Sheena Taivairanga is a Year 4 student who is enjoying a successful final year at Whitecliffe. She presented her graduate collection at the 2017 Whitecliffe Fashion Show at the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre on 19 November and in August this year, she participated in the second annual Pacific Fusion Fashion Show. As part of the event, Sheena received considerable press from Radio New Zealand and Paperboy Magazine.
Her journey towards studying Fashion Design began when she was just 11 years old. “When I was a child, my father and I were doing an assignment based on what I wanted to be when I grew up and he suggested I become a fashion designer. I didn’t know what that meant at the time or how to pursue it. But subconsciously I remembered, and now I am about to graduate with a degree from Whitecliffe and have just competed in the second annual Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, which was held in my home town, Otara, Auckland.”
The event, held during the 2017 New Zealand Fashion Week, showcased eleven emerging Pacific and Maori fashion designers from NZ, Samoa, Australia and the US. For Sheena, who went to Otahuhu College and was raised in Otara by parents who came from the “beautiful Cook Islands” and met here in New Zealand “telling stories through my designs has been my biggest strength.” She has managed to integrate something cultural and personal every year into her end-of year-collections. Last year, she created a collection called Milk & Honey “paying homage to my parents and in particular my mother as well as the many Pacific Islanders like them who migrated to the land of milk and honey (New Zealand) in search of better opportunities.” Sheena was influenced by the clothes factory workers wore in the 1960’s in New Zealand, and was inspired by a photograph of her mother in her work uniform in 1968. This same collection was presented at the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show. This year, Sheena’s end of year collection for the Whitecliffe Fahion Show was “more process driven and pays homage to my Cook Islands culture. My research is about pacific handcrafts, which lead more specifically to Cook Islands clothing and costumes. My culture always inspires me and there are always elements to draw from. The lost of our traditional handcraft techniques due to religious conversion struck a cord with me and that’s what I have translated into a collection."
In the next five to ten years, Sheena hopes to start her own fashion brand. She says that by participating in the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show and by seeing her peers start their own brands, it has only made her “more determined.” She continues, “my Pacific community inspires me. I like to see what other Pacific creatives are up too. It’s exciting to see people who look like me follow their passions and achieve.” Sheena says, “I believe all the experiences and opportunities I have gained through my studies at Whitecliffe have given me a platform to venture out and make my mark on the world. I am excited, ambitious and can only imagine the possibilities. The sky’s the limit.”
Image: Sheena (left) and her model Diamond at the 2017 Pacific Fusion Fashion Show. Photo by Penina Joy Photography.