Fashion in Paradise

Published in the Fiji Times 

May 23rd, 2015

By Ropate Valemei 


FIJI is a tropical paradise where "happiness finds you".

The word Fiji invokes images of tall palm trees, sandy white beaches and blue pristine waters. But there's more to it than this picturesque view of paradise.

Imagine "Fashion in Paradise" — it's basically Fijian designers showcasing a taste of fashion in paradise, and it all starts on Monday for five days.

For eight years, Fiji Fashion Week (FJFW) has been assisting fashion industry grow as it contributes immensely to the national economy.

Fashion is a multi-billion dollar business and one of the biggest employers globally.

In Fiji, stakeholders have stimulated and created employment and many fashion related small and medium enterprises have sprouted from the introduction and expansion of the industry.

FJFW managing director Ellen Whippy-Knight says 24 designers have their own studios from where they produce garments and collections on order.

Boutiques in shoes, apparel and jewellery have opened because of the demand for more a more westernised modern look.

The beauty and cosmetic industry have also taken advantage of this sector while jobs for stylists, bloggers, fashion photographers have emerged where it did not previously exist.

The fashion industry is the perfect example of the flow-on-effect of thriving sectors in a developing country.

"For a dress to appear on the runway it needs a chain of action. For example, designer, sketching, fabric supply, hardware and trimmings, pattern maker, seamstress, photographer, merchandisers, boutiques and sales people," Ms Whippy-Knight said.

The Fiji fashion industry is fledging and its prospects are good for the future.

"According to Fashion, our international partner the global apparel market was valued at $US1.7trillion ($F3.5tn) in 2012 and employs about 75 million people. We haven't scratched the surface of that pie. So the answer is yes."

FJFW is an international show and provides a platform for designers to market their brand and grow as designers.

"We train models and help them compile portfolios for jobs and its confidence building for them. We provide employment for both," she said.

Fashion, textile and clothing

The Fiji fashion industry is on a verge of exploding into greater heights if it gets the support it needs.

The Fiji textile and clothing industry has the potential to be the country's largest exporter, according to Mark One Apparel managing director Mark Halabe.

The textile, clothing and footwear industry stakeholder recently assured those attending this year's Fiji Institute of Accountants congress in Sigatoka that the sector could earn more than $500million in 20-25 years.

Mr Halabe said he was confident this would create 15,000 to 20,000 employment opportunities.

However, he said, this could only be made possible if authorities and Government relaxed laws that discouraged local manufacturers from exporting their products.

Fashion industry in the country, he said, needed to be supported such as getting qualifications for some local designers.

These designers, he said, needed to gain tertiary qualifications to take them to the next level.


Despite all the positive development, Fiji Fashion Council chairman Faraz Ali said the industry was still nascent.

"We have these elements, which are crucial and illustrate sophistication in our industry that is unparalleled in our region; however we still lack basic infrastructure to support actual designers who are the backbone of the industry."

For example, the said the council was still working on the establishment of a fashion incubator.

"We do not have a proper division within the industry — everyone wants to be a designer, even though their skill may be elsewhere — for example, a patternmaker, cutter, social media manager, marketing manager and stylist.

"These skills exist in our garment industry, but are yet to translate to our fashion industry."

Local designer Anton Conway Wye said Fiji needed to have a fashion school for designers and this was one of the many challenges designers were facing. Another challenge, he said, was accessing capital to establish their business.

The fashion industry also complements Fiji's top foreign exchange, the tourism industry. Fashion tourism? You might be thinking shopping tourism, right? Fashion tourism is a step ahead.

"The goal of our resort wear show is to try and get out designers to think about the tourism market and tapping into that buying market," Ms Whippy-Knight said.

With more than 700,000 tourists coming to Fiji, she said, they needed to get Fijian designed and made garments into top resorts and boutiques.

"Thanks to Tourism Fiji, we are partners at the Fijian Tourism Expo this year so we are showcasing Fijian designed and made garments," she said.

FJFW show

The show starts on Monday at the Damodar City Centre in Suva. It will be held over five days with a range of activities targeted to promote the fashion industry in Fiji.

In 2014, FJFW received more than 3000 guests over seven shows in a week. This year, FJFW will feature 70 designers' collections and more than 100 models.

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