From healing journeys to Cottagecore, five more Pacific designers to know

The Pacific Fusion Fashion Show is coming to Auckland

The third installment of our PFFS coverage where we profile the incredible designers set to showcase their creations on the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show runway, we are thrilled to introduce five more of the names to know ahead of the event in Auckland on December 1

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.


A few candy coloured designs by Johana Te Momo of Momo Aotearoa

Momo Aotearoa – Johana Te Momo

If you’re reading this, chances are you know of the omnipotent promise of fashion. For Johana Te Momo, founder of Momo, it represents a beacon of hope. 

I had a Once Were Warriors upbringing – violence and trauma was normalised. At the age of 11 I saw a fashion show on TV and realised that’s what I wanted to do,” she tells us. “So that’s what I visualised to break the cycle of violence and trauma, to know that my tamariki would have a life I never had as a child.” 

A qualification from Northland Polytechnic (now NorthTec), the launch of Momo and a showcase at NZFW: Kahuria 2023 later, and Momo is ready for the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show stage. 

Underpinning her work is the idea of transformation, not just in how the garments have been constructed, but how the models will interact with them. Te Momo describes a cape at the heart of the collection:

“The left arm starts hidden underneath the cape to symbolise suffocation. The right sleeve represents masculinity.”

“On the catwalk, the model will grab an orange tie, representing her hardships and journey. As she pulls it, the front unravels to reveal freedom and self-awareness. She wraps the tie around her right arm as a symbol of strength, transformation and overcoming generational trauma.”

“The collection is about the self-discovery journey of Wāhine Toa,” says Te Momo. “I’m showcasing my healing journey from an abused child, to a Wāhine Toa.”

Momo is also a showcase of the fabric and taonga that the designer draws from her Māori heritage. “I use upcycled and end-of-line fabric to empower the user to recycle,” she says. “My techniques are a mixture of approaches: Knitting combined with pounamu, end-of-line power fabrics to show the essence of creation… it all weaves character into the garment.”


A series of men in dark, yellow-highlighted creations by John Tanuvasa's OHN

OHN – John Tanuvasa

Let’s strut down this linguistic catwalk together!” is John Tanuvasa’s battle-cry for sharing the story of his label OHN with the world.

It’s fitting for the military-style collection he’s unveiling this year, where “every piece is a carefully crafted fusion of strength, precision, and individuality.”

“My creators made sure I’m well-versed in a plethora of cultural contexts,” he says of the relationship between his fashion journey, his personal aesthetic and his cultural background. “So you’ll find me comfortable in everything from Shakespearean elegance to internet-era casual.” 

On top of this pick-and-mix of inspirations, Tanuvasa’s evergreen inspiration is the ever-evolving world of language.

The way people communicate, the stories they tell, and the emotions they convey – all of that shapes my style. You’ll see it in the way I play with words, create imagery, and tailor my responses to capture a certain vibe.”

“Traditional details and techniques are the foundation. I infuse them with a contemporary twist to make them resonate in our modern lives.,” he sats. “It’s like being a language time traveller – blending the wisdom of tradition with the sleek innovation of the present.”

Tanuvasa, of Tongan and Samoan heritage, is excited to challenge assumptions about Pasifika designers and design. At the top of his list are notions of a limited colour palette (neutrals can very much be part of Pasifika designs), lumping Pasifika design codes together, stereotypes around traditional attire, and how contemporary design should be incorporated.

“Pasifika fashion isn’t stuck to a specific time,” he says. 

As for his personal style? It all comes back to language.

“I’ve inherited a love for verbal storytelling and a knack for adapting to different styles. Language is like having a rich wardrobe filled with garments from various cultural closets. I can slip into the eloquence of a Victorian ballroom, or chill with the laid-back vibe of a beach bonfire – all in the same conversation.”

“My aesthetic, then, is a reflection of this. It’s about embracing the beauty in variety, finding the right words for every occasion, and making sure there’s a dash of charm and wit in everything I do. So, whether we’re chatting about high fashion or street style, you can bet I’ve got a stylish phrase or two up my sleeve!”


An array of mena_design dresses by Agnes Loheni

Mena Design – Agnes Loheni

Beyond lending her first name to Agnes Loheni’s label, MENA, Loheni’s mother is its entire inspiration. “Our fashion journey wouldn’t have happened without our mother, who learned to sew in Samoa at age 13,” says the designer.

While Loheni was growing up, her mother’s sewing room was their club-house for not only sharing mana within the family, but engaging with the wider community. “She used her dressmaking and design talent to serve her family as well as our wider Samoan community in New Zealand and Samoa,” says Loheni, describing how this brought her closer to her culture.

“As an immigrant Samoan family in NZ, holding close to our traditions has been an important way of keeping family ties strong. Retaining our distinctive Polynesian prints and colours (the elder Mena’s sense of colour and style informed the vibe of her namesake brand) are an important part of celebrating and honouring our heritage.” 

