Five more established and emerging Pacific designers to know

Two weeks to go, endless inspiration awaits.

As the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show nears, our latest deep dive provides a taster of the cascades of styles, lines and inspirations we’ll be seeing on December 1. 

Bringing a rich tapestry of inspiration to the table, meet five more seasoned and emerging Pasifika designers united by their laser-focused brand DNA and modern takes on traditional Pacific Island textiles and techniques.


Karishma Design – Karishma Singh Kelsey

Ask Karishma Design what they stand for, and it’s crystal clear. “Your body, your canvas, one piece of many expressions, an homage to the sacred feminine, social restoration through clothing, co-created indigenous thinking systems with indigenous thinkers,” lists founder Karishma Singh Kelsey.

Karishma Design is “a social justice brand,” where fashion is the vehicle — a sentiment proudly described by “an unusual design enterprise” greeting visitors to Karishma’s home page in uppercase. 

“The brand started off as a political expression of Apartheid South Africa 20 years ago” shares Karishma, which has now “going through its transformation and then telling its stories.”

Transformation is at the heart of their PFFS showcase. An homage to the artisans whose lives have been forever altered by their involvement, Karisma has chosen 15 iconic but rejuvenated ensembles to feature in a “vintage collection,” titled “The Ifa Lethu Showcase.”

“It is a testament to the power of fashion to create change, echoing Karishma Design’s unwavering dedication to a vision that transcends mere clothing – a vision that aspires to connect us all, like a harmonious thread woven through the tapestry of life, using our bodies as our canvas to reflect those values.”

“These garments have been meticulously mended, revamped, and restyled, a testament to the intergenerational continuum of creativity. They are not just clothes; they are taonga, precious heirlooms, symbolic of our role as stewards of Mother Earth.”

A taonga in and of itself is the fact these designs showcase the philosophy of African Design thinking. “Which is to be slow, ethical, and consciously crafted pieces using all the materials around,” says Karishma, who hopes her design brings to life the African philosophy of collective thinking and long-term thinking for Aotearoa’s audiences. 

A proud interplay between contemporary and traditional are the Saratogas on lIfalethu collection. “We call it the intergenerational folding of cultures.”

The epitome of grace, the Saratoga is “a masterpiece of intergenerational cultural mixing, a folding of heritage that fuses our complex Afro-Indian histories within its very folds and creases. Like a reflection of our South African rainbow nation, the Saratoga unfolds and refolds, adapting to the space it occupies and the needs of the wearer, crafting new stories with each delicate fold.”

Not one to rest on Laurels, Karishma teases she’ll launch a programme to access “our designs in a more affordable and earth-first model.” We’re intrigued.


Ata’ataoletaeao McNealy — FaTasiLima

Ever heard of the art of counter-storyteller? That’s exactly what we can expect from label FaTasiLima this year at PFFS, in the form of garments described as “futuristic whimsical streetwear.”

“As a mixed-race person of Moorish-American and Sāmoan descent from the United States, so much of my existence is through the lens of cultural identity as the country was founded on a race-based hierarchy,” notes Mo. “My artwork and art practice have been heavily influenced by cultural heritage; having two parents from different parts of the world who raised me in San Francisco.”

With this rich cultural background, one look at the Mo’s teeming resume and outlook, and it’s clear this year’s presentation will be more than a feast for the eyes.

Unbound by an artist box, multidisciplinary creative, Mo, or Afatasi The Artist embraces mediums that encompass—but are certainly not limited to—textile design and artistry, writing, poetry, photography, singing and songwriting, and of course, fashion designing. 

Duality is a key part of FaTasiLima—and Mo’s existence. “The interplay between tradition and modernity, or duality in general, is one that exists in my everyday life,” she notes. 

“The use of metal and textile” is pointed to what makes FaTasiLima’s creations unique, “particularly my wearable art,” says Mo.  

“Using these materials to interpret my experiences is a part of creating contemporary designs. I have created and developed a lot of new techniques using these mediums, but I got my start in materials exploration though making traditional garments.”

It’s clear that FaTasiLima’s showcase will be all encompassing in terms of the creations and the sensations they share with the audience. “My designs know the entire catalog of Azealia Banks, and Griselda Records (Westside Gunn, Armani Caesar, Conway the Machine, Mach-Hommy and Benny the Butcher) as well as a lot of local Bay Area music, E-40, B-Legit, Too-Short, and Mac Dre.”

Yet, we can expect an extra edge for Auckland’s audience. I was intentional about who my audience is for this show, and I was able to make sure that I had a collection that engaged them and the greater Auckland community,” notes Mo. 

