Indigenous | Fashion

Designers create kākahu during challenging political climate to represent tino rangatiratanga

Nichola Te Kiri is one of many Māori designers who has sensed a demand in customers wanting to find kākahu that they can wear to represent tino rangatiratanga.

It comes following the change in government and policy rollbacks affecting Māori in te reo Māori, Te Tiriti, Oranga Tamariki and smoking.

Te Kiri says tino rangatiratanga has always been a really important value and a principle for her business.

“But it’s so much more pertinent now in this kind of climate that a lot of people are really supporting and wanting more of that to represent it. So not only are we feeling it on the inside but we’re feeling it on the outside,” she says.

She says policies that have concerned her the most are te reo Māori words not being used to name government agencies and plans to repeal the Smokefree legislation.

“I don’t know why the government doesn’t love our reo as much as it’s our language. I don’t understand why there are barriers to it and they want to put up more.”

The plan for the government to repeal Smokefree legislation concerns Te Kiri on a more personal level.

“I worked in health for so many years. I remember [my whānau] presenting to the select committee way back in the mid-2000s talking about our personal loss through our pāpā who died through smoking. We presented and it feels like we’re going backwards and we’ve spent many years doing the hard mahi and for us to accept tobacco company money - I just don’t get it.”

Te Kiri recently designed a unisex jacket titled Tino Rangatiratanga as part of the Ngā Uara collection.

“This design is about tino rangatiratanga, which refers to absolute sovereignty or self-determination, embodying our right to define our own destiny whilst reflecting our everlasting connection to the land, our traditions and identity.”

The jacket is black, red and white representing the colours of the tino rangtiratanga flag. She also created a maunga design as part of a font and the letter ‘A’.

“A maunga, if I was to look at it, is something that is steadfast and holds true to its environment, so that is the tohu, the design, that I wanted to represent.”

The jacket has a brooch, which has the wording Mana Motuhake, Resilient ASF, ”because this isn’t the first time that we’ve faced adversities, this isn’t the first time that we’ve faced challenges and barriers but we are so resilient.”

Otaki-based artist Hohepa Thompson, also known as the Hori, uses his brand to draw attention to issues affecting Māori. He also runs campaigns that raise awareness about issues including his recent Māori Elite Tour, a political satire piece trying to answer questions around Māori elitism. Last year he led the Hori’s Pledge Tour, calling to correct the country’s name and return it to Aotearoa.

The Hori has created designs to be sold during summer for anyone wanting to wear kākahu to present their Māoritanga or tino rangatiratanga.

Art not to be used as profit

But following recent protests some designs made by Māori artists have been used without their permission to make a profit.

One was a design gifted by The Hori to the Toitū Te Tiriti kaupapa that he needed to warn people not to use for profit.

“I just want to make this clear this tohu the flags and guns or whytangi be happy piece was my koha to Toitu Te Tiriti kaupapa it has been with me and my whānau for over a decade and is very personal to me and is why it sits forever in my kiri,” he wrote on a post on Facebook.

“Can I please ask that this is not used to Profit from Personally. Toitu Te Tiriti will bring out a limited design in the new year and all, if any, proceeds will and should go back to the kaupapa.”

Artist Graham Hoete, also known as Mr G, also needed to warn people to not sell items with his design on them.

In a post on Facebook, he wrote, “I gave permission to freely use the image for their profile pic etc but not for commercial use or profit. I’ve been made aware of some people and pages (Hikoi Info) selling hoodies etc with this design on it without my permission, so just making it crystal clear to everyone! Kia tūpato!”

This week Te Kiri, and other Māori designer and business, who are part of the Kāhui Collective, will be selling their designs at a pop-up store at Te Ahuru Mōwai, in Glen Innes, Tāmaki Makaurau.