A Rotorua jewellery designer has recently enjoyed meeting like-minded people and seeing her jewellery hit the runway in Sydney.
Melissa Waaka, of Te Arawa iwi, has recently come back from exhibiting her jewellery collection at the Pacific Runway Exhibition in Sydney, where Pacific Island and Māori designers are showcased on an international stage.
Returning home to Rotorua in 2017, Melissa decided jewellery design was what she wanted to be doing full time.
"Āhua Creationz is a Māori owned and operated company based in Rotorua, inspired to create unique, individually handcrafted jewellery, infused with a cultural experience that connects you to your sense of place."
Melissa was selected from a list of designers worldwide after applying to be part of the show.
The application process included having to create her 15 pieces of Taonga (treasures) for the collection, alongside securing sponsorship to be able to get to the event.
The type of material she uses is polymer clay and currently her work is all handmade, she does not use any moulds and each piece is a unique one-off.
Melissa says she may need to consider a resin-based product to increase production for one or two of her pieces if she decides to sell an increased quantity in the future.
Melissa remains humble and creates her work at home on her kitchen table. She wants to get a shop one day, a dream she has always had.
Her technique is self-taught. She learned her craft living in Australia, guided by an older Aboriginal woman, Jan Shillingsworth, who she befriended.
Melissa attributes her work to her friend and shows the connection of two indigenous cultures meeting through art.
Melissa says there is a small Aboriginal dot connection on each piece, honouring Jan's wisdom and role in her journey.
Remaining focused was one of the hardest parts of getting her collection ready to exhibit, she says.
"I wanted the collection to be about a narrative that was relevant to me and my people."
The inspiration behind her collection was, "an opportunity for me to showcase a very personal response and indeed a privilege to acknowledge the collective history of my people Tūhourangi, amid the devastation of the 1886 Tarawera eruption".
"It speaks a narrative of heartbreak, courage and sheer determination weaved throughout the landscape and its people.
"It explores traditional Māori adornment with contemporary mixed media exploration linking yesteryear with a modern day context. Welcome to ĀMAIA".
Melissa says she enjoyed meeting a collective of supportive, like-minded artists all seeking to create and share their indigenous talents through art.
"[It was] my first ever runway in Sydney, Australia!"
Melissa says she collaborated with a New Zealand weaver, Kath MacDonald-Huff from Foxton, with her work standing out against the fabrics and natural elements of Kath's collection.
Melissa wanted her 15 models to think about the piece they wore and how they were connected to it.
Each piece tells a story and Melissa conveyed these stories to each model beforehand.
She wanted the models to feel a part of the wairua (spirit) of each piece. Effectively, there were 15 mini stories to be felt and shared onstage.
All participants in the exhibition were from Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Hawaii or Papua New Guinea.
She says a highlight of attending the Pacific Runway was that she, met some "really cool people".
"Going back to my second home (Sydney), seeing all my old friends there to support me."
Melissa has dabbled in designing children's clothes, painting and word art prints.
Most of Melissa's inspiration comes from her children.
"You can do whatever you want," she tells them, adding, "don't settle for what is there, go for what you love. Go for your dreams."
She says she strives to try, "new ideas, to be different. Not to duplicate what others do."
"Be true to whom you are, don't devalue your work. Keep going, be consistent and believe in yourself."
Melissa acknowledges her sponsorship which included support from Te Arawa Whānau Ora. Business mentor Tania Rupapera from Mana Coaching has also helped guide Melissa through the process.
Melissa worked closely with her nephew Harley Ruha, also Sydney based.
His music production helped to project sounds of nature, eruptions and volcanic activity, alongside the sound of a Karanga performed by Tiahomara Fairhall, which was carefully meshed into the background.
Her cousin Natasha George helped with the narrative and speech, specifically linking the meaning of each piece.
Her supporters Rita Gamlen, Deidre Mounga and Mereana Hepi were, "awesome support, prepped everything for me and kept me together."
She also thanked her whānau back home in New Zealand who supported her while she was away by caring for her children in her absence.
"To family and friends who helped with my children and most importantly to my babies who miss out on mum time while I'm trying to get my work done. So many sacrifices but I do it all for them."
More information is available at Ahua Creationz (@ahuacreationz) on Facebook and www.ahuacreationz.co.nz