Designer inspired by 'passive resistance' of Parihaka men for Melbourne Fashion Festival

8:28 pm on 29 February 2024

A Taranaki designer who is showcasing a collection inspired by the story of Parihaka at the Melbourne Fashion Festival this week says it has been a deeply personal project.

Vince Ropitini with a piece from his designs.

Vince Ropitini with a piece from his designs. Photo: Supplied

The Art of Passive Resistance will show on the Global Indigenous Runway as part of the independent programme.

Vince Ropitini, Ngāruahine, has whakapapa to Parihaka through his father and grandfather.

The 22-year-old says the initial aim of the project was to reconnect with his own heritage, "something that's meant I've done a whole lot of growing up".

"And it's really provided the opportunity for me not only to create work for university, but to personally reconnect and develop my own understanding."

The Massey University school of design graduate said he had been influenced by research he had done about the Art of Passive Resistance exhibition from the early 2000s, from which his collection took its name.

He was particularly inspired by artist Ralph Hotere's use of text and lines to represent furrows ploughed by the Parihaka men.

"So, the lines that the ploughmen were drawing through the earth is their way of protest. Their way of passive resistance.

"There's horizontal lines throughout my work and different stretching of the fabrics that sort of represent the ploughed earth that these ploughmen used to disrupt those coming into Parihaka."

Ropitini thought of his garments as a form of 3D painting, where the clothes became the canvas.

"I would describe my work as a mixture of tailored menswear, street-wear and painting.

"So, I do printmaking and painting as well as the simple silhouettes of menswear and sort of combining the two, so it might look like painting on the back of a tailored jacket or printing a bunch of designs I've created on a pair of trousers."

Those designs might reference images from Parihaka or messages from the prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi.

Some of Vince Ropitini's designs.

Some of Vince Ropitini's designs. Photo: Supplied

Global Indigenous Runway founder and chief executive Tina Waru said it had been a part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival for more than a decade.

"We feature indigenous designers from around the world, so this year we have aboriginal, Māori, Pacific, Native American, Indonesian, we have Sri Lanka. We have first nations designers coming from everywhere."

An ex-pat Taranaki iwi member, Ropitini's work resonated with her.

"He's got a lot of references going back to Parihaka and, of course, for me having someone from home it's even more special.

"We've featured hundreds and hundreds of designers on our runways, but only one or two of all of those designers have been from Taranaki."

Waru said young people gravitated to Ropitini's big silhouettes and grungy street style.

The designer said this collection added a new dimension to his Obsolescence Clothing label and its focus on recycled fabrics.

"Using recycled fabrics is like a big thing in the fashion industry with sustainability and being conscious of waste.

"And I've kind of shifted that viewpoint to cultural sustainability where I'm able to create garments that help preserve culture as well as being, you know, conscious of my environmental impact and waste."

The Art of Passive Resistance takes to the runway on Sunday.