Reclaiming the meaning of representation: how Oceanic artists are taking up space in the fashion world

The year is well & truly underway and Pacific Runway has announced that they’re accepting applications after another hugely successful year.

Talanoa’s associate artists, Taofia Pelesasa & Sela Vai, went along to the 2019 runway to connect with designers, models, audience & small businesses to learn about their journey to creativity, what it’s like to be involved with Pacific Runway
and who to keep an eye out for!

TACI
Name: Akeneta Nettey
Dad is from Accra, Ghana.
Mum is from Taveuni, Fiji.



My name is Akeneta Nettey, my label is Taci and I am Ghanian and Fijian.

What got you into fashion to the point where you are now?
I would say my mum was my biggest role model with that. She was always going to the shops and she could never find anything that she wanted – never. She would always say, “I wish I could make something that I would like to wear.” So I think hearing that all the time made me want to make things. So that was probably one of the biggest influences that I had to become a designer. Being a kid, I never wanted to look at the toys; I always wanted to look at the clothes. I’ve always been attracted to garments and making people feel confident in the clothes they wear. And that’s why I love fashion.

You mentioned you’re Ghanian-Fijian. How much do you fuse of either culture?
Definitely both. My whole line is street wear, so what I’ve done is combined the Fijian tapa fabric and the Ghanaian kente tradition fabric and used them together. I’ve got the sulu traditional Fijian garmet and then I’ve got a Ghanian throw on, so I’ve tried to mix in two cultural garments.

How has your culture influenced your work as a designer?
Both my mother and father were born in their homelands, and came here to Australia in their teenage years. So they were fresh, the ways were always still with them. So it’s about teaching me and my siblings to remember where we came from, respect, the food, and everything like that. So that’s just always been in me, so of course I’ll pass it down to my children.

To what degree do you believe fashion is part of your storytelling? How do you tell stories through fashion?
Well, the way I’ve told stories with my collection would be what I grew up with. I mean I did grow up with culture, but also hip hop. Hip hop was a big part of that. Especially my mum and dad, you’d think it’s weird because they weren’t born in America, but they’re so big on hip hop. So I’ve always loved streetwear, and going in and out of America with my mum to visit family, I’d say hip hop would be a really big influence.

Do you have any words of inspiration for up and coming designers?
Don’t be afraid and don’t listen to anyone if they don’t like your design – that’s on them. If we were all the same with fashion there’d be no such thing as style. Everyone would look the same, and that would be a boring world. So just be you and create whatever you like.

MENA – @mena_design
Name: Gina Loheni
Dad is from village of Lalovaea on island of Upolu in Samoa.
Mum is from the village of Amaile on the island of Upolu in Samoa.


My name is Gina from Mena, I’m based in Auckland and I’m Samoan.

What inspired you to get into fashion and what culturally and traditionally influences your work?
We started our label in Samoan, we just all happen to be living there. My mother’s name is Mena, she was a dress-maker, and it was actually her label and then we came along and started to put collections together. And of course living in Samoa we were inspired by the prints around us – florals, fauna – so that’s where we draw our influences from.

In taking over the line from your mum, did you change the look of it, or did you try to maintain what your mum created?
Yes, well we wanted to find clothing we wanted to wear, just with our pacific print. There were four of us and we all had different styles, so we put our ideas together to come up with the collections. I feel our collection has something for every woman.

How have you maintained those values since moving to Auckland?
I think that we’re so proud of our culture it’s not hard to retain what we were doing in Samoa. I think even moreso being away from Samoa, we like reinforce our culture into our prints and into our designs.

How much do you integrate cultural customs and protocols into your work?
Well obviously our prints are all traditional. We still do the traditional puletasi’s which is probably one of our best selling but we give it a modern twist. I think people say that we’re contemporary and I think that’s what we are.

What advice do you have for younger Pacific designers?
I would say to get a mentor. It’s a very creative business, but you still have to know business side of it as well. Because we still have to pay the bills and do the accounts, as well as do the creative side, so it’s good to get some help with that as well. 

Sparrow Love McCarthy wearing Missing Polynesia

Name: Sparrow Love McCarthy
Mum is from village of Mutiatele in Samoa.
Father is from village of Fa’atoia in Samoa.


My name is Sparrow Love McCarthy. My family was gifted to me, I’m from two villages primarily – I’m from Fa’atoia and Mutiatele in Samoa.

What brought you to model for Pacific Runway for your first time last year, and what brought you back?
I’d say what brought me the first year is that I wanted to make a stand for body positivity but more than that, I think my family are deeply into the island culture when it comes to being charitable. So I just wanted to give  in that way, you get to be the canvas for these great eyes and great minds. I think it’s dope, and it’s just fun too. They’re so professional here and they’re well put together, and they care about us. So yeah, probably one of the first times I feel like island community is important to me or moreso, executed well. 

What does it mean for you as a Samoan woman to have this kind of platform? And what does it mean for the Pacific community?
It’s definitely a stepping stone. I’ve had opportunities come up, but without opportunities like being scouted for Pacific Runway last year, it just gives you a baby which turns into a huge leap. You’ve got a whole congregation of people behind you that are saying “we’re pushing you forward”, and with a proper meaning to it. We don’t do this for money. We’re here because we love our culture. We’re here because we love the designers, because they put value on us and we return the value on the night. I love it, it’s rewarding.

How do you compare the energy of last year’s Pacific Runway in comparison to this year?
The energy from last year was more self righteous, I was looking inwards at myself. And this year I’m looking around at mad amounts of island women. For the first time, I’m stepping into a space where it’s not just women of colour but pacific women of colour and it’s special to me. We don’t gather like this at any other time besides this event once a year. Yeah it’s important to me, I value it a lot.

