Fashion Without Limits

I sat down to speak with Faraz Ali (simply known as Fuzz to those who know him) about the progress of fashion in Fiji. He is often surrounded by his
22 Apr 2018 11:44
Fashion Without Limits
Rachel Fairfax Executive Fashion Council of Fiji and Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival and Faraz Ali Chairperson of the Fashion Council of Fiji and Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival at Pacific Runway 2017 in Sydney

I sat down to speak with Faraz Ali (simply known as Fuzz to those who know him) about the progress of fashion in Fiji.

He is often surrounded by his army of young and forward think­ing minds.He speaks openly about the current state of the industry, and the future where he sees one of these young people taking up the responsibility of leading one of Fiji’s most exciting gorwing indus­tries.

He is the longest serving Chair­man of the Fashion Council of Fiji, the national peak body of the fash­ion industry, and more recently the Chairman of the Fijian Fashion Festival (the trustees are industry leaders Elaine Taylor, Rachel Fair­fax, Carolyn Ah Koy, and Faraz Ali).He’s often seen as a tough leader.

Excerpts from his views in an entended interview

What are the buying habits from consumers in the market and how can the designers exploit them?

Fashion buying habits differ from market to market, and often what designers create (and in turn what is accepted as “fashion” by the consumer) is a reflection of social context, and condition, but also of revolt against norms.

Fashion always looks forward, and as people who work in fashion, we live in the future to some extent.

It is our job to lead the consumer there, and we are lucky that in Fiji there is an air of curiosity about what is to come.

Fijian designers today can exploit that by not playing it safe, but test­ing new waters.

What is the current size of the market? What is the potential size of the market? Will it grow or contract? Why?

This is difficult to quantify, but what we have noted is a general growth in market understanding and appreciation for Fijian de­signed products.

This is primarily due to the issue of identity – fashion is the most im­mediate identifier of a persons her­itage and values.

The market for our products is in­teresting in that it is split between the local, regional, and diaspora communities. Suva continues to be our largest fashion market (owing primarily to our population size, climate, and lifestyle which lends itself to fashion awareness), while tourism centres are starting to understand the value of Fijian de­signed and made resort wear.

However, and arguably, the dias­pora market is quickly becoming our largest overall market.

Fijian is and other Pacific Is­lander is living in non-Oceania countries are hungry for our Fi­jian designed products that reflect their identity which they can wear proudly in their adopted cities of residence.

We are currently in a positive position when it comes to market growth, and I believe that this will continue for some time.

We have really just scratched the surface.However, without appro­priate and readily available pro­duction facilities, our designers will always be at a disadvantage in that their inability to meet market demand will result in stalling de­mand for their product, and in the worst cases can result in a lack of faith in their ability to deliver.

For this reason, the entire ecosys­tem of the fashion industry needs to be brought into focus.

Our industry is more than just designers, it is also our production facilities, our PR and marketing experts, our models, our hair and makeup artists, our events people, our bloggers, and our national platform – the Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival.

In strengthening our entire indus­try, as is the goal of the Fashion Council of Fiji, we can continue on our current growth path.

I am personally very hopeful as we are definitely currently on the right track with a strong Council executive and a vibrant young and dynamic team working with expe­rienced members of our industry to bring to life a national fashion platform that we can all be proud of.Ww

Fashion influences our entire life style.WW1 was also known as the Great War because it af­fected every country in the world causing a rush of young men to join military. Although many countries were involved, this was perhaps the first time each mili­tary service branch had one ba­sic uniform.Do war and political views influence fashion?

Fashion is always a reflection of, and reaction to societal conditions of a particular time in history.

It wasn’t just uniforms in the war, it was the general sensibility of fashion during the period between and during both World Wars due to scarcity of resources and general sentiments of austerity at the time.

This was a period that saw a utili­tarian sense emerge in fashion, in share contrast to Christian Dior’s aesthetic soon after when moods lifted to reveal an opulent, lavish aesthetic, and a celebration of tra­ditional notions of femininity in clothing.

Many global movements were aided by, or started through fash­ion.

The exploration of gender iden­tity, identity politics and fluidity of masculine to feminine expression found its voice in gender bending practices of the 1960s and 1970s.

Fashion was and continues to be an important debate in the wom­en’s liberation and equality move­ment, because of its importance as an identifier.

In general, it isn’t possible to avoid the reality that fashion is a mirror, it tells us who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.

What drove you to setup the Bot­tega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival?

We were a bunch of friends, Elaine Taylor, Rachel Fairfax, Carolyn Ah Koy, Ilai Jikoiono, and I sitting around contemplating the needs of our industry over a bottle of wine.

It became clear to the five of us (four of whom are Trustees of the Festival, and the other our Design­er Relation Manager) that we need­ed to move to establish a national platform that reflected an industry devoted to diversity, inclusivity, and excellence.

There is often a misconception that I made this decision alone, but that is simply not true. I am hum­bled and privileged to have the support and faith of my Council Executive and Trustees to lead us, but it is never without their input.

We saw a need to focus on Small Medium Enterprises development in the Creative Sector through a notable platform that would estab­lish Suva as the global centre for Pacific fashion.

It was a genuine desire to see our industry grow, and to also de­velop our next generation of fash­ion leaders.I certainly can’t be Chairman and lead us forever! In a global fashion landscape increas­ingly dominated by young voices, we must accept that we can’t hold these roles forever. We have to be in it for development, and that means passing it on when the time is right.

I am pleased to say that we have already started identifying a group of young people to develop to handle the pressure, heartache, and joys of our industry.

How is preparations for the Bot­tega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival?

Preparations are going well, we are on our final lap now with a matter of weeks to go until show time.

It is quite incredible to witness how things fall together and that is a testament to the incredible Fes­tival family who are putting this show together.

I can’t say enough that Sydel is the most capable, brilliant Event Manager around and her pas­sion and commitment cannot be matched.

The rest of that Management team made up of Ilai Jik­oiono (Designