Two top Pacific fashion design labels from the Pacific agree Fiji is the fashion hub of the Pacific. With some 8,000 people employed generating $110 million in the apparel industry, Fiji is certainly on the right track.
Pacific Periscope recently sought views from Cook Islands’ TAV Pacific fashion designer Ellena Tavioni and Samoa’s MENA Fashions co-owner Agnes Loheni along with AUT’s Dr Yvonne Chan, Head of Fashion and Textiles Design at the School of Art and Design in Auckland on Fiji’s emergence as a fashion hub.
Ms Tavioni owner of TAV Pacific and designer of ‘the’ dress worn by Princess Kate on the Royal visit to Solomon Islands agreed that Fiji is the hub of the manufacturing of clothing in the Pacific with its established factories, skilled labour, attractive exchange rate and low wages that made it possible. But perhaps, she suggested, the Fiji Government should consider establishing a design school in Fiji.
“If I may say, the clothing industry is very demanding and competitive. If you check with any of the design schools in Auckland, you will probably find a very small percentage of graduates ever become designers. The opportunity for job potentials are however very good. Graduates could become fashion buyers, pattern makers, seamstresses, quality controllers etc.”
Agnes Loheni, and a co-owner of MENA Fashions said that Fiji was on track to becoming the fashion hub of the Pacific. MENA moved its own manufacturing to Fiji last year, Ms Loheni said. They felt the decision transferring their manufacturing to Fiji was the right move. “Yes, our move to use manufacturers in Fiji has enabled us to focus more on the front end of our business for example design, marketing and sales,” she said.
Having the capacity to increase volumes and maintain quality was an integral part of their decision to move manufacturing to Fiji. “Fiji is close enough for us to have greater oversight and a close working relationship and greater with our manufacturers,” she said. “Manufacturing in Fiji makes a lot of sense if you are wanting to increase your sales channels within Fiji – the move has definitely provided us with the opportunity to sell in Fiji.”
But there was also an added dimension to the move in terms of design.
“Fiji is quite exciting at the moment because of varied cross-cultural mix of its population is being reflected with the new up and coming designers and there is definitely some depth coming through with their designs as they balance western designs with their cultural/ethnic heritage.”
Fiji definitely has had a head start in terms of having the infrastructure for garment manufacturing in the Pacific, so definitely I’ve seen a lot of activity in the fashion scape since Fiji Fashion Week’s inception some years ago Ms Loheni said.
Fiji’s Council of Fashion Head Faraz Ali fashion capital of the Pacific advocate also agreed.
“Fiji should really already have a design school. With the wealth of talent and the growing Fashion Industry, we have really gone cart before the horse (fashion platforms, Fashion Council, etc, before a training institution). This is not always a bad thing, it has allowed for the organic growth of natural and innate talent, and arguably a unique voice in the global fashion scene. However, to develop further and become globally competitive, we need to forward our industry through training in a design school.
“The Fiji National University had a strong School of Creative Arts where I was in contact with the HOS to develop a Fashion programme, our country’s first, however following Cyclone Winston – the main Campus in the suburb of Raiwai in Suva was badly damaged leading to its closure and the decentralisation of the school. A further blow was the departure of Acting-Vice Chancellor, Professor Ian Rouse, a great supporter of the arts and growing fashion industry. With all this up in limbo, we are still praying for a move in the right direction by way of formalised training programmes being established.”
However, Mr Ali said ideally, such a project must initially be driven by Government, perhaps through a partnership between the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts. However, Private/Public partnerships are not out of the question and could certainly be explored. “Our current Minister for Trade, Faiyaz Koya, is considered by many a “friend of the Industry”, and we continue to be in talks with him.
There has been in the past fashion scholarships available, with two students being selected by the now defunct AusAid institution, however DFAT has always supported the industry and the Fashion Council in many ways, so we are sure that a more permanent programme will be implemented, this is something the Fashion Council is pursuing said Mr Ali.
Dr. Yvonne Chan Head of Department, Fashion & Textiles Designs at the School of Art & Design at the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies Auckland University of Technology agreed that there was a range of employment opportunities available to design graduates including merchandising, marketing, self-employment and fashion shoots.
The response from the industry to AUT grads was very positive with design graduates going on to work in international fashion houses, develop their collections, starting their own label or create pop-up shops or go into high end fashion. AUT had created a showroom for students to do fashion shoots and shows and held its own annual AUT Rookie graduate fashion show.
The AUT Fashion and Design school had the most number of Maori and Pacific students enrolled in the country. Of the 67 students enrolled in Design courses, 16 Pasifika students enrolled in the fashion design course and three from Fiji. Scholarships were also available for Pasifika students said Ms Chan.
Although there is no current arrangement for student exchanges from the Pacific there had been a two week AUT workshop in Fiji in the past.
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The AUT Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Doctoral Scholarship is available to students from specific Pacific countries. Information on this scholarship is available here:
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