From Ōtautahi to New York, Ngāi Tahu designer debuts new line

By Aroha Mane

Her work has featured on the catwalks of New York fashion week and now jewellery designer Sonia McManus from Ngāi Tahu is launching a new collection inspired by her own journey of self-discovery.

“We were on a rooftop in downtown Manhattan overlooking the World Trade Centre. It was surreal and it was crazy. There were masks and visors, social distancing and the whole thing in the middle of New York. I did have a few moments where I sat down in the corner and cried because it was so overwhelming.”

Each year fashion curators 'Flying Solo' invites 10 international designers to participate in their shows. The work of Sonia Therese Design was chosen because of the inspiration of Māori heritage in her work and her commitment to sustainability.

“I’m very much about kaitiakitanga, it's earth-centred and focused. I use sand and soil from the place where people stand and I use that to pour molten metal, silver and gold into that material. It takes on the shape of that material and the texture. It takes the spirit of that place with it to that new person.”

Her journey of self-discovery through whakapapa has played a part in her designs.

"I have been on a bit of a process of discovery about my own whakapapa and learning about my ancestors. My grandmother, her name was Piraurau and she went by the name of Sarah. She was one of the first Māori to marry a Pākehā here in Canterbury. She was a wahine toa, she was a powerful woman in her community. I very much feel like my grandmother is sitting on my shoulder and guiding my hand when I draw and when I create.”

The Ngāti Irakehu and Ngāi Tahu descendant has made a commitment to te reo Māori.

"This year specifically I decided it was long overdue and it was time for me to learn my language, so I’ve just completed my first te reo Māori course and it’s been fantastic. I feel a belonging that I haven’t felt before. My jewellery is starting to reflect that too."

She plans to launch her new line Turangawaewae at New Zealand Fashion week next year.

“Turangawaewae is about the place that we stand. This is a very powerful thing for me and it’s come from me learning and understanding my own pēpēhā and my own place in the world. It’s a statement of saying here I am, I’m here, I’m standing here and I’m proud to be here.”