MOST people approach 40 with their lives pretty much set by the circumstances around them. Whether it be the result of proper planning or coincidence, most of us approach our fourth decade on earth making good with what life has dealt us but not Salote Usumaki Streil.
The 38-year-old mother of two grew up with a love for the arts. While growing up in Papua New Guinea, Salote's father noticed her drawing skills and encouraged her to enter a local competition and she took out honours in the junior category.
"By the age of eight my father had noticed that I had a flair for colouring and sketching, he encouraged me to join an art competition in PNG where I won the junior category," Salote said.
"My love of art grew from there, I wanted to be a portrait artist initially, and didn't pursue this."
She said this was because there wasn't an art school I could go to in Fiji so she instead pursued her love for books and became a librarian.
Salote worked for a few years with the Forestry Department in Fiji and moved to Australia in 2008.
In between her career as a librarian, several opportunities to explore her love for art and design cropped up and Salote made good of them. In 2006 she responded to a newspaper story about the need for local artists to participate at the Melanesian Arts Festival.
"I entered and won the Emerging Talent of the year 2006 and Bridal Category."
Although she had been a librarian for most of her professional life, fashion remained a priority for Salote so when her family emigrated to Australia in 2008 she enrolled at the Kangan Institute Melbourne to study fashion.
"In my second year I won third place in the Evening Category and in the same year I also won two industrial prizes for the Textile Institute Southern Australian Section Awards on Textiles," Salote said.
Earlier this year Salote got to know Ellen Whippy-Knight, the managing director of Fiji Fashion Week who had moved back to Australia last December after five years of living full-time in Fiji.
Ellen found out how advanced this young Fijian mum's design skills were and thought her story may be an illustration to designers here of how far one could go if they had a passion for the creative arts.
"As I came to Australia, I have evolved in terms of design by studying work by influential artists, architects of the 20th century, and have been enormously encouraged by teachers in design, millinery etc.
"My present work is greatly influenced by Spanish Artist Joan Miro, in terms of colour boldness and also my personal style which is young and edgy," Salote said.
"I entered the MHCC FJFW 2013 so that I can gain some exposure on the work that I do as a designer. My main aim is to be able to get work with a designer or business who is interested in sustainable fashion and the younger market."
Salote enters the Kookai Emerging Designers Category of the MHCC Fiji Fashion Week 2013 with a collection titled "Dennum" , a play on the word "denim".
Denim or dungaree cloth is a type of fabric originally made in a place called Nimes in France and was made famous by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873 who designed pants out of the fabric and called it jeans.
Originally designed for cowboys, jeans became popular among teenagers. In the 1950s historic brands like Levi's and Lee have made the clothing item a "staple" of fashion.
Salote said her own upbringing, especially the influences of her traditional wear have given her a inspiration to work with denim in a way that helps highlight other interesting aspects of this fabric.
"In Fiji, my inspirations are gained from what I see around me.
"I love to experiment with textures and colours. This is clearly shown in my collection for the Melanesian Art Festival where I mixed denim pants with tapa and magimagi and my winning bridal dress where I used silk satin with tapa in a contemporary design," Salote explained.
"The name of my collection is 'Dennum', I tried to come with a word that makes the sound of denim sophisticated and classy. Denim has always been seen as a casual or day wear," Salote said.
"In this case I've made this collection that is both day and party evening look. A versatile collection that one can wear with sneakers for day and heels for evening party look."
Salote loves work by Italian designer Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani best known as Valentino. Valentino, who rose to prominence in the 1960s, is considered the master of Italian high fashion and has dressed some of the worlds best known trendsetters, like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Princess Margaret, the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth II.
Her other favourite designer is the increasingly popular Lebanese Elia Saab whose brand, ES, has become quite established given his royal and celebrity clientele. Couple those design influences with Salote's love for R&B music artists and this Totoya native's work is one to look forward to.
"I guess my inspiration is mostly by the things I see, hear and feel or experience. I've incorporated techniques used by Fijian ladies and that is weaving in the details of my pockets and off shoulder top, dress side panels made from denim scraps," Salote said.
"I am designing street wear. I notice that lots of designers are designing resort wear which is a huge market in Fiji so I thought what do most people like to wear casual yet versatile, especially the young, so my mind was made up to do street wear."
Her 12-piece collection is entirely made in Australia and although the pieces have been quite expensive to make, Salote has generous friends who put faith and money into her entry at MHCC FJFW 2013.
"It hasn't been an easy task especially when I haven't got a full-time job at the same time I have a lot to be thankful for.
"Through faith I have had some generous help from friends in Germany and Australia who believe in me," Salote said. "I have friends and family (in Fiji) who are looking forward to my arrival!
"I am grateful for my humble beginnings and I know that without the support of my family and friends, I wouldn't have come this far."
Salote's work is dedicated to her children for whom she said all her fashion design ventures have been.
"I am very thankful and grateful to be part of the MHCC FJFW 2013 and I would like my message to be for parents to encourage their children in whatever professions they choose in life and to tell them that dreams can be achievable with lots of hard work and sacrifices. To always have faith, pray and stay humble."
* Lice Movono-Rova is the public and media relations manager of Fiji Fashion Week Ltd.