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Māori designer Kharl WiRepa’s plastic bag collaboration shines under fashion spotlight

Maioha Panapa

Māori designer joined forces with Big Black Sacks NZ for NZ Fashion Week

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

This time last week, in a powerful and innovative move, Māori designer Kharl WiRepa joined forces with Big Black Sacks NZ and incorporated black recycling bag materials in his clothing at NZ Fashion Week.

On Saturday evening, WiRepa showcased his second collection themed “Tangaroa Te Ihi Moana” (The Sea is Rising), which revealed a line of fashion completely made from recycled plastic bags.

He said the collaboration between Kharl WiRepa Fashion and Big Black Sacks created a fashion line that conveyed an important message through beauty.

“I have ancestry from Te Whānau a Apanui and we are sea people. We rely on the health of the ocean; it keeps our people sustained,” WiRepa told the Herald.

“So we’re excited about the partnership with Big Black Sacks.

“Their social messaging aligns with our te iwi Māori values, in particular people of the coast, my people.”

WiRepa says it had been a challenge to work plastic textiles into the dresses but that in itself pushed his own creativity to the next level.

Te Pāti Māori, Rawiri Waititi opening the 'Tangaroa Te Ihi Moana' collection with a karakia. Photo / Supplied

“It’s important to always test the boundaries and explore new territories of design to find beauty,” he said.

David Waddell, CEO of Big Black Sacks New Zealand, was also in awe of the design collaboration.

“The way he made these lovely rosettes from the plastic and just weaved it beautifully into the dresses—they looked amazing,” Waddell said.

Waddell says the partnership between his organisation and WiRepa helped bring their message on pollution to a different medium.

“The message through these designs was to reduce, reuse and recycle,” he said.

“If we don’t pick up the plastic, we’ll have nothing to eat and we’ll have no ocean that we know of for our children, and grandchildren.

“There are a lot of people out there who will see this message now, and really think about ‘yes, we’ve got to use recycled materials.”

Waddell says last Saturday’s design collaboration brought out a fusion of celebration when tangata tiriti and tangata whenua work together.

“Our Māori brothers and sisters represent the core of New Zealand.” he said.

“They protect the sea. They protect the land. They care about the environment more than us.

“And so, another message we got is that we need to join together as a family.”

The Tangaroa Te Ihi Moana collection also had many special guest appearances.

One guest in particular was MP and co-leader of Te Pāti Māori, Rawiri Waititi.

Waititi opened the Saturday night fashion show by reciting a karakia (prayer) in a traditional Māori cloak and garments.

Waititi says being included in the Tangaroa Te Ihi Moana was an honour and a wonderful way to spend the night witnessing cultural fusion through fashion.

“It’s wonderful to be here this evening, in particular, because the designers, the artists and the creation of the gowns are from Te Whānau a Apanui,” he said.

“So it was an absolute honour to be here this evening and be a part of the Iwi showcasing their vision and their fashion.”

When asked about his thoughts on the fusion of Māori influence, Waititi shares how it’s shown when people are given the freedom to create.

“Us [Māori] being able to fuse what we would have naturally done if our natural development was not disturbed.

“So you can see the fusion between tāngata whenua [people of the land] and tāngata Tiriti [Treaty allies] through our eyes and how we’ve been able to innovate,” Waititi said.

Hero image: Māori influencer and model Jessica Tyson walks in the 'Tangaroa Te Ihi Moana' collection. Photo / Supplied

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