7 Māori designers changing Aotearoa’s fashion landscape

Aotearoa is blessed with an abundance of creative talent and our fashion industry is no exception.

If there was one thing we’d change about fashion in general, it would be the industry’s lack of pause, appreciation and reflection. Living in Aotearoa with a strong modern connection to our country’s Maori heritage, this gives us a unique advantage to tap into traditions, lifestyles and ways of thinking that can offer us a deeper understanding of life, one of which is a need to pause and reflect.

Matariki is one of those moments, and we are lucky that our collective appreciation for this New Year celebration has gathered importance in recent years to the point now that it permeates many aspects of our winter lives.  A time for communities to come together and celebrate, Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace, and offers a meaningful moment of pause in our otherwise busy lives.

Among the talented individuals making their mark in the industry, these seven Māori designers are leading the way forward. All have been featured before on FashioNZ, and with Matariki right around the corner what better time to showcase their creative excellence together.

Kiri Nathan

Designer Kiri Nathan (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Hau) is a true fashion and business powerhouse. A recent win? She was honoured as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Māori and the fashion industry in 2020, not to mention, her widely praised NZFW: Kahuria 2023 opening show. Making her NZFW debut in 2009 as part of the first Miromoda show, Kiri went on to stun attendees with an incredible solo show in 2018, which showcased her beautiful, slow fashion designs, distinctly Māori in their essence and aesthetic.

Not just a talented designer, Kiri founded the Kāhui Collective which mentors and promotes Māori designers, and led a successful hikoi to China in 2019. Four years later, Kiri operates a creative community in Glen Innes called Te Āhuru Mōwai, home to the Kāhui Mentorship Programme. The space hosts events and workshops, and is fitted out with a suite of resources including a sample room and photo suite for Māori designers to realise their aspirations.

Kiri’s influence is international, dressing notable people for equally notable moments. It was her masterfully created kākahu that then-prime minister Jacinda Ardern wore to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Kiri has dressed Jacinda Ardern for numerous other engagements including her visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. And let’s not forget the show stopping emerald moment that was Aotearoa film-maker Chelsea Winstanley’s 2020 Oscars red carpet gown.

Photo from Kiri Nathan’s NZFW: Kahuria opening show


Dr Bobby Luke

Designer Dr Bobby Luke (Ngāti Ruanui) is the founder of Campbell Luke, a brand that has swiftly ascended the fashion ranks thanks to impeccably crafted garments and Dr Bobby’s unique aesthetic. Campbell Luke came into its own at NZFW 2019 with a solo debut that brought down the house with its powerful expression of indigenous cultural heritage. Prior to this, Dr Bobby’s sublime designs had captivated audiences at the Miromoda and New Generation NZFW shows.

It’s not just Dr Bobby’s fashion output that makes up the rich Campbell Luke universe. Moving image and photography are part of the craft, as a means to visually communicate his research which centres around challenging the dominance of Western design paradigms and pedagogy.

His latest collection, “He Oranga Ngākau,” showcased at NZFW 2023, once again demonstrates his immense talent and his ability to challenge conventional fashion thinking and practices.

Bobby Luke takes immense pride in promoting Kaupapa Māori-led designs. His strong connection to his iwi, hapu, and the broader landscapes of Aotearoa is evident in the collection’s essence and message.

In 2022, Campbell Luke attended Fiji Fashion Week for both a showcase and whakawhanaungatanga (the process of establishing meaningful relations with others). Following on from NZFW: Kahuria, most of Dr Luke’s collection traveled with him to the Indigenous Fashion Arts’ Biennale in Canada this year. Looking even further ahead, his long-term plan is to explore the potential of indigenous fashion film on a global, moving scale.

Photo from Dr Bobby Luke’s 2023 NZFW: Kahuria show

Kat Tua 

Initially, Auckland fashion designer Kat Tua found it kind of intimidating to incorporate elements of her Māori heritage into her creative work. Today, her Māori-inspired menswear label, MANAAKI, is featured on the prestigious international luxury fashion site, Mr Porter. 

Kat draws inspiration from Māori art, weaving and storytelling, and uses her collections to explore social and political subcultural movements both past and present.  These themes appear in her hand-drawn prints, graphics and knitwear. Combined with her love of denim, MANAAKI ranges are casual, spirited and meaningful. 

Before launching Manaaki in 2020, Kat Tua spent over a decade working long hours for some of Australia’s top fashion brands, all while managing the demands of raising a young son.

MANAAKI’s debut collection drew inspiration from 1970s New Zealand, particularly the Māori and Pacific Island social action groups like the Polynesian Panthers and the atmosphere at Bob Marley’s iconic Auckland concert in 1979. Her retro-inspired designs reimagine what her “style icon” Marley might wear if he were alive today. Beyond his fashion sense, Kat deeply admires the Jamaican musician’s remarkable ability to unite diverse communities.

The MANAAKI SS24 collection is available to shop now on Mr. Porter.

Nichola Te Kiri

Nichola Te Kiri founded her contemporary Māori design label over a decade ago in her hometown of Kirikiriroa (Hamilton). Nichola’s design house works across a range of items include kākahu (clothing), whakakai (jewellery), nga rama (lamps) and mahi toi (artworks) which are available through her Hamilton store, online and via stockists around Aotearoa. Late last year, Nichola’s uniform collaboration with Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira was revealed, her revamping of the museum’s front-of-house Visitor Host uniforms designed to shore up the connection between the staff and their workplace. Nichola’s eye-catching designs have also been showcased on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week and Hong Kong Fashion Week.


Jeanine Clarkin

Jeanine Clarkin founded her eponymous label in 1994 and has been sharing her unique design style, which draws from her Māori culture and enjoyment of travel and art ever since. Jeanine has worked as a costume designer for dance and theatre, a fashion show producer and creative director, as well as a curator of art exhibitions, including one at contemporary art space Grey, where her sculptural garments were staged alongside sculpture and mixed media artworks. A testament to Jeanine’s artful eye, her joint NZFW 2019 show saw upcycled blankets as a focal point of her designs.


Adrienne Whitewood

Rotorua based designer Adrienne Whitewood (Rongowhakaata and Ngāpuhi), launched her eponymous label after graduating from AUT with a degree in fashion design and opened her first store, Ahu Boutique, in 2013. Adrienne’s inspiration comes from Māori art and culture, which she channels into day wear and accessories – notably, her eye-catching earrings. We saw Adrienne Whitewood take to the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week 2017 with a slick collection of relaxed men’s and women’s looks that drew rapturous applause. Since this debut, Adrienne’s business and family has been growing as she continues to champion Te Ao Māori.

Mitchell Vincent

Designer Mitchell Vincent is based in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) and founded his contemporary label after graduating from Wintec in 2013. Stride after stride has been made by this passionate designer since he joined the Centre of Asia-Pacific Excellence’s Southeast Asia expedition to take his business, acumen and mindset to new levels in a compelling and wonderfully well-documented visit. Minimalist aesthetics mixed with nods to Māori heritage are at the heart of every Mitchell Vincent collection, offering relaxed styles for men and women since he first appeared in the Miromoda and New Generation shows at New Zealand Fashion Week, followed by a solo debut in 2017