Kiwi plucked from mall for New York Fashion Week

In just two weeks, a young woman has gone from working at her local mall to walking in New York Fashion Week.

Makeda Soper-Wirangi (Whakatohea/Tainui), 20, is originally from Opotiki, but moved with her family to Melbourne two years ago.

From humble beginnings, she left school at 16, working at a Burger King and fish and chip store before finding a job in retail. But it was while working in a mall in Australia that her life took a surprising turn.

As she was choosing perfume for a friend, she noticed a man watching her.

"I noticed him staring at me and I was like, what are you up to, stalker guy," says Soper-Wirangi.

In fact, the young Māori beauty had caught the eye of model agent Phoenix Michael Darley, who was instantly captivated by her face.

"When I turned I just saw these amazing cheekbones. She just had this incredible facial structure. And also I couldn't really work out her nationality," says Darley.

"I thought maybe sort of Eurasian and when I asked her and she said she was Māori I clicked and I went yeah definitely.

She just has that real unique edge to her so that's what made me stop and say, 'Would you like to be a model?'"

Two weeks later she was on her way to New York Fashion Week under her new model name, "Keda". Landing four runway shows, her edgy look is now gaining attention from agencies in Europe.

In her first television interview Makeda and her mum Donna speak candidly about her life-changing opportunity to Māori Television's Australian correspondent Matai Smith.

"It was so cool to be able to give my first ever television interview with Māori Television's Native Affairs because I'm Māori and proud of my Whakatohea and Tainui whakapapa," she says.

"My whānau have been so supportive along my journey especially all my kuia back home in Kawerau, Edgecumbe and Hamilton. And now this humble little girl from Opotiki is ready to take on the fashion world, so bring it on, I'm ready!"

• Watch Makeda's full interview on Maori Television's Native Affairs on Tuesday, 8pm.

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