Rotorua fashion show to honour special relationship between Te Arawa and China

By Jessica Tyson

This Saturday a group of high-end Māori and Chinese fashion designers will honour the special relationship between Te Arawa and China with a fashion show in Rotorua.

Organiser Kharl Wirepa says the event is in response to Covid-19 to strengthen the relationship between China and Māori since Rotorua has a major role to play in Chinese tourism in Aotearoa. 

“We needed to show manaaki to our Chinese community here in Rotorua and we’re able to do that through art and fashion. Fashion is a powerful component to keep people together, to celebrate history, to celebrate heritage, and to bring beauty into the world," Wirepa says.

Pre-pandemic, China was the second-largest tourism market after Australia and spending by 390,000 Chinese visitors in 2019 hit $1.7 billion. Wirepa says the Chinese community has injected billions of dollars into the Māori economy in Te Arawa for the past 40 years.

“We’re able to maintain those relationships in a positive way during this economic crisis for our tourism industry by celebrating Chinese and Māori culture coming together for the first time on the catwalk so it’s really a great thing.”

Māori designers featuring in the fashion show include Kharl Wirepa, Deborah DeLoree, Nikita Samuels, and Kathy Rawinia Murray. Chinese designer Stonie Zhao will also feature.

“We also have Jade Kava and Niki Nepia from Puawai Jade who trained in Beijing and are here in Te Arawa. So he knows how to carve greenstone and jade from both cultures,  Wirepa says.

Wirepa says there are many commonalities between the Māori and Chinese cultures.

“From dragon to taniwha, to ancestors to tūpuna, jade and greenstone, manaaki, kai all of those things. We have many common aspects in our culture that we share with them, he says.

“Even Matariki and Chinese New Year are designed off the same lunar calendar. When Chinese New Year is shown in China it is the same Matariki constellation that we see here later in the year in June and Jul,y so we have a lot of common perspectives, a spiritual perspective, a whānau perspective and a perspective of honour and mana.”

VIP tickets for the show on Saturday are sold out but general tickets are still available.