Why Fashion Designer Kiri Nathan Is A National Treasure

By Dan Ahwa
Kiri Nathan. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Kiri Nathan may not be churning out endless collections each season; nor are her designs worn by every hot young thing about town, but she is one of New Zealand’s most important fashion designers right now.

Since 2010, her eponymous label has made a significant contribution to upholding the values of Maoridom through her designs ­ handwoven accessories, custom dresses, contemporary iterations of traditional korowai and kakahu (Maori cloaks) and a range of pounamu jewellery and artworks hand carved by her husband, Jason Nathan; the couple keeping Maori culture alive through their work.

When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex ended their royal tour in Rotorua in October with a breathtaking powhiri at Te Papaiouru Marae, the couple wore traditional pounamu pendants presented to them by the Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy on their first day in New Zealand, given by Kiri. “A lot of hard work has gone into building the brand to where it is today,” says Kiri.

Kiri Nathan backstage at NZ Fashion Week 2018. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Kiri Nathan backstage at NZ Fashion Week 2018. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

“Although there is a long way to go, we obviously feel proud of these opportunities, not only for ourselves, but for the many who have supported the journey. There’s also a very real sense of responsibility to our culture and ensuring cultural integrity. It’s not just us, or our brand ... it is Te Ao Maori being celebrated. We play a very small part in the sharing process. The wonderful thing is witnessing people connect, whether they are of influence or not, it is powerful.”

Kiri showcased her designs on the runway with a solo show at New Zealand Fashion Week in September. Her designs have been given to visiting dignitaries and celebrities including the royal couple, former US President Barrack Obama, singer Usher and actress Jane Seymour.

Kiri’s other passions include working with the I Have a Dream foundation, helping disadvantaged children achieve academic success, and she’s on the advisory board for Super Diverse Women, a network of women leaders across a variety of industries.

After dressing Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern twice during the royal visit to New Zealand, Kiri’s 2019 has a big act to follow. “2018 was a whirlwind in the shape of a fabulous tornado! Next year, I’ll be leading the Kiri Nathan Maori Fashion Hikoi to China for the second year. This hikoi supports 10 Maori fashion designers into global business growth. We will also tour our nine-year arts project, He Kakano Ahau, internationally.

“The most important lesson I learned this year is never underestimate the power of instinct, creativity and imagination. It is the future.”

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