24 Apr 2016

Māori Innovation - Adrienne Whitewood

From Te Ahi Kaa, 6:06 pm on 24 April 2016

Te Ahi Kaa continues a series about innovation this week with young Māori fashion designer, Adrienne Whitewood (Rongowhakaata).

There were many signs that Adrienne Whitewood would work in the fashion industry.

Her grandfather worked as a dry cleaner, her grandmother was a seamstress, her dad sewed buttons on jeans and her mum was his boss.

Her whole whanau seemed to be involved in textiles and sewing.

Raised in Rotorua, but with whakapapa links to Rongowhakaata in Manutuke on the East Coast, Adrienne's earliest memory of fashion was of the bold matching clothes that her nan would make from patterns cut out from rubbish bags.

“I've lived here in Rotorua all my life, fashion design and sewing since I was eight-years-old.  My grandmother taught me how to sew and it's been a bit of a gift for me really.”

In 2009, Adrienne graduated from The Auckland University of Technology with a Degree in Fashion design.

She also studied whakairo (carving) at Waiariki Institute of Technology and tikanga Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

Adrienne says she merges fashion and with indigenous inspired elements.

“Through nga mahi whakairo and tikanga Māori that I learned at the Wānanga.... all those things have built me up to be the designer that I am and understanding in terms of the Māori world view.

“Our practises, our tikanga, our kawa, I find our culture so beautiful and I just want to share that with everyone, in everything that I do.”

In 2010 she debuted her first collection - Kimihia He Ngaro (searching for the unseen) which was inspired by Māori artist Ngataiharuru Taepa. Adrienne used laser embossing, fabric manipulation and the colours she used were based on the blackness of paua meat. 

Te Aho Tapu is a collection that she entered into the 2011 Miromoda Fashion Awards show, and a year later in 2012 she took out the Cult Couture Supreme Award at the Southside Arts Festival in Manukau.

Adrienne Whitewood at her boutique store, Ahu.

Adrienne Whitewood at her boutique store, Ahu. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

In a relatively short time the accolades and awards have followed, she was even one of three Māori designers to donate a design piece to the Rotorua Museum.

Adrienne is pretty busy these days. While a friend helps share the shifts at Ahu, she fields online orders there, there is still a good number of walk-in sales at her Rotorua store.

Adrienne's most recent collection includes hooded long coats, called high peaks inspired by the Tongariro Crossing.