So, what can we expect? A thought-provoking delight. Given Afatasi The Artist’s focus on “Navigational modalities which include wearable art, fine art textile/tapestry creation, and recycled metal sculpture as vehicles of disruption, exploration, and pathways of envisioning speculative futures for her marginalised communities,” we know it’ll be magnificently moving. 


Hupfeld Hubert Hoerder — Hupfeld Hoerder

Celebrating our Pacific culture and heritage through fashion, style and lifestyle,” is Hupfeld Hurbert Hoerder of Hupfeld Hoerder’s goal for his upcoming PFFS showcase. One look at the established designer’s Instagram feed and it’s clear the Suva-based designer has crafted a glittering presence, a strong sense of brand DNA backed by a watertight community of admirers.

You could say Hupfeld Hubert Hoerder Adorns Fiji’s tastemakers in life’s best moments. You’d wear their showstopping design to dazzle on a stage, just as much as you could at a board meeting — a power portrait of one of Fiji’s most admired former government ministers, philanthropist, media personality, and business woman, Bernadette Rounds Ganilau attests to this. 

His designs have caught the eye of other big ticket groups: fashion weeks and events around the world. PFFS for starters, Pacific Runway at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum as well as Australia’s FOMA’s (Fabric of Multicultural Australia,) the sustainable platform for the creative sector that “stimulates economic growth for the creative sector and generates bilateral trading opportunities.” Closer to home, Style Fiji, Fijian Fashion Festival and Fiji Fashion Week have shoulder tapped Hupfeld Hubert Hoerder.

Ever-committed to growth, Hupfeld is currently honing his established success as a current PhD candidate at Western Sydney University in Creative Arts, focusing is on Sustainable Fashion of bespoke design in a Fiji context.

Turning his attention to his fashion craft, Hupfeld cites “Pacific culture and heritage, lifestyle, dance, song and customs,” as his most cherished fashion influences. “The use of our natural resources and prints that tells our story of our ancestors, the land and ocean, flora and fauna. This is seen in my creative processes in the production of each garment, in terms of the prints, and the production of each garment in the collection.”

Behind this, are natural resources authentic fibres of the Pacific crafted into sculptural, couture-esque silhouettes with traditional motifs, natural fibre, beads from shells and seeds in both the main designs and its trimmings. 

“Pasifika fashion can be a global phenomenon on an international platform at London, Paris and New York Fashion weeks,” he muses. As for the seasoned designers’ advice to fellow Pacifica creatives? “Pasifika designers need to brand their garments to an international standard and look for a niche market, [balancing] sustainability with the ever changing demand, taste, values and lifestyle of consumer behaviour.” 

Ever the visionary, Hupfeld sees the versatility of the fabrics and craftsmanship of Pacific design as a shining point of difference. When asked what his designs’ most unique contributions to the fashion conversations are, it is the seamless transience that stands out: “The unique feature is the use of culturally sustainable fabrics and traditional prints and blending them with wearable designs, where East meets West and revamping the old and new styles and silhouettes.”


Lewa StrongBex Peterson

Fashion can be healing—we’re all aware of this power. Perhaps no one more than Bex Peterson (stage name Sassy) of Lewa Strong, a movement that intertwines fashion and violence prevention. 

Lewa Strong is Pasifika Street-to-Chic fashion offering — an offshoot of Sassy’s Pasifika Violence Prevention efforts. “The label is size inclusive for our curvy lewas (women) and strong pacific warriors, and is designed to empower ‘Urbanesians’ to balance modern life with cultural values and responsibilities,” shares Sassy. 

It all started in 2018, when Sassy launched a single titled “Lewa Strong,” in an effort to advocate for girls and women’s issues. It’s this name—which translates to strong women—which planted a seed for her fashion label, designed to target the same complex issues.  

“Lewa Strong garments make it easy for you to honour the culture while looking and feeling like a fashion icon. The message behind the label is breaking tabu/taboo around domestic violence and empowering Pasifika men and women to get help.”

Hoodies and t-shirts form the backbone of this collection, boasting sublimated prints that were created in collaboration with leading Fijian fashion label LAVALANI. Stamped proudly on each shirt, you’ll find art designed by cult-followed Samoan Artist Tawsh Lav. “You will also see my new trademark ‘LS’ print on the garments and a number of transitional pieces that take you from your town attire to cultural wear,” teases Sassy ahead of her PFFS showcase. 

