From Rotorua, the 21-year-old harnessed her homesickness, turning it into a positive force that inspired her winning design for New Zealand’s longest-standing fashion design awards of their kind.
The high-profile event provides a competitive platform for amateur designers nationwide. Judges over the last 27 years have included well-known fashion creatives such as Trelise Cooper, Kate Sylvester and Karen Walker.
Rai drew on a Ngāti Pikiao/Tuhoe legend in styling “Kuiwai”, a very wearable black hessian dress trimmed with a collar of red feathers and featuring a peplum skirt with folds that are lined in a traditional Māori patterned fabric.
Underpinning Rai’s winning entry is the story of Ngātoroirangi, a legendary Māori explorer who, suffering from severe cold while climbing Mt Ruapehu, called on his sisters Kuiwai and Haungaroa in Hawaiki for help.
The women filled six baskets with glowing embers, the offspring of Rῡaumoko, the God of volcanic energy. The embers surfaced in places that included White Island, Whale Island, Rotoiti, Tarawera, Rotorua and Tongariro but one of the baskets of fire also reached Ngātoroirangi, saving his life.
“I incorporated the legend in my design because I was missing my home,” says Raiatea, who has worked as a tourist guide at Tiketere, the popular geothermal attraction for visitors to Rotorua.
The Auaha Award was won last year by another EIT Level 4 Certificate in Fashion Apparel student, Misty Ratima. The winner can be any of the finalist garments, regardless of which section it is entered in, and the judging criteria includes the entry’s relevance and connection to the wider Pacific culture.
Stoked about her success, Rai has still to decide what she will do when she completes her EIT studies later this year. However, she does see herself working in fashion design.
ideaschool classmate Nikki Skudder also did well in the awards, placing third and rating a highly commended in the awards’ steampunk category.
Nikki is drawn to Goth subcultures and her entry, “Apocalyptic Gossip” was inspired by science fiction books, Harajuku girls, comics and movies such as Mad Max, Lost in Space and Kick-Ass. It was constructed from sheep leather, satin, purple foil knit and copper lace and adorned with handmade buttons, chain and watch mechanisms.
A ray gun, top hat and goggles completed her post-apocalyptic crime fighter/bounty hunter ensemble.
Nikki has set up an industrial sewing machine in her Te Awanga home and wants to develop her business while maintaining her focus on Goth fashion influences.