A fierce commitment to local people, places and culture underpins Auckland fashion designer Kiri Nathan’s global career.
Her work – inspired by Te Ao Māori and its creative traditions – has featured on the world’s red carpets and runways, adorning Beyoncé, Barack Obama, Jacinda Ardern, the 2020 Academy Awards, the L.A and London premieres of Disney’s Moana, and fashion weeks from China to Europe.
As Tāmaki Makaurau adapts to the impacts of COVID-19 and looks to the future, Kiri (Ngāpuhi, Waikato, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Haua) wants to see Māori identity and creativity take its place at the heart of the city’s reset.
I want to see indigenous creativity and business acumen normalised, the sharing, connecting and education of Māori tradition. It’s important to share how indigenous practices come from the same origins as ethical and sustainable practices. People, planet and then profit – all three are important for our survival, however the priorities are currently upside down.
I want a cultural heartbeat in the city centre, to walk through downtown Tāmaki Makaurau and see the story of who we are as a city – stories that speak honestly of challenge and progress, that let us connect, celebrate forward thinking, eliminate misappropriation and tokenism, and have honest conversations about how we can do better for all.
“For all” is important to Kiri, who has worked hard to use her profile and relationships to nurture other designers and put Māori fashion on the world stage, born of her own experience struggling to find useful support for early-stage creative or cultural enterprise.
She has carved a path for Māori fashion, including being the driving force behind multiple hīkoi to China over the past four years. The hīkoi, connecting Māori designers to high-level buyers and distributors, planted the seeds for what would become the Kahui Māori Fashion Collective.
In early 2020, Kiri turned her sights – and connections – to showcasing Māori fashion in the heart of Auckland. With the support of Ostro Brasserie & Bar, The Britomart Group and ATEED, Kāhui Collective opened its first pop-up store in Britomart, featuring designs from Kiri Nathan, Nichola Te Kiri, Campbell Luke, Adrienne Whitewood, J’AKE and Mitchell Vincent Collection.
The pop-up store was a sales and profile boosting success, culminating in an open floor event where customers could engage with the designers about themselves and their work.
Now Kiri has set her sights on a permanent physical and online presence for contemporary indigenous fashion and design, based in Tāmaki Makaurau.
“I’m working to build a Māori fashion department store, where you can find quality clothing, accessories and jewellery created with cultural integrity, items that tell stories, that celebrate traditional and ethical practices and most importantly provide a place of education and inspiration for New Zealanders and manuhiri.
“The world’s conscious consumer is smart and deliberate in demanding clarity from its providers. Our store will not only satisfy this market, it will directly feed back into growing our own eco-system by supporting local.”
Now is the chance for us all to positively reset for good, to do things that create better ways forward for all.
“I would love to see Tāmaki and New Zealand businesses actively supporting each other, and for people and particularly larger businesses to be more conscious about where their money and contracts are circulating – small decisions can positively affect many.”