Pacific fashion stamps mark on industry

Dress has always been an important part of Pacific culture, an important expression of social status, political standing and religious belief.

Body art and clothing were key elements that helped people to socially locate themselves and others.

Fashion continues to be a form of self-expression and identity, and internationally, the industry craves unique designs.

More and more, Pacific designers such as Lautoka-based siblings Moira Solvalu-John and David Solvalu, the driving force behind Fijian label 8Mountains Collection, are providing distinctive designs by tapping into rich Pacific traditions and cultures, which in-turn are demanding international attention.

Named Designer of the Year 2017 at Fiji Fashion Week, Moira has come a long way since watching her self-taught seamstress mother at work, and learning how to sew and design her own outfits.

At age 11, Moira would assist her mum to sew kids clothing to help make ends meet.

“When we launched our kids wear in 2013, I was particularly humbled because it reminded me of how far we have come as a label,” Moira reflects.

The brand 8Mountains was established in 2009, and Moira also entered Fiji Fashion Week as an Emerging Designer.

However, Moira says the initial concept of the brand had been brewing in her head since the days of observing and helping her mother sew.

From there, Moira and her brother David worked tirelessly at getting their label known on the market, using online sales and marketing via Facebook, Shopify and Envicase, Moira explains.

“I figured if it was my dream, then I needed to do all I could to ensure my label was international standard in both quality and design.”

Aside from online sales, word of mouth advertising is still very effective, Moira adds.

“In an era that is filled with so many similar designs, detail in quality and style still trumps the day.”

Currently, 8Mountains is based in Lautoka, where the siblings run a small garment factory setup five minutes from the heart of the city.

They operate a retail outlet at Suva’s QBE Arcade, and the brand can be found at high-end island resort boutiques like Laucala Island.

“Next month we will open another retail outlet in Lautoka City.

“We also export to nine different countries in small volumes … recently our men’s Ethnic Blazers have been a huge success,” Moira says.

Moira has become adept at time management, working a “day job” as a Shipping Manager at Swire Shipping on top of designing clothing.

“To manage a branch and also run a design factory on its own hasn’t been an easy task for me - I also am completing my MBA and balancing all of this as well as being a mother and wife has been the journey of a juggler,” she shares.

“Sometimes, I slip up and forget something, but I realise I am not perfect so I pick myself up again and keep on going at it with double the zeal and of course I have a great sense of humour so I crack a joke or two, laugh at myself and hustle on.”

The growing interest and demand for Pacific-inspired creations is just the beginning of something big for the talented pool of designers throughout the region who are willing to work hard, Moira says.

“I believe Pacific fashion is only just evolving – just see how well brands such as TAV and MENA are doing.

“The world has only just discovered Pacific fashion and what it has to offer.”

Moira believes the power of indigenous buying should never be underestimated when it comes to becoming truly established.

“Our label gained its success by connecting within our Diaspora - we appealed to our own and created a strong label by offering our own twist to world trends by digging into our rich culture and creating our own expressions through print design and style,” she says.

While Pacific-based designers lack no creativity, Moira says they are limited by factors such as access to quality resources such as fabric and accessories; banks can be too rigid in assisting SME’s, interest rates in loan repayments are high and most people in the creative field lack assets to secure loans; and attention to details in finishing of garments.

“Fashion design courses were only just introduced in Fiji in 2013 thanks to the efforts of Fiji Fashion Week in propelling fashion to what it is today in the Pacific…I think designers should take advantage of the training to help them further their careers in fashion design.”

While there are some limiting factors preventing Pacific-based designers from experiencing success, there are also many opportunities for those looking for them.

“The Pacific is rich in its history and culture - you can incorporate Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian cultures and still find a huge market within the Pacific,” Moira says.

“Pacific-based designers need to find their niche - the fashion industry is hungry for something new and distinctively unique.”