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By Rashmii Amoah Images courtesy of Aleqsiah Pon of Leqsie Photography and Brianne Kimmins
Hip, vibrant with the diverse cultures of Papua New Guinea is what fashion label, Mahawa, will strive to convey through its’ debut Collection, Au Karena, when it launches on Sunday 9 August, 2015 at Gateway Hotel (Port Moresby). As she prepares to showcase her first line of garments, Papua New Guinean emerging fashion designer, Brianne Kimmins, chatted to me about taking her ideas from sketch-pad illustrations to being runway-ready.
Rashmii Amoah: It must be exciting to be debuting Au Karena Collection in PNG. Considering ‘Mahawa’ (meaning ‘bilum’) is taken from your father’s dialect (Roro – of Yule Island, Central Province) how important is the home-crowd’s reaction to your designs?
Brianne Kimmins: I’m really looking forward to showing my first runway designs back home! Having other Papua New Guineans tell me what they think of my work is very important to me. I’m hoping that they’ll be able to able to relate to my ideas…be able to connect with Mahawa’s vision for fashion. Even though Au Karena has ensembles targeting only women, down the track I’ll definitely be creating pieces for Mens and Childrens’ wear too.
RA: Studying a Diploma of Fashion Design (online) whilst preparing Au Karena must have been a good opportunity to put theory into practice. What aspects of your study (so far) were you able to apply?
BK: I spent a lot of time doing my researching before I got started on my line. Social media’s been really helpful – it allowed me to track what clothes, styles, colours were trending back home (PNG). What ‘looks’ are most popular, what sits comfortably – that kind of thing. My own time spent back in PNG, observations – all added up influencing Au Karena. Also have an understanding of how to experiment with fabrics, colours and style helped the garment-making process.
RA: Among the established PNG fashion designers, I think Hazel Navuru’s work is outstanding. Her take on PNG-inspired couture is a well-balanced blend of contemporary and cultural design with use of sophisticated colour. Apart from your family and PNG, what else are you looking to for inspiration for your designs?
BK: Definitely flowers, anything to do with flora, nature is what I spend a lot of time appreciating. My family and friends would agree that I get that from my mum. She’s brought me up learning to love nature, the environment, flowers… Actually, we’ve done a short course together (Certificate 1 in Dutch Floristry) so I have plans of incorporating what I learnt there to Mahawa’s future Collections.
RA: Can you explain the ideas behind the garments in Au Karena?
BK: You know, since I acknowledged my dad’s side, I thought I’d better cover all bases and pay tribute to mum too (laughs). Au Karena comes from my mother’s dialect (Wedau, Milne Bay Province) and it means ‘beginning’. So yeah, what I’m showing at RUNWAY2015 will be Mahawa’s first collection. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil it for the audience but you’ll see pencil skirts, shift dresses…I’ve used a lot of the colour grey. The line is about what can be worn everyday as casual, but can also be adjusted to give it that ‘dressed-up’ look for work, social outings, evening functions etc.
RA:You’ve sketched garment illustrations since your mid-teens. Being self-taught over the years, how have you improved your sketching?
BK: Well I started out doing a lot of my drawings free-hand but then when I decided I was going to pursue fashion design, I got more serious. I started out by photocopying images and tracing. I did this over and over until I felt confident enough to try it free-hand. As soon as I have an idea in my head, I draw it straight away. I guess I’m like other artists in the creative industries- I never leave the house without a sketchpad! You never know when you’ll see something that gets your attention, so it’s good to be always prepared. Rough sketch first, then when I get home, I do a proper drawing. I also spend a lot of time looking at other illustrator’s work – via tutorial lessons on Youtube , magazines..
RA: You featured alongside your professional mentor, Patricia Otto in Air Nugini’s in-flight magazine, Paradise ( Vol 4. July-Aug 2015). Can you explain how having a mentor has helped you develop your brand and what’s been the best advice/skill you’ve learnt from Ms.Otto?
