A Tongan designer has put a modern twist on traditional island garments to encourage New Zealand’s young Tongans to wear them as an everyday fashion choice.
The kiekie is a Tongan skirt or girdle worn by women and traditionally made from plant fibres from the pandanus, hibiscus and coconut.
Designer Mele Tamanilo has been experimenting with it over the past two years and launched her fashion label Kanumez last October.
“Fashion is always something that I’ve loved since childhood and I didn’t really want to just make clothes and design clothes. I wanted to do something unique and it wasn’t until I saw a video with Xena in it and I saw the waist garment that she was wearing and that’s when it finally clicked that it’s something that I can do with our traditional kiekies is to modernise it and bling it up and using more modern materials.”
Tamanilo hopes to keep up the wearing of the kiekie with unique designs using contemporary materials.
“We use different kinds of emblishments like rhinestone and studs and spikes, chains, anything bling bling just to make it more appealing and encourages the younger generation who are always trying to keep up with the fashion, to encourage them to continue to wear the kiekie.”
Veronica Maka is among 24 models who’ll be showing off the kiekies.
“If you see it at first hand it’s like a Beyonce version of something that we are so used to traditionally seeing being made out of bark or of traditional materials that you’ll only find on the islands. So it’s a wrap around skirt that sits outside what girls would normally wear to church or to formal occasions.”
Maka says for the models it’s not a conventional show because the garments carry a lot of cultural significance.
“Most of us are Tongan, so there’s that appreciation and that pride that we bring to the fashion show. We also spent a lot of time just developing our confidence and knowing that we are showcasing something that is very precious.
“We are presenting the kiekie, so we have to be quite aware that we’re not just so much presenting the clothes that we wear, but the kiekie itself.”
Maka says the models have had to come out of their comfort zone.
“For my background, I work in construction so having to take off my boots and wear high heels and prepare myself that there will be all these eyes on us as we make our way down what we’ve been told is a 20-metre catwalk that we have to walk, so it’s been quite a challenge, but I am looking forward to it.”