Not one to shy away from the realities behind her message, Sassy notes that “A lot of my designs are featuring the ‘Lewa’ (women) that represent my movement. Each Lewa shows signs of having been abused; one has scars on her neck; one has burn scars on her arm; one has bandages on her wrist and one has a cut lip and eyebrow.”

“But all the lewas look strong and empowered.“

Along with the social message, Sassy wants to challenge the idea that Pacifica designs are “all flowers and Sulu & Jaba (puletasi) and not very applicable to western culture,” and channels this into creating garments that reflect contemporary life that weaves into traditional cultural practices.” She cites the hints to traditional Masi stencilling and printing; the accessories are made from traditional materials (Masi/taps and woven) in her collection. 

“We need more Pacific fashion labels that reflect the reality of modern island life. I hope Lewa Strong will fill that gap!”

While this venture may be new, Sassy’s penchant for fashion has been a constant in her life. “In my youth I was obsessed with NZ designers WORLD; Zambesi and many others. These days I’m widely influenced by my contemporaries in Pacific and Australasian fashion such as Lavalani (Fiji) KuiViti (Fiji) Tabuadrau designs (Fiji) FOU (NZ); size inclusive labels FAYT, ASOS Design curve.” 

Wider surroundings prove to be just as much of a source of inspiration. “I’m hugely influenced by geometric shapes, prints and gem colours of art deco design and functional style/geometric shapes, aesthetic and materials/textures of mid century architecture and furniture design as well.”


Christiane Waneissi & Leiola Rakau — Pacifikmarket.nc

In perhaps one of the best collabs to grace our runways, two tastemakers from the Pacific are joining forces for their PFFS Showcase. Christiane Waneissi, owner and curator extraordinaire of Pacifikmarket.nc with its very own label is bandying with Leiola Rakau, a designer from Vanuatu (who will be recognised by PFFS connoisseurs from a previous previous showcase).

“My historic influence is the Victorian dress” cites Christiane ahead of debuting her collection “Chateaubriand” at PFFS. She teases at a new take on the original Mission dress (a traditional, gently layered and flouncing dress worn commonly in New Caledonia,) which will form the backbone of her collection.

“Chateaubriand is a firework of vivid colours, see-through fabrics. The movements are ample and fluid around the body, the garments have blooming patterns,” promises Christiane ahead of PFFS, who has taken influence from people near and far. “I am a curious person and my travels also influence my representation of colours in clothing,” she notes, alongside the elegance of “the women from my home island: my mams and my aunties, my grandmas,” which she admires as they go from Mama’s markets to churches.  

A number of cultures give Christiane and the Chateaubriand its colour. My collection is named after my place of birth—the white sand beach is like a trim of lace between the lagoon and the vegetation,” she notes. “I choose colours I find everyday around me, in the food, in the environment, in the city, in the islands. I use a lot of shades of red because it’s the colour of my tribe Luecila too.” 

“I like the combination of tapa artwork and lace, it’s the gathering of two strong identity in my fashion journey: Melanesia and Europe,” notes Christiane, who also holds the textile’s practical elements dear. “Tapa represents tradition and lace is modernity, they have their own stories because they both refer to exceptional and traditional know-how in textile history. I use tapa artwork on some clothes because it’s the expression of my Melanesian identity but also the pride to display the textile technology of our tupuna at PFFS.”

The same panache can be said about Christiane’s prints. “The use of Kanak prints on selected fabrics is a useful reflective process prior to the manufacturing steps,” and it holds a strong storytelling element: “I also want to display a symmetry between night and day in the fabrics, as the sun and the moon. This binary vision is a good basis to create, it’s always a dialogue between who we are and how we want to showcase our identities.”

“Stepping up in a big event abroad is a lot of pressure,” Christiane reflects. She’s inspired by the not just sharing Kanak visions of fashion, but the cultural exchange. “PFFS is the best place to meet with experienced designers, to learn from them and to grow self confidence when you begin your journey trying to launch your brand.”

It’s this sense of community that gives designers like Christiane, and the community around her an edge. “Pasifika designers are lucky because we draw our creativity from millennial cultures and indigenous roots. We deserve our place in the fashion industry and we bring a genuine and respectful relationship to our morphologies.” 

So, what can we expect from Pacificmarket.nc’s showcase? If Christiane was to dig into her treasure troves, vibrant ‘Robe Missions’ (traditional, gently layered and flouncing dresses). Adding designer Leiola Rakau, and her bold, bright designs into the mix and it’s clear: Pacificmarket.nc’s PFFS showcase will be a rich tapestry of influences and expressions. What better a testament to her brands’ DNA and very mission, we say. .