BK: I can’t say enough how fortunate I’ve been to have Patricia volunteer her time to mentor me. Having someone who is established, has been in the industry for quite a few years now has been a huge help in navigating my way around. Because I’m studying my course online, I’m working quite independently, so having Patricia to guide me has been invaluable. I’ve learnt a lot about process from Patricia – from technical drawings, fabric selection, styles. Plus, she’s been an excellent support in keeping me motivated and setting a good example for taking initiative.
(Patricia Otto is an Australian-Papua New Guinean fashion designer/entrepreneur, owner of eco-fashion label ‘Awaken the Haus’ – a brand focused on empowering sustainable communities in PNG through its’ support of traditional artisans).
RA: I think good manners and etiquette at all times are essential to building and maintaining relationships. Getting your Collection in under six months would have made a hectic schedule. What would you say are your strengths that have helped you meet deadlines?
BK: I’m learning that it’s really important to ask questions in this industry. Fortunately for me I’ve never been afraid to ask if I don’t understand something, or if I need help. I guess also the fact that I’m quite active on social media – that’s helped me staying in the loop with people, issues, ideas etc. But in the last few months, its come down to perseverance. Starting out in the fashion industry has been really hard work. I’ve relied on my support networks a lot- especially my family. Some days I’ve just felt too tired, but then I’ve had my parents or my siblings say to me, ‘C’mon you can do this’. My family is a huge strength of mine. They’ve kept me motivated every day.
I’d say my mum has had a lot of influence on me in wanting to learn about the rich cultures we have in PNG. Mum’s always encouraged my siblings and I to appreciate, respect and be inquisitive about the stories behind any art form – whether it’s the face painting, bilums, traditional tattoos, baskets. So you see, when I’m designing, I’m really careful that I don’t just copy because that’s someone else design and it has its own meaning. I look at the designs to be inspired, then try create something that’s unique, my own.
RA: You’ve mentioned recently that a goal of Mahawa’s is to bring the entire garment production phase to PNG so that it is Papua New Guineans creating the garments reflecting their culture. Why is this important to you and in what ways can PNG fashion labels be assisted to achieve this?
BK: You know, growing up in PNG I always had women around me who were sewing. No matter what or when you needed done, there’s always an aunty, bubu, sister, cousin who can sew it for you. So you see, the supply of seamstresses is ready and available in PNG. With some training, that’s job-creation right there! So I’m focused on making it possible that Mahawa in some way can provide jobs. I think Mahawa as well as other PNG fashion labels can make this a reality if our designs are targeting Papua New Guineans – grabbing their interest. If designers can produce garments that the PNG (and others) market are willing to wear and buy, it benefits both the consumer and designers.
My mum’s always said to my siblings and I that, because we’ve had the privilege of living overseas, we should value that and use whatever skills we’ve learnt to make a positive contribution back home to our people, our communities. Definitely her advice is sticking with me because through Mahawa, I really would like to create jobs where PNG women (and men) who can sew will be able to engage in work for us and that way, provide for and support their families.
RA: For emerging fashion designers who are looking at garment-design but are limited by equipment or fabrics that are available in the shops (PNG), can you suggest other ways they might be able to ‘test’ their creative ideas?
BK: Oh, definitely get to the second- hand stores! If you have an idea, choose a few different items made of different fabrics. Undo the stitching, cut the clothes up and experiment with how different fabrics sit together, how they feel against each other. Check the tags on the clothes you buy and that will tell you what the fabric is. You can can Google the fabric to get ideas of what materials work well together, what style or cut it’s best for when designing.
RA: Brianne, thank you so much for your time and for sharing a bit of what you’ve been learning on your way up in the fashion industry. Best wishes to you and your label, Mahawa and the debut of Au Karena on Sunday 9 August, 2015 at Gateway Hotel (Port Moresby).