Authenticity and unity are two key factors of a Cook Island fashion showcase at a south Auckland arts centre in November.
Bringing together models, designers, and hair and makeup artists, Aku Yanga is a one-day event highlighting the fashion world of the Pacific Island nation.
Now in its second year, while last year’s event combined creatives from just one of the country’s 15 islands, this year the organisers are involving people from the entire country.
Event co-founder Paul Hagai says while it’s hard uniting people from all the islands, it’s worth it in the end.
”It’s good for strengthening our people as a country and allowing us to stand together in unison celebrating our culture,” Hagai says.
”We’re well known for our dancing and our drama and our music but we’re also just as good at fashion and we’re very passionate about it.”
The New Zealand-born fashion designer says it’s up to individuals to take ownership of their identity and embrace their Cook Island heritage – it’s what he did.
”You always hear people talk about the loss of their language but I think there’s no loss, you’ve got to take ownership of that before you say you’re suffering a crisis of identity.”
Aku Yanga is a completely voluntary event, with an aim to uplift emerging and current designers, while showcasing the best the Cook Islands has to offer.
It will feature guests like Miss World Supermodel Trina Tanga and south Auckland designer Tasha Lee.
Along with the larger scale Pacific Fusion Fashion Show, which was held in August, it’s one of the only events of its kind since Westfield Style Pasifika ended in 2011.
While Hagai says Aku Yanga is its own event, he hopes it can be a platform for emerging designers to then go onto Pacific Fusion Fashion, which is a larger-scale operation.
Singer and composer Yasmin Augustine says it’s a great event and is pleased to see people from all the Cook Islands collaborating together on it.
”It’s the start of something, it should have been done a long time ago,” Augustine says.
Augustine has travelled with a dancer from Australia for the fashion show, and she says events like these provide budding creatives with courage to pursue their dreams.
That’s what Hagai’s aim is when it comes to the fashion show and he hopes to open up doors for people starting out in the industry.