana wahine or mana man modelling each look on the runway.”
Bringing together so many elements, it comes as no surprise that Samuel draws on a mixed bag of inspirations and influences, citing Coco Chanel, Iris Van Herpen, and Kiri Nathan alongside Versace, Balmain and the Baroque period. Not to mention musical and er, mixed media references, with Aaliyah, Ciara, Beyoncé, Mortal Kombat, and The Bible.
It’s these influences that Samuel quite literally weaves into KQTA, by way of traditional Maori weaving techniques, including the whatu, which is traditionally used in making Korowai.
“It was taught to me by Master Weaver, my Aunty Rhonda Nancy Samuel,” says the designer, who’s taken and run with this mana for the modern age. “By using recycled fabrics instead of harakeke muka to twine each piece together, I create a Taonga using both traditional and contemporary methods within my mahi.”
Adding that her label’s motto would be “If you got it, flaunt it betchhhhhh”, alongside copious amounts of fire emojis, we expect KQTA to bring the heat at Pacific Fusion Fashion Show in December.