The sense of Samoa is strong. “We use colour and scale to rework traditional Polynesian prints along with contemporary silhouettes,” says Loheni of MENA’s design DNA. “Bold maxi florals are a signature look that have performed consistently for the 20-plus years we’ve been in business.”

These two decades have seen MENA worn by Pacific people in New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the United States and more, with garments also appearing in movies, red carpet events, awards evenings, TV shows, “as well as for special family events”. 

MENA’s success comes down to its fine-tuned business model. “We know our market intimately because we are products of that demographic,” says Loheni. “We made assumptions early in our journey that we needed to appeal more widely, hence we put ourselves forward for ‘mainstream’ fashion events that put us in a box and labelled us ‘niche’. Those platforms did not serve us well and only made us feel like outsiders.”

She credits Pacific fashion platforms including PFFS, Fiji Fashion Week abd Pacific Runway for moving the dial for Pacific fashion. 

“We’re unapologetically Pacific,” she says. 

With stockists in the USA and Samoa, as well as Auckland’s Grey Lynn and online at www.menashop.com, you can check out MENA for yourself, pre-PFFS.


A pink bag by Villageworm and Whitley Elise Rosenberg on steps

Villageworm — Whitley Rosenberg

Aside from having one the greatest names on the PFFS run sheet, Samoan and Wiridjiri designer Whitley Rosenberg’s label Villageworm is distinct in its aesthetic.

“I’m presenting a pink and white cottagecore collection,” says Rosenberg. “It’ll be embellished with Islander flowers and motifs. I’m a bit obsessed with teuila (red ginger), so you’ll see that flower embroidered around.”

One look at Villageworm’s, dream-like Instagram feed and her tapestry of influences is apparent. Lolita meets classic fashion, and then there are designers such as Simone Rocha, whose use of colours, textures and layering are absolute moodboard fodder for Rosenberg, as well as Selkie – the low-waste brand by a former Wildfox co-founder.

Whitley confects these inspirations into marshmallow-toned, wearable treats that are designed with every situation in mind: picnics, out with friends, “or to university, probably”.

Describing herself as “very early” in her journey as a designer, Rosenberg is committed to keeping things simple.

“I’m laying the foundations of something cute and cultural that I can build on in the future,” she says. “I only know a few tatau and siapo designs, so I’m leaning on those hard and putting them on some cute, frilly clothes.”

This promising mix is something of a sandbox for what’s to come for Villageworm, and for Rosenberg’s own evolving sense of identity. “I’m kind of white passing and I don’t like it. I’m developing my own aesthetic so I can look Samoan and Indigenous Australian my own way.”

While creativity is always an ongoing process, the designer says her work will always reflect a combination of “alternative aesthetics with designs and motifs from my Samoan and Wiridjiri heritage”. It’s not just an inward exercise. “I want to challenge ideas about what indigenous people look like. I want to show the world how diverse and beautiful my people and my cultures are.”


Deadly Denim hanging in a gallery, plus Rebecca Barlow in a denmin jacket

Deadly Denim – Rebecca Barlow

“I don’t have influences” shares Rebecca Barlow, designer at Deadly Denim and current Bachelor of Fashion student at Perth’s Curtin University. 

She does admire the work of fellow repurpose-focused designers. Zero Waste Daniel, Selina Sanders, Noah Johnson are top of the list. 

But she describes her zero-waste mindset as a gift from past ancestors. “I grew up in a family that didn’t waste, and always used what they had, says Barlow, who is of Māori and Indigenous Australian (Nyungar) descent. 

“My dad is a Nyungar man, and growing up we would go out on the country for fishing and kangaroo shooting – only ever taking what we needed. For the first 10 years of Dad’s life, they moved from camp to camp and lived off the land.” 

A similar approach was informed by her British mother who lived through World War Two. “She made all our clothes using curtain offcuts. Still to this day (at 80) she keeps her tiny threads from sewing and reuses them.” One of Rebecca’s favourite tools is a hand-treadle Singer sewing machine.

“These things have really shaped my journey with fashion and my interest in reclaiming, repurposing and reworking textiles in order to share stories through my own work, including those whose artwork is woven into our designs.”

The ‘our’ is her son, Mihaka. The pair’s brand Deadly Denim repurposes and reconstructs textiles, weaving in First Nations art and stories. For this year’s Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, they’ve been sourcing recycled denim, pure wool and defence uniforms to create a collection that “acknowledges and celebrates our ancestors – both Nyungar and Māori – that fought in WW2.”

As well as creating eye-catching designs, Barlow is all about raising social consciousness and sparking intercultural conversations. “Recycled textiles are a conversation starter, they get people talking about the future of fashion, and the urgency of the fashion industry reducing its environmental impact.”