Tina Waru is trying to get more indigenous people involved in the multi-billion dollar fashion industry and taking their ideas to the world.
Taranaki-born, Tina has lived in Australia for more than a decade, first working in the fashion industry as a makeup artist and then going on to study Psychology and Maori Health. It was while Tina was doing a community makeup course with aboriginal families and youth about five years ago that she began thinking about why there was no platform for youth from indigenous cultures, to break into the world of fashion.
So she came up with the idea of setting up one herself and launched The Indigenous Runway Project in Melbourne in 2012. Its aim is to provide indigenous people including Aboriginal, Maori and other First Nation people with a stepping stone into the fashion world, with design, modelling and styling workshops.
Read an edited excerpt from the interview below:
When you moved from the workshops to doing the shows, what was the transition like and how hard was it to get interest from the various fashion organisers? What kind of response or feedback were you getting when you launched?
It was quite difficult at first, when we had the young people doing the workshops we had them participate in another mainstream designer’s show, so that started to really get their interest, in terms of what they wanted to do with fashion and that was when I realised that we need to create this platform because they need to have their indigenous mentors there. From there it becomes the decision to contact the festivals and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to do this and that.’ So it took a couple of years to get the festivals on board.
Tell me about that time. What was the sort of response or reaction you were getting from various places?
In Australia there are a lot of political issues with the indigenous community there and it can be very very difficult to go into a space because of the politics. A lot of industry organisers try to steer away from that. One of the key things about fashion is that you can have a statement, but you don’t want to get caught up in a different kaupapa, a different purpose.
Was there a fear that things might become hijacked as you say? Turned into some kind of political event, was that their fear?
I think it could be. I really can’t say, because it wasn’t really expressed to me in that way, but it was in terms of, ‘Maybe we’ll look at it later.’ I can’t exactly say why that happened, but it happened. I made it my mission for our first attempt to write, ‘This is what I want it do to, I want to include Maori, include other indigenous communities’, so then it doesn’t become a political statement, it doesn’t involve the politics, it involves more about indigenous people empowering themselves, rather than giving another message. When I did that, and had arranged the event and got everything in place, got the right stake-holders on board, the doors opened.
What does this mean? There is a door open for those who want to get into the industry and for whatever reason there was a barrier or a lack of a pathway for them. What does it mean for types of design, textile prints and motifs that are used? Is there a particular fashion style that one might say is indigenous or is this more about those who are becoming the designers, the models and the garment makers themselves?
I think it’s about all of it. It goes from the fashion in terms of the story-telling and I think that is one thing that’s lacking in the industry, is getting to understand where the designers are coming from, where their designs are from and the story that comes with it. It is missed a lot in indigenous fashion. Being able to provide that to the audience and the industry itself is amazing, because they’re able to understand the patterns, the motifs, the textiles… they’re able to understand why the garments are presented in that way or designed that way. That’s the greatest thing about indigenous fashion. Now it’s evolving, because fashion is becoming more about story-telling as well now. People are able to get that now, and it’s sharing that with the world. It’s also about empowering indigenous people globally to go out to the world and say, ‘Here are these beautiful people, but also here are our skilled and talented people who can add to the industry’.