Twenty-two-year-old Wairata Warbrick has just finished her Bachelor of Design in Fashion with Honors at Massey University in Wellington. Warbrick grew up in the geothermal heart of Rotorua, Whakarewarewa, the living Māori village. “I have a bi-cultural background. My mother is a New Zealand European and my father is Māori,” said Warbrick.
“I count myself as Tuhourangi/Ngati Wahiao but I also whakapapa to Ngati Rangatihi, Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Tuwharetoa.” In the Māori village, they have hosted visitors for over 200 years. As a child, Warbrick undoubtedly had a very active imagination and sense of style. “Fashion has allowed me to use my imagination and tell my own story.”
Warbrick learnt to be independent and self-sufficient at Massey University while also learning the importance of planning. Her end of year collection was inspired by traditional Māori craft, ancestral lands and histories. “I felt disconnected from my Māori heritage and wanted to delve deeper into this side of my identity because I had a very European upbringing.”
The collection also pays homage to the beauty of the Pink and White Terraces, as well as acknowledging her ancestors that lost their lives on the night they were destroyed. She references traditional Māori garments such as Korowai with the function of wrapping in her designs and using embellishments to reference Taniko weaving.
One of Warbrick’s favourite designers is Adrienne Whitewood, who is also Māori and from Rotorua. She admires her designs as they are very wearable and because Whitewood is inspired by Māori art and culture. “I would consider her a pioneer of the Rotorua fashion scene. She has made it more acceptable for other young and up and coming designers to base themselves in Rotorua but compete on the world stage.”
Her biggest challenge is creating Māori inspired garments without being stereotypical. “Creating authentic Māori designs that are inspired by Māori ideology, rather than just Māori aesthetics.”
Warbrick’s older sister is about to finish her business degree and together have often thought about combing their skills. “Her providing the analytical skills and me the creativity to create a fashion design business.”
Warbrick creates to have her story heard and to have it resonate with others. Her designs are her story and reflect her ancestry. “They empower me to grow as a bi-cultural woman,” she said. “My collection is a statement of embracing and actively learning my Māori culture. It shows and encourages walking the path between both cultures strongly and confidently.”