Fashion - it's all about the fit, and for one young fashion designer that fit isn't just about the measurements.

Melissa Coull-Herewini says for her fashion is a way to celebrate diversity and to challenge people's perceptions of identity. Next month she will challenge plenty of people as her designs go on the catwalk at New Zealand Fashion Week.

Melissa Coull-Herewini with her graduate collection from last year.
Melissa Coull-Herewini with her graduate collection from last year.

Melissa is one of nine designers selected to show her collection at the Graduate Fashion Show, meaning her designs will be seen by fashion royalty from New Zealand and overseas.

Melissa says being selected is an honour.


"My designs are more on the avant-garde side while New Zealand Fashion Week is usually more commercial. It's amazing to have been selected."

Studying fashion at Otago Polytechnic, Melissa says her desire to use fashion as a way to challenge and explore diversity was encouraged.

"The course has a strong focus around creativity and gave me the design freedom I needed."

Her resultant collection She's got RIC, explores growing up with Racial Identity Crisis (RIC) and her experience of growing up mixed race.

Melissa says she took inspiration from a piece of writing on thatsus - an online anti-racism campaign.

The article, talks about growing up mixed race in New Zealand and Melissa's collection uses colour and fabric to tell that story.

"The garments reflect a contrast in cultures colliding together, shown by the differing colours and contrasting fabrics used. They are woven in together to reflect my experience of being mixed race, growing up in a predominately white culture."

Melissa says her collection is about all types of diversity.

"The message is it is ok not to fit into societies ideals regarding race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion and size.


"Diversity is what makes the world beautiful. It is the ideal that drives change and shows we can all be open about accepting others with differences from us."

There are many hours of work in the final collection, with Melissa saying one particular piece took about 75 hours in total. She uses a mix of fabrics, from merino and alpaca wool to synthetics. The mix of fabrics is deliberate, highlighting the differences between cultures.

Melissa Coull-Herewini using her sewing machine.
Melissa Coull-Herewini using her sewing machine.

"Parka nylon is transformed alongside silk lurex to show how fabric can transform from low to high. The combination of colours and textures creates a strong contrast, reflecting two cultures colliding, creating a visual story and a sense of being overwhelmed."

The collection is being shown under the brand name DOUGLAS which was started by Melissa and her sister, Tia.

"It is a dedication to our late father as it was his middle name. It is also the place where we got our first machine from."