From the Suva runway to the Vogue pages: Fiji’s fledgling fashion scene rising stars | Fiji

Fiji’s fledgling fashion industry’s hopes rest on the slender shoulders of 25-year-old Raishiasa Laivev Davetawal from Muaninuku village.

The young designer realized what many in the Pacific country had dreamed of, but never had the chance to do so.

Sponsored by the entire Fijian fashion community, he confirmed his commitment, raised money for fashion school, and completed his training at a fashion design studio in Tafe NSW, Australia., He became one of the few Fijian designers to receive professional training.

The strength of his recent graduate collection, a wardrobe of sultry summer womenswear nodding to Fijian design heritage, has landed him on the pages of Australian Vogue, one of Australia’s most successful fashion labels. I got a job as a junior garment technician at Zimmermann.

“I am proud of my heritage and want to represent Fiji on the global fashion stage.

Laisiasa Davetawalu's label Elaradi's latest collection on the runway at Fiji Fashion Week 2022.
Laisiasa Davetawalu’s label Elaradi’s latest collection on the runway at Fiji Fashion Week 2022. Photo: Asvin Singh

In parallel with his work at Zimmermann, Davetawalu is launching his own label, Elaradi.

In May, he was greeted by cheering fans, well-wishers and supporters as he brought an expanded version of his graduate collection from Sydney to Suva for the closing show of Fiji Fashion Week.

“Ray showed promise from the moment he debuted his first collection as a student designer. The brand name is Duatani, which means “something different” in Fijian.

“Promises are common here, but rarely do we get the opportunity to grow beyond their potential.”

And he’s grown up to show off sheer chiffon, intricate corsets, and hand-knotted dresses that look like he’s right at home on a yacht from Ibiza to Barbados.

“He may be the first Fijian designer to truly appeal to the general foreign market,” says Kabakoro.

in Davetawar The design is a subtle nod to Fijian cultural influences. Shot by Australian Vogue magazine for the annual portfolio of fashion graduates, his one of her dresses with fringed mock necks took her four months to complete. It was a feature. It was the antithesis of fast fashion.

models walking on stage
Davetawalu uses an imitation hand knotting technique. Magimagi, Rope handwoven from coconut fiber. Photo: Asvin Singh

For Fijians, the knots and fringes of the dress were imitated Magimagiis a handwoven rope made from coconut fiber used in fishing nets, canoes and traditional construction.

Other floating silk chiffon pieces seemed a nod to the traditional Indian dresses commonly found throughout Fiji due to the large Indian Fijian population.

Not long ago, Davetawar was sketching designs and reading fashion magazines while the other boys played rugby. Queen Victoria School is a rural boarding school renowned as a bastion of Aboriginal masculinity that has produced many Itaukei (Indigenous Fijian) leaders.

“I was bullied a lot because I am gay,” says Davetawalu. “They would say: ‘Why are you designing dresses all the time? Why not do something in a masculine way? I ran away one morning and never came back.’ .”

Davetawal took a two-hour bus ride from rural Rawaki to downtown Suva to find the offices of Fiji Fashion Week, which was promoting a student design contest.

He entered the contest but didn’t win. With the support of his relatives, Davetawalu found his local school and later published his complete first collection.

Many fashion industry insiders, including Australian fashion designer Kristin Evans, who was based in Suva at the time, and Ellen Whippy Knight, the indomitable founder of Fiji Fashion Week, recognized Dave Tawar’s talent and placed him under their patronage. I put

Laisiasa (Lai) Raibevu Davetawalu is currently working for Zimmerman and has his work published in Australian Vogue.
Laisiasa (Lai) Raibevu Davetawalu is currently working for Zimmerman and has his work published in Australian Vogue. Photo: Blake Sharp Wiggins/The Guardian

Veteran Australian fashion educator Nicholas Huxley first met Dave Tawar during a mentoring program in Suva and calls him “real”.

“He’s pretty extraordinary, with an innate ability to put clothing on his body that goes beyond the normal idea,” he says.

Whippy-Knight aims to put fashion at the forefront of Fiji’s cultural conversation. She has driven local fashion education and other initiatives that benefit the industry, including the establishment of fashion councils, incubators for emerging designers, and increased state support.

Since 2007, she has hosted an annual runway show as a platform for emerging designers like Davetawalu to showcase their craft and find buyers. As a result, many local designers who specialize in bold prints, such as Samson Lee, Moira Solvalu and Michael Mausio, have started small but viable businesses from her week of Fijian fashion without formal design training. to develop. .

Fiji Fashion Week founder Ellen Whippy Knight outside her Sydney home
Fiji Fashion Week founder Ellen Whippy Knight at her home in Sydney, Australia. She has supported her Davetawalu studies and career. Photo: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The country’s fashion scene has also emerged as a safe haven for LGBTQI+ people to find community and express themselves without fear of retaliation.

Colorful indigenous prints make Fijian fashion unique. For wearers in Fiji and the Pacific Islands, they signify culture, identity and belonging, but local designers have been less successful in adapting these prints to the Fijian tourism market.

Prints have global potential. It has already been exploited by outsiders. Ten years ago, sportswear giant Nike introduced women’s leggings with prints inspired by Fijian, Samoan and Maori tattoo designs. In 2013, the now-defunct New York womenswear brand Nanette Lepore was accused of cultural appropriation for using her design from Fijian Masi (and mislabeling it as “Aztec”). it was done. Both companies have withdrawn these products in response to protests from the Pacific community.

For Davetawalu, the journey from student designer to fledgling professional who dreams of one day owning his own label has not been easy.

Models at Fiji Fashion Week
Since 2007, Fiji Fashion Week has hosted an annual runway show as a platform for up-and-coming designers to develop their craft and find buyers. Composite: Asbin Shin

The problem was that it would cost A$70,000 to attend design school as an international student in Australia. Fiji’s fashion community has joined. Whippy His Knights provided Rai with a place to stay in his home in Sydney and Fiji His Fashions His Foundation hosted an annual fundraiser to pay for his tuition, raising around A$15,000 a year over four years. Collected.

Today, he is one of the few Fijians with formal training in fashion design. This is in spite of his FJ$100 million (US$50 million) worth of local clothing manufacturing operations that produce general apparel from sportswear to uniforms for Australia and New Zealand.

A number of Fiji-based factories also produce fashion clothing for brands such as Kookai, a trend-driven women’s brand co-owned by Fijian-Australians. Bimbi and Roy is a women’s underwear brand founded by her two Australian sisters who grew up in Fiji. Scanlan and Theodore is an established luxury women’s clothing brand with over 10 of her boutiques in Australia.

Despite local fashion manufacturing capabilities, there is a deep disconnect between the apparel industry and Fiji’s fledgling fashion design industry. The latter face many constraints, including formal education and training, incubation and mentorship, lack of access to quality fabrics and funding, and increased state support for the industry.

“Our people are naturally creative,” says Whippy Knight. “We have a strong tradition of handicrafts and making things by hand. What we need is the right fashion school for Fijian and Pacific designers.”

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