Richard Tekeu is a Cook Islander, born and raised in New Zealand.
“My mum is from Aitutaki and my dad is from Matavera, Rarotonga,” he says.
“I am the designer and founder of Varu which is home-based and located in Auckland.”
Tekeu says the label’s name is very personal and meaningful to him.
“As we Cook Islanders know that “varu” is our word for the number eight and it is also the number of children my parents had together. We're all grown adults now.
“Varu was created towards the end of 2015 and to this day the journey has been mind-blowing. Roads are very bumpy, yet can also be rewarding.”
The label’s participation in London Pacific Fashion Week 2018 came about after event founder Ana Lavekau contacted Tekeu on social media, inviting him to take part.
“In that first instance I said no, because I felt I wasn't ready, and I was just afraid. That was until she mentioned that in the six years LPFW existed, it had never featured a designer representing the Cook Islands,” Tekeu says.
“It was really sad to hear, so I asked if I could have a week to think about it before making any decisions.
“When the week was up I decided I would take Varu to London for LPFW 2018.
“It wasn't only for me and Varu, it was also to represent the Cook Islands on the runway in London. And it was definitely one of the best decisions I've made in my life.
“There are many talented and creative Cook Islanders in the fashion world - hairdressers, makeup artists, models and designers.
“I know this because I've worked with them. They're amazing.”
The 31-year-old designer says he has loved fashion and design ever since he was a teen.
“I enjoyed watching beauty pageants, fashion shows and looking at fashion magazines just to look at the garments people were wearing.”
Varu came into being in 2015 when Tekeu decided to sell the sewing machine and overlocker he had bought back in 2011 when he attended fashion school and learned basic sewing and basic pattern-making.
“My poor machines were collecting dust. It seemed to me the machines were no use to me, so I thought it was good idea to sell them.
“Then my mum comes along and asks me, ‘What did you attend fashion school for?’
“And then it hit me. I had purchased the machines for a reason, and that was to sew and create.
“I had come across many challenges, like not having any funds, not knowing anything about business or how to start a dress line. I don't even know much about fabric either, and didn't know who I could go to for advice.”
Tekeu says this time around, however, it was social media that made the difference.
“All because of social media I was able to connect with people who had experience in the fashion industry.
“I asked many questions about their experiences and what they had done to become a success in the fashion world.
“I believe social media is the best way to go for anyone who chooses to become an entrepreneur/ businessperson. It’s great for networking and connecting with people who can help you through your journey. The people I have connected with for advice and help are now my friends. It’s amazing.
Tekeu’s creations have an instantly-recognisable Cook Islands vibe and he says it is definitely the vibrant beauty of the Cook Islands that inspires Varu.
“And the fact that I'm a full Cook Islander too. I don't know much about our culture, but I must say that I have learned quite a bit throughout my Varu journey thus far.
When I was just at the beginning stages of the Varu journey, not knowing what I was doing, I did know that I wanted the Varu line to have that Cook Islands flair and style but with that little modern twist.”
That he has succeeded so well in his aims is amazing and even more so when Tekeu reveals he has visited the Cook Islands just once, back in 2011.
“That was the year I was attending fashion school. With Varu slowly building, I plan to visit the Cook Islands more regularly. I think I would find more inspiration and ideas being in the Cook Islands, but I know for a fact that it will also be the perfect getaway.”
Asked if he has any advice for Cook Islanders wanting to become involved in fashion, or any other creative field, Tekeu says it’s finding the courage to take that all-important first step that makes the difference.
“If you wake up thinking about fashion and still have it lingering on your mind throughout the day, just find that courage to take that first step. Block out all the negative ‘what ifs’ and just do it.
“Self-confidence, positive thoughts and social networks are also important, because the runway awaits our gifted and creative Cook Islanders.”
Having taken a giant step himself by taking part in this year’s high profile event, Tekeu is looking ahead to the next London Pacific Fashion Show, to be held in September 2019.
This time he’ll be taking a bunch of fellow Cook Islanders along for the ride, adding a group of gifted creatives to his Varu team.
“We are talking a qualified hairdresser, makeup artist, experienced models and even another designer. The world needs to see our talented Cook Islanders and to show their work in London, one of the capitals of the fashion world.”
There’s just one catch, he says, and that is the inevitable issue of funding.
“It does all come down to funds for our talented creatives to attend LPFW.
“We hope to find all the support we can from our Cook Islands community and will try our very best to raise all the funds we can.
“If you own a business or company or if you’re an entrepreneur who believes in the ability of our Cook Islands people to show the world our fashion creativity, we would love to accept your support or sponsorship.
“Please feel free to tell friends, families and fellow businesses/companies/entrepreneurs.