So it’s 2019 and pop culture finally has dipped both feet in the winding and intersecting worlds of diverse representation. We are calling out colonisation time and time again for reducing our understanding of everything from gender and sex to ethnicity & beauty to simplistic binaries.
Male/female, Queer/straight, beautiful/ugly.
Diversity is on everyone’s lips, but is it in their actions? Not quite. It’s a struggle, externally and internally, to unlearn views that have been imposed and condition through every facet of our lives from our education system to the media we consume.
Pacific Runway’s annual fashion show is a testament to the power of steady, committed persistance. Through resisting the singular Māori & Pasifika narrative by celebrating our diverse creativity they are leading by example and holding the fashion industry accountable.”
Pacific people know representation well. We have been over-represented for decades by American media as Polynesian, frangipani wearing, warriors, damsels of desire, curvaceous, athletic, kind natured peoples with silky smooth hair. And honestly, stereotypes stem from truth – there are Pacific people who look exactly like this and wear it well. The problem is when those stereotypes become a singular representation of an entire region of peoples. Western eyes, minds and lens’ have hand picked out and mass-distributed what parts of the Pacific they wish to portray often against our consent. And as we have seen from Jason Momoa’s recent haka at the Aquaman premiere, sometimes our own people can get it very wrong when representing us in the commercial world.
With the technology revolution injecting self-determination into the representation narrative through apps such as Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, how do we as Pacific peoples hold space in a way that’s less exotic and more honest? Less stereotype and more reality?
Jannike Seuli, founder of Pacific Runway has been working tirelessly to normalise diversity within the Pacific media and more broadly, mainstream media. Not in the hijacked, tokenistic ‘pop one person of colour in the hero image’ kind of way that many large media corporations are employing nowadays. In a genuinely home-grown, infused with Pacific epistemologies that are elevated through a contemporary fashion platform kind of way.
2019 marks the upcoming 8th year anniversary of Pacific Runway, a fashion show that has dared to dream big from it’s first iteration at Campbelltown leagues club in 2012 to last year’s sold out show on Gadigal lands to an audience of 800 at Carriageworks (an official partner and the permanent home of Pacific Runway).
Reflecting on the night, I was struck by the incredible display of Indigenous resistance through existence. Models of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and genders took to the catwalk proudly adorning the story of each piece they wore, each chosen for “for their ability to show a garment to its best objective and for their presence.” shared Dusk Devi, lead photographer and publicist for Pacific Runway.
Highlighting that an integral difference within their framework is that this showcase offers alternative access points into the fashion world for those who are interested but either find pursuing and securing agency representation intimidating and/or difficult.
A source of pride for Seuli is the professionalism that all participants show
“The level of work that the designers produced/showcased last year was on another level and also the professionalism of our models. Most of them aren’t signed to agencies or are first time participants and they really made us proud.”
And the brilliance didn’t stop there. In a true display of lateral support and inclusivity, providing opportunity for economic growth, they used this as an opportunity to showcase Pacific businesses, with a large array of stalls selling everything from crafts to food to gift cards with undeniably Pasifika infused love and design throughout the evening.
Dusk Devi, lead photographer and publicist for Pacific Runway knows this show is unique more ways than the audience is privy too.
“Pacific Runway is the opportunity for Pacific origin designers to showcase their talents to a mainstream audience that is not all Pacific community. Not saying this a bad thing but… that is not the point. The point is showing NON Pacificans what we are capable of creating. we are not just manufacturers, we are creators.”
Devi also noted the fun that happens on and off the catwalk sets Pacific Runway apart from other shows she works on.
“The JOY! The Pacific exuberance! The lack of airs and graces (although non Pacificans and ‘fahshun’ types still do thefront row poker face… and the non Pacificans are quite shocked by the joy shown.
Who knew that one could actually have FUN at a fashion show? That it didn’t have to be so serious…
I cover a lot of Australian fashion shows and frankly I am bored.
I am bored by majority of what I see at Australian fashion Week but I know that this ennui is a mixture of causes and reactions.
I am bored by who gets to have these access to these platforms.
I am bored by the way models are now. Walking zombies rather than the ultimate salesperson of a designer’s vision.
I am bored by the token ‘diversity’ and the actual lack of inclusivity. “
Okay, I can hear you thinking ‘Why should we care so much? Isn’t Fashion elitist’
Creativity is undeniably intuitive to Pasifika people, with traditional songs and dances, crafts and storytelling being key to the preservation of our history and culture. However, the over-representation of our community in Australian prisons and a recent increase in youth suicides indicates an ongoing internal struggle to overcome the feeling of displacement.
“Fashion isn’t elitist, in fact it is the common denominator, it is the luxury aspect and the hunger for validation via luxury label that is the elitist part.Fashion is who we all are, it is how we all, ALL cultures, express our personalities.
Fashion is an art. It is cultural but it does need to be commercial. Art enriches the soul, therefore it should not make you broke. That is a gauche statement I know but it is fact haha.
It is important that fashion is accessible to all but… we (humans) still need something to aspire to. We still need standards. Just because we, Pacific Runway, expand our platform to include as many creatives as possible does not mean we lower the standard gate. “
Platforms such as Pacific Runway offer alternative expressive outlets to sports and religion that embrace and celebrate Pacific culture with a competitive contemporary edge.
“The audience also loves when a model drops in movements from a traditional dance, eg siva or Meke …it’s all about fusion, the fusion of culture and tradition with urban life. I love this and I hope we never lose this connection and innate expression.” Devi shared with us.
What do this power duo want to see more of in 2019?
“More representation for our Māori/Pacific people. Whether it is designers or models of real sizes.”, Seiuli noted, with Devi adding
“ I would like to see more IndoFijian representation on the runway. Being Fijian, I am used to a very inclusive runway.”
It’s important for our youth to see a diverse range of Pacific leaders adapt & re-invent what we are capable of in the modern world. To see us celebrate the difference of our neighbour. To unite as the next generation of elders.
We are beautiful, we are strong, we are resilient.
Images courtesy of Dusk Devi.