Along with body positivity, what are you carrying with you from your Pacific culture?
I get to experience my ancestors. When we first gathered here in the rooms together I just wanted to cry in the way they were speaking about us carrying our ancestors with us when we’re walking down the runway. I’ve carried women of colour with me, I’ve carried people of colour, I’ve carried minorities on my back, so this time it was just for me – but as a collective. So when I’m walking down there I’m thinking of my great grandparents, I’m thinking of the people before me. I’m thinking of all those people and I’m thinking that I’m not only of island blood but also European blood – and making peace with that at the same time.

It’s a massive outer body experience and part of a bigger narrative –  a narrative that we get to live out. People here have huge followings behind them on social media, we know we’re being watched.  So when we’re out there we give opportunities to be watched with more than one narrative. We have huge line of stories, a huge ancestral line. We bear the weight but it’s a positive.

How is fashion a form of storytelling for you?
I get to delve deeper into what that the designers think. After our fitting, I went back to one of the designers because I forgot to ask her “I want to know how you want us to walk, how did you feel when you were making these pieces? When we’re walking down, how do you want us to be represented?” Because it’s a narrative that she’s experienced that we get to be a canvas for. There’s nothing better than that. And as an artist  we get to hugely soul tie with what they see, what they feel, where they’ve been, how they are now. It’s the biggest misconception that fashion is shallow, but it’s a statement. It’s important. And each detail she put on me, there’s a reason that she put it there. And I trust her word and her vision.

I just finished high school and I got free tickets to it. It was a whole experience of elegance, but island elegance that we don’t get to see too often. To see it on a Westernized platform, to say “hey we’re in your location but we’re not going to be like you”. And for Sydney, it’s important. 

I look around and I’m so satisfied, but then I’m like “nah I want darker models, I want bigger models”. I want faces and bodies we’re used to seeing, and I want them normalized. Yeah it’s just Pacific value. We’re being cared for and we’re being tended to. And we’re being served but we’re serving the way we do in our culture. The way the volunteers serve us, the way that the hair stylists serve us, the way the designers serve us and the way we serve the designers, it’s just a big eco-system in here is the way I see it. It’s important. It’s like living islands just travelling around.

LUMAI @lumailabel/@drudgls
Name: Drew Douglas
Mum is from Rabaul
Dad is Anglo-Indian & Scottish


My name is Drew Douglas. My Mums from Rabaul, and my Dad is Anglo-Indian & Scottish. I’m based in Auckland but grew up in PNG. I moved to New Zealand when I was 18 to attend University so I decided to stay there after finishing my degree.

Was it a degree in Fashion?
It’s a funny story. I initially went to NZ  because I won a NZ Government scholarship to study I.T so the whole point is to study a skill that you contribute back into the community. So, I did a Bachelors in I.T at Otago and then went back home for two years to pay off my debts I guess and then after two years I decided to come to NZ. I worked in the I.T industry, working for a startup company for a couple of years and then the recession happened and realized I wasn’t happy with where I was in my life and I decided to change careers and went to AUT and did a second degree in fashion.

Having been born and raised in PNG and moving between there and Aotearoa for work – how do you maintain those cultural and traditional values as you’re working as a designer?Such a good question. I think I’ve come to realize being PNG and just being a Pacific islander has a sense of community and I always feel that in Western society that’s quite lacking and I’ve always been so grateful for that community. So, I’ve always been surrounded by amazing people and you know I have my family back in PNG and my friends and a couple of PNG’s in Auckland who keep me grounded and in touch with my heritage and I get to practice my mothers native language which is Kuanua. And I grew up speaking Kuanua fluently and tok pisin.

How do you integrate those customs into your practice?
Another good question. So, I guess the way Lumai the label really was just inspired by PNG women. About how they put things together. About how they style themselves, how they dress. And there’s such ease and a comfort behind the way they dress – I guess because of things such as the climate and things like that. I wanted to bring those sorts of ideas into Lumai. I just think PNG women are so amazing and I’m surrounded by them – my Aunties, my Mum, my grandmothers and am so inspired by them and I guess Lumai has been a tribute to them as inspirations. 

Is Lumai tok pisin?
Yeah, ‘Lumai’ is my Mothers Indigenous name. 

We’re a storytelling platform so I guess one question would be how do you feel like fashion, or your fashion in particular tell a story and your story in particular?
You guys have such great questions.

What is your story and how does your fashion tell that?
I think one of my main points about Lumai and the reason I named it after my Mum is because I didn’t want it to be about me. When you make a label and you design it – it’s always a part of you. I think the storytelling behind it is about my memories with growing up in PNG  and I guess where I see PNG women in the future because I feel like PNG women as constantly evolving and adapting to the times and I guess that’s how I use tell my stories in my collections. 

And I think the great thing about this label is that it helps me connect with that. Because it’s so hard to be part of the diaspora and living overseas you sometimes tend to lose that connection to home and I guess ‘Lumai’ in a way helps me keep that connection. 

I mixed the music and the introduction to the collection is introduced by the voices of my cousin-sisters who I grew up with and who I love so much and they speak in Kuanua which is the Indigenous language of the Gunantuna (incorrectly known as Tolai) of Rabaul, and they repeat certain sentences in language and it’s quite moving. I always try to have that element of something from home in my shows and this show I just I wanted to have someone I love introduce the show. 

These talanoa were collected & transcribed by Taofia Pelesasa – @thepelesasadream
All images provided courtesy of Dusk Devi & Pacific Runway

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