Kiri Nathan made a member of NZ Order of Merit

By Taroi Black

Fashion icon Kiri Nathan has been presented with the insignia for her new membership of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Maori and the fashion industry by Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy.

International figures from former US president Barack Obama to the Duchess of Sussex and many others have worn her pieces that represent the modern fashion world infused in her roots in te ao Maori. She has also led several hikoi to China to support Maori fashion designers into global growth. 

Nathan says this day brings special memories because her grandmother, Inez Fullerton, inspired her to get into the fashion industry.  

“Today was special because of my grandmother. She was a real royalist and she is the reason why I started sewing.”

Her eponymously-named clothing label Kiri Nathan was established in 2010 and has developed into an internationally acclaimed high-end fashion brand with a distinctly Maori essence and aesthetic.

The label is a member of the Wahine Toa Initiative, identifying and mentoring leadership in young Maori women.

19-year wait

“Wahine Maori have been pioneering new grounds for generations and decades. I just have the privilege of walking in their footsteps, so I am very lucky.”

Nathan graduated in from a three-year Diploma in Visual Arts at Manukau Institute of Technology in 1995. Interestingly enough, she was one of five graduates from a class of 33 students.

However, she chose not to work as she needed a reliable income because she was a single mum with a young son.

It took 19 years before she finally broke into the fashion industry, winning many awards at Cult Couture, New Zealand Wearable Arts and the Smokefree Fashion Awards.

Now, she and her oldest son, Astley, are taking a new journey to learn te reo Maori at Te Wananga Takiura O Nga Kura Kaupapa Maori O Aotearoa.

“My husband and I sat down and  had a korero and said, “I just can’t do it anymore, I can’t live without or get a grasp of te reo so a full year with our mataamua next year at Takiura and I’m so excited.”

“So, I have to do two years of work this year so that I can study and learn everything next year.”