Kiri Nathan leads Maori fashion hikoi to China

Kiri Nathan Hikoi to China

Designer Kiri Nathan (centre left) and the Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective in China. Image by Damien Nikora.

Representation is incredibly important in fashion and designer Kiri Nathan has been championing Māori design since she first got into the fashion industry. The talented designer recently led a hikoi to China with the Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective made up of 15 Māori designers and creatives. The idea was to expose small and emerging Māori designers to potential buyers and industry heavy weights in China while also raising awareness of the uniqueness of Māori fashion.

Over the course of her career Kiri has had the opportunity to showcase her craft overseas and has built a network of contacts that she wanted to share with others. “The NZ fashion industry can be extremely isolating and is not known for kindness and sharing, I wanted to have a go at changing that culture,” adds Kiri Nathan.

The group of designers known as Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective were able to visit some of the largest fabric and manufacture markets in the world on their trip. Not to mention meeting with some of the biggest names in the business including Alibaba T-Mall global, Shang Xia, China’s upmost luxury fashion brand, Lane Crawford Shanghai (China’s equivalent of Harrods) and networks into Shanghai Fashion Week. The hikoi were also hosted by Guo Pei’s atelier and The Museum of China.

While in China the 8 Māori fashion brands presented a static display during Minister David Parker’s business delegation attended by some of New Zealand and China’s leading companies and organisations. Kiri Nathan was a member of the delegation and took the opportunity to share the story of designer Kohi Woodman from Kaikohe and how she has been able to operate a prosperous business from an isolated region. Crucial to many designers who wish to stay with their communities is e-commerce which allows brands to do business from smaller regions with the likes of China without having to move to larger cities.

An exciting highlight of the trip and a first for NZ fashion was an ongoing shoot during the trip which saw celebrated photographer Damien Nikora shoot garments from each Māori designer on location at the Great Wall of China and in the back allies of China’s fabric markets.

Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective were also invited to the prestigeous Imperial Springs Resort enjoying a rare full access pass. While another first was realised as the roopu (group) were invited to shoot in the chairman’s private museum amongst his priceless personal art collections. MFAT and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise supported Kāhui through Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Beijing.

The Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective is made up of the labels MATU, J’AKE, Indigenous ASF, Mitchell Vincent Collection, Ryan Turner, Campbell-Luke, KIRI NATHAN, Nichola and photographers and content creatives Damien Nikora and James Rua. Together the group experienced 13 days of life changing meetings and experiences to help them further their careers and brands.

Underpinning the Kāhui MFC is the genuine tautoko (support) that each member has for the other’s dreams and business success, with Kaitiakitanga (gaurdianship) and manaakitanga (caring for others) at the forefront of their vision. The creation and success of the collective has led New Zealand Trade and Enterprise to extend an invitation to form the first Māori Fashion Coalition which is an exciting development.

Kiri Nathan has been working towards the proper recognition of Māori fashion over many years and says that it is relatively unknown and ‘often stereotyped as koru on fabric shirts’. The designer wants to see Māori fashion being recognised and valued both nationally and internationally for its quality and unique point of difference.

Kiri’s unwavering dedication to the cause has seen her vision gain the support of Auckland International Airport, Asia New Zealand Foundation and ATEED, who have all gotten behind Kāhui’s success. While Poutama Trust, Te Puni Kōkiri and Ngāti Kuri trust’s support have been essential to Kāhui MFC’s success to date. Here’s to more recognition and success for Māori fashion in NZ and globally.

Jason and Kiri Nathan with designs by Kiri Nathan and pounamu by Jason Nathan in China.

Kiri Nathan Hikoi to China

Designers Jacob Coutie and Ryan Turner get their garments ready for an event with Minister David Parker.

Kiri Nathan Hikoi to China

The Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective take in the sights on The Great Wall of China.

Images by Damien Nikora.