Entertainment | Fashion

Ngāpuhi designer’s award-winning dress calls for the protection of coral reefs

Up-and-coming designer Sophie Matthews from Ngāpuhi has won this year’s Resene Colour of Fashion project in a bid to raise awareness about the coral reefs close to extinction.

As part of the competition, 25 Whitecliffe fashion technology students presented their designs to the judges, each garment crafted from silk twill dyed in new Resene fashion colours.

Sophie received the colour, Resene Tropical, which sparked her desire to use the dress, named Bloom, to help raise awareness about coral reefs.

“Bloom emulates the textures and shapes of Fox Coral. When I first saw my fabric in Resene Tropical, my immediate thought was coral. It’s an orange-hued pink, like coral, and that’s where my research began.”

In her presentation to the judges, Sophie explained that coral reefs, although only occupying two per cent of the sea floor, support over 25 per cent of marine life and play an important part in the health of the ocean.

“Coral reefs generally are in dire need of saving. We’ve seen that with the Great Barrier Reef. So most of that coral bed has been bleached now and that is our largest coral bed in the world and pretty much on the verge of extinction,” she says.

“As a Māori wahine, I find it incredibly important to us and our culture to make sure we’re aware of the land essentially, the whenua, moana. All of that is all intertwined. It’s integral to Papatuānuku.”

First seen on the runway at New Zealand Fashion Week: Kahuria in September, Bloom features crinkled silk twill, a bubble skirt and uneven sleeves.

“Winning this prize meant a lot to me. I was in disbelief. I think it was maybe the first time anyone has done something with the fabric in Resene, so that was quite cool to be recognised for that,” she says.

“At Fashion Week it was really, really awesome seeing the garments on the runway. It was something I really wanted to sit and absorb. It went by in a flash.”

Matthews is inspired by other Māori designers, Kiri Nathan and Campbell Luke, who she also got to see at Kahuria.

“We did the Resene colour of fashion and some of Campbell Luke’s garments were shown in that show, which I didn’t know was happening, so that was incredible for me to see them in person.”

Sophie was drawn to a career in fashion at her high school Birkenhead College.

Reconnecting to her whakapapa

“I was lucky to be surrounded by teachers and peers in the arts who encouraged creativity and individuality. This environment provided a safe space for me to create and has definitely shaped me in many ways throughout this journey,” she says.

“I have always felt a connection to my iwi and taha Māori... My goal now is to continue to reconnect with my whakapapa, which I believe will inevitably influence my work.”

Sophie’s winning design will lead the collection onto the catwalk at Whitecliffe’s graduate fashion show in November

“Creating art is really interesting where you can really spread a message. I just love creating something that’s really beautiful, something that people will look at and want to know more about, so that’s my goal; to make garments that people are interested in and spread awareness.”