A smile that’s worth a thousand words. Fashion student Wenerei Thompson has worked hard to get to where he is today -back in study and loving it.
Fashion student Wenerei Thompson is just a few months away from earning his diploma, but the road to higher education has not been easy. EIT fashion student Wenerei Thompson, 29, was just 13 when he dropped out of school. At the time, his dad gave him the option of working or staying at school, hoping to scare him back into education. Wenerei found field work a shock to the system but after receiving his first pay cheque he decided to stay in the workforce. “The money attracted me and it kept me out of trouble.
Because I had money, I was very fashionable. I had all the gear.” Every pay went on clothing, igniting a passion for stylish apparel – something that would eventually lead him to study EIT’s New Zealand Diploma in Fashion.
Working in the fields may have supported Wenerei’s thirst for fresh clothes, but it didn’t last long. A talented athlete, he moved to Australia at the age of 16 to play for the West End Bulldogs on contract for the next 41/2 years. However a broken elbow turned out to be a career ending injury.
Eventually moving home to Gisborne proved difficult for Wenerei, who fell in with the wrong crowd and developed a methamphetamine addiction.
Scoring a job with Te Aratika Drilling Ltd’s Hawke’s Bay community proved to be his salvation. They helped him kick his P habit and have stood by him ever since.
In April 2016, Wenerei had surgery on his elbow and a prosthetic joint was inserted into his arm. This meant all of last year off work and a lot of time to think.
Once his head was clear, he refocused his energy on God and then found his way back to fashion.
“Last year was a big eye-opener for me. It was more of a God moment. I was driving to a physio appointment and a voice screamed a name in my head.”
The name was BattlePhunk, and so BattlePhunk Clothing Co was born. Next came the slogan – ‘Overcoming the battle within’. “The battle represents the inner battle and the phunk is like a symbol of power and confidence. It gives me drive. I have found something I am passionate about,” he says. Wenerei began to build his portfolio using graphic designs,selling his clothes by word-of-mouth and having them worn by friends in the hip-hop industry.
He worked out a business plan and decided he needed some formal backing to take BattlePhunk to the next level. There was one problem. Having dropped out of school so young, he lacked the credentials to enrol for EIT’s New Zealand Diploma in Fashion.
But because he already had a clothing label and designs, tutor Sarah Blair granted him discretionary entry.
With one semester down and less than one to go, Wenerei is loving life. “I was terrified to go back to education because I hated school. But I could feel Sarah had that passion and drive for us.“It is encouraging now to be in such an inspiring place. Here I am at 29, back in school and studying fashion.”