Pacific Fusion Fashion Show: Politically Correcting The Fashion Industry
OPINION: Several years ago, New Zealand’s Next Top Model host Sara Tetro was asked why there was a lack of Pacific Island models on the NZ version of the hit U.S Series
She replied along the lines of “They’re not going to be chosen just because they are Pacific Islanders.”
Fair enough. But let’s be honest, she wasn’t close to considering them anyway. A Pacific Island model featuring on a predominantly ‘Palagi model’ TV show was unheard of.
One of our gorgeous SUGA Models attended the casting call for the nationwide TV search. Turned down by Sara, our model was later picked up by Sara’s rival modelling agency Red Eleven who have a reputation of producing international models and actors. So how is it that Red Eleven signed our model but Sara couldn’t sign her to the show?
I suppose you can’t blame Sara. The modelling world globally has an embarrassing history when it comes to the industry’s lack of diversity and issues of racism. And it is no different in New Zealand – surprising, considering NZ is home to the biggest Polynesian population in the world.
Unfortunately for Sara, her plain Jane boring personality reflected on the show itself and the show eventually dissolved like every other NZ reality show. Was she supposed to be NZ’s answer to the bubbly and vivacious Tyra Banks? She was the complete opposite! The late Charlotte Dawson probably would have been a better fit and Charlotte may have had a better eye. Maybe Charlotte would have chosen OUR model? Anyway…..
Thankfully the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, which was held last night at the Otara Town Centre and in it’s second year running, offers a platform where Pacific Model hopefuls can try out for a chance to walk on a prestigious runway and a chance to kick off a modelling career.
And no PFFS doesn’t just select the tall, skinny models. They choose the ‘plus size’ (which is like the normal size for us Poly); and they choose all Pasifika ethnicities and Non-Pasifika models and my favourite: the transgender model.
What other fashion show will you see a transgender on the runway? Last year at the inaugural Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, they chose transgender model Leilani Tominiko as their female ‘Face of Fusion’ – a title they give away after each show where they award a male and female model who they believe has potential. The chosen models then help to promote the fashion show the following year in a series of advertisements.
The Pacific Fusion Fashion Show is not just a show. It is a statement.
The previous big Pasifika fashion show prior to PFFS was the Westfield Style Pasifika. Although I loved the concept of that show and support any Pasifika-oriented initiatives, I was always left confused in my living room as to why so many Palagi designers won the awards. Wait a minute. Is this Westfield Style Pasifika or Westfield Style Wannabe Pasifika. I thought the whole objective was for Pacific designers to be recognised? I never once saw a Pasifika designer win the Supreme award. It was disappointing at the time but strangely acceptable.
Fortunately for them, Westfield Style Pasifika happened in an era where social media wasn’t as prominent as it is now. Had there been twitter around at that time, the show would have been hammered with disapproval by furious tweeters regarding cultural appropriation. Because it is the same as cultural appropriation really isn’t it? Non-Pasifika designers profiting from Pacific designs. What a shame also that that ‘appropriation’ was displayed in an environment that was purposely celebrating Pasifika fashion. I must point out the use of Non-Pasifika only models at the time too.
As the years have gone by, we have been nurtured with more education and more knowledge around cultural issues – including us ‘plastic Pasifika’ who saw the light and learnt to decolonize our minds. The movie Moana was a good example of how important it is to keep culture alive but to keep it correct and respectful.
Because of this, I believe we are becoming more vigilant in discerning what is right and what is wrong. The Pacific Fusion Fashion Show is a big improvement on what we have seen in the past.
I love the way that PFFS have cemented Otara as a fashion capital. Even more cool was that the committee had flown in Pacific International Models Pita Tafaotofua and Diamond Lagi. No they are not Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. But they don’t have to be. It is about celebrating OUR people and celebrating DIVERSITY – and slowly changing the industry one catwalk pace at a time.
The committee’s transformation of the Otara Town Centre was a fabulous idea enhancing the town centre’s familiar and beloved settings. PFFS are not trying to fit into a current and complacent world of mainstream fashion. They have the mainstream fashion industry turning heads at THEM. New Zealand’s Fashion Week’s founding managing director, Dame Pieter Stewart has made mention that she now wants to work with PFFS Director Nora Swann going forward and that speaks volumes. Reminds me of what the moon man said. One small step for ‘mainstream,’ One GIANT leap for ‘Pasifika’. It can only get better here on in even if it does take another decade or two.
-All Photography and Video Lagi Farani