Māori fashion designers urged to protect Papatuānuku

By Jessica Tyson

Leading Māori designers are out to educate the next generation of designers to steer clear of unethical, 'fast' fashion.

Fast fashion is a term used to define cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments at breakneck speed, to the detriment of workers who produce the clothes under third world labour conditions.

Designer Misty Ratima, of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, is concerned about the impact that fast fashion has on Papatuānuku, the environment.

"Fast fashion has been something that has been running rampant with the environment.  The reason for that is because we are asking for fast turnaround of clothing and at a very cheap rate," says Ratima.

Designer Misty Ratima. Source: File

According to the United Nations, the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of global carbon emissions.

“Within India and China it is known in the industry that the workers behind all of these cheap clothing items are under the hammer constantly and they’re working long hours and they’re getting less than minimum wage."

Kāhui Fashion

Māori designers have recently started to look overseas to source materials for their designs.

Just last month, a group of designers known as Kāhui Māori Fashion Collective (MFC) visited some of the largest fabric and manufacture markets in the world during a trip to China.

The group was led by top Māori designer, Kiri Nathan.

"The factories that I went to with the designers were all up to standard, they were actually above standard.  They were amazing.  However, eight of the designers went to factories after I left Guangzhou, and that apparently was below standard, so the general consensus for us is that we don’t work in those environments."

Kāhui Fashion in China. Source: Kāhui Fashion

Nathan told the other designers on the trip that factories and manufacturers must meet certain criteria before they decide to work with them.

"You need to visit the premises, you need to see the factory, you need to see the workers and you need to judge for yourself and feel in your puku that they’re being treated well."

Sourcing materials from overseas

Nathan says sourcing materials from overseas manufacturers is vital for an expanding business.

"For some of the labels like myself, we'll always be 100 percent New Zealand-made.  However, there are no fabric manufacturers in New Zealand that can supply us with the fabrics that we need for high-end fashion so we need to look out into the market and China has the largest market in the world."

According to the United Nations, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally and it takes around 2,000 gallons (7,600 litres) of water to make a typical pair of jeans.

Nathan says, “The world needs to change its mindset otherwise we won’t have a world to live in.  Fashion is one of the largest contributors to waste and pollution and everyone who’s working in this environment has to be socially conscious about how they move forward.”

Ratima agrees.

“We can be held completely responsible in the fact that we understand clothing is coming from a place that is looked after and it’s ending up here and it’s an item that we can hold onto forever and pass down instead of something we can dispose of quickly.”