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Fashion trailblazer Kiri Nathan named finalist for New Zealander of the Year

Kiri Nathan is one of 10 finalists in Kiwibank's New Zealander of the Year award.

Leading fashion designer and trailblazer Kiri Nathan has been named one of 10 finalists in New Zealander of the Year 2024.

Nathan has been breaking barriers in the New Zealand fashion industry with a commitment to upholding the values of te ao Māori, while uplifting other Māori designers who follow in her footsteps.

She says she’s grateful to have been chosen as a finalist but is mostly proud to see so many other Māori being recognised.

“The most important thing is that Māori are being acknowledged and Māori are scattered throughout the finalists in all the different sections, especially at this time.”

Kiri Nathan opens NZ Fashion Week 2023. Source: Getty

First Māori designer to open NZ Fashion Week

This year Nathan, of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Paoa, made history as the first Māori designer to open New Zealand Fashion Week.

“There were 280 people that came together who were predominately Māori to bring that moment to fruition and that’s what it was. I don’t think it was a runway show, I feel like it was a moment, and it was a moment where Māori came together and actually all cultures and ages came together in that room at that time, felt connected, and that was really beautiful,” she says.

Kakahu and taonga made by Kiri Nathan and her husband Jason have graced notable figures such as Barack and Michelle Obama, the Duchess of Sussex, Beyonce, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran and Mariah Carey.

Kāhui Collective supporting indigenous designers

In 2017, she founded the Kāhui Collective, to help support the growth and mentorship of indigenous fashion creatives and entrepreneurs. Tūhoe designer Nichola Te Kiri is one of them says.

This week the Kahui Collective has come together to sell its designs at a pop-up store at Te Ahuru Mōwai, in Glen Innes, Tāmaki Makaurau. Te Āhuru Mōwai is a space that houses the Kiri Nathan brand’s collection alongside the Kāhui Collective and other community projects led by Nathan.

Te Kiri says Nathan has helped her “on just so many levels. She’s got this mentor kind of ahua about her but it’s really more than that. It’s like friends I think, even deeper than that. Kiri really cares. She doesn’t want you to just do well in your pakihi (business), she wants you to do well in all aspects of your life.”

The Kāhui Collective makes up just one component of the ecosystem Kiri is building, known as KAURI, set to be the first commercial Māori fashion industry.

“That’s an ecosystem that would see the first commercial Māori fashion industry become a reality and it would see us do it in a way that is authentic and genuine and it would see us do it a way that reciprocates and respects te ao Māori, which is no small feat when you start commercialising.”

Nathan says having the doors still open at Te Āhuru Mōwai a year after launching, has been a great achievement, especially having friends visit to support the brands that are a part of the Kāhui Collective.

“A whole lot of small things turn into a really big movement when there’s tautoko and when I say tautoko, for small Māori fashion brands, I mean buy products, support the kaupapa, support these small individual brands. It’s really, really important that we do that.”

But her biggest highlight of the year was welcoming her new mokopuna (granddaughter) Mahina.

“Mahina is 12 weeks old now so I’d say that was probably the biggest shift emotionally in the year,” she says.

The winner of the New Zealander of the Year will be announced in March next year.