By MALUM NALU
THEY’RE on the catwalk tonight in Port Moresby.
Not in Milan or New York or Japan or the other fashion capitals of the world.
It’s the evening of Saturday, Oct 7, and the Gateway Hotel in Port Moresby is awash with the best fashion designers and models.
Papua New Guinea’s growing fashion industry is on show here in the PNG Fashion and Design Week 2017 runway show, themed ‘Fashion and Climate Change’.
Beautiful models strut their stuff on the catwalk to showcase the country’s 11 top fashion designers and two from Australia.
It’s all “wow” stuff.
I, a newbie to the local fashion industry, never knew that we had such beautiful and talented young models, and very good fashion designers.
The designers are Niugini Native by Wandid Amini Korimbo, Mahawa by Brianne Kimmins, Lavagirl by Annette Sete, Ma’Mana by Heai Ugava, Rel’s Adi Fashion by Relvi Kalap, Kenny Collection by Kenny Ng, PNGian Kala by Sarah Haoda-Todd, Jaukae Bilum Products by Florence Jaukae, CS2K by Jenny Dalton, Baiwa by Natasha Tamanabae, and Tabu by Tapu Warupi.
Visitors from Australia are Off2War by Jacynta Fuamatu and Aria Newtown, and Lepou by Fai Lepou Peni.
Goroka-based Jaukae Bilum Products, run by the internationally-renowned Florence Jaukae, steals the show on their night with its stunning designs and will represent the country at a fashion show in Sydney, Australia, later this year.
Kokopo-based Lavagirl, owned by former journalist Annette Sete, is also a standout with its themed products based on the country’s cocoa industry.
Likewise, Madang-based Rel’s Adi Fashion by a new kid on the block in Relvie Kalip, with products made in traditional Madang bilum style
Commerce Trade and Industry Minister Wera Mori, and Youth Religion and Community Development Secretary Anna Solomon, speak of the country’s growing fashion industry and the need to support it.
Mori says the Government has a major task to create 500,000 small and medium enterprises by 2030 – which currently stand at 50,000 – and the fashion industry is part of this.
“That’s a mammoth task,” he says.
“Tonight is all about SMEs.
“It is within the Government’s drive and policy that we must encourage such activities (fashion designing).”
Mori says PNG has already hit the world fashion stage with Lae-based designer Sarah Haoda Todd showcasing her products in London recently.
“Some of you have become ambassadors of Papua New Guinea,” he says.
“Thank you and congratulations to Sarah Haoda.
“There are one or two people who have put their hands up to represent the country, and for that, I thank you.
“You have done it and I know that you can.
“Don’t forget that where there is a will, there is always a way.”
Haoda-Todd tells of the experience of showcasing her products on the world stage in London recently.
Organiser Janet Sios is glowing after it’s all over having pulled off her second PNG Design and Fashion Week.
“The night was exceptional,” she tells me.
‘Everyone received it very well.
“I’m getting good comments from right around the whole nation.
“What makes an event like that successful is the products that come on the runway, and how people react to it. “
“The designers that came out on the runway produced exceptional and very high quality products, which means that Papua New Guineans are now stepping up.
“We’re looking to expose one designer (Florence Jaukae) in Sydney.
“One model and one designer will go down.
“Florence will go down and fly the flag of Papua New Guinea in Sydney.”
Sios says the industry has come a long way since the inaugural PNG Fashion and Design Week in Aug 2016 at Stanley Hotel.
She says the difference between 2016 and 2017 is the marked improvement in quality of designers’ work.
Sios says labels such as Sete’s Lavagirl and Tamanabae’s Baiwa had become household names since 2016.
“Last year was quite a success and we went on to do it again this year to keep the momentum going,” she says.
“Last year we empowered seven designers.
“Look at Annette Sete’s Lavagirl and Natasha Tamanabae’s Baiwa.
“They’re quite successful now.
“They have shops, they’re selling online, they’re marketing themselves, they’re very successful now.
“This year we increased the number of designers to 11.
“These include two emerging designers: Relwi Kalip of Madang and Heai Ugava of Central.
“Both of them are new and this is their first time on the runway.
“I have to say that the designs and the quality of their work was as good as those established fashion designers, to be honest.
“It shows that they’ve done their homework.
“We’ve conducted the workshops and they’ve taken it on.
“I’m happy to say that out of those workshops, new emerging designers have been born, and are now on the platform.
“That’s exactly what we want to achieve.
“Our objective is to provide avenues for those people who are thinking about it, or have it in their blood to be creative, to get into fashion designing.
“There are plenty of people I meet now who say they want to get into fashion designing”
Sios’ dream is to see the fashion industry burgeon in PNG as in Fiji.
“Fiji Fashion Week has been running for 10 years,” she says.
“It has contributed immensely to the economy of Fiji.
“As you know, manufacturing is big there.
“I don’t understand why Papua New Guinea cannot have manufacturing here.
“I’ve talked to the minister (Mori) about this
“I told him that it’s not about the glamour on the runway: It’s about empowering our young people.
“There are a lot of challenges that the designers face: having the right materials, having the right paints, having sewing machines to sew.
“Having a factory here would really help them.
“We must have downstream processing here.
“We must have manufacturing here.”
Sios believes the ace up PNG’s sleeve is PNG’s culture, for example, the ubiquitous bilum.
“Did you see how good Relwi Kalip from Madang is, incorporating the Madang bilum into her products?” she says.
“We have the Goroka bilum lady (Jaukae) and now we have the Madang bilum.
“I don’t think you’ll find bilums anywhere else apart from Papua New Guinea.
“Do they have bilums anywhere else in the world?
“I don’t think so.
“This shows that we are adopting a way of life onto fabric.
“That’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along.
“Fiji has a big manufacturing industry and fashion is big to them, but they only have flowers and things from the sea.
“They do not have the designs that we have.
“The designs we have are the tattoo, the Sepik mask, the mudman, the Manus shell, just about anything.
“We are very diverse in our country with those cultures that are unique about our provinces.
“Just imagine if we can convert these onto fabric and start earning income through that?”
“Translate tumbuna (traditional) stories onto fabric, for example, the Sepik mask.
“The fashion industry is a way of capturing our ancestors’ stories and retaining them going forward.
“To me, I think we are achieving that, because a few of our designers have decided to put their clan designs onto the fabric.”
“My challenge to those in the industry now is how to get buyers to come and buy.
“The potential for this industry to tie in with tourism and progress together is immense.
“East New Britain is spending a lot of money to train their people in fashion designing.
“They can see the potential.
“They can put the Tolai dukduk and volcanoes onto shirts and fabrics for tourists to buy.
“We cannot even describe the potential for tourism.”
I ask Sios to gaze into her crystal ball and tell me what she sees.
“We are looking forward to expanding the runway, to bring in buyers and grow this industry,” she says.
“I would really, really love to work with the Government to introduce manufacturing.
“It’s a long call, it’s difficult, but interest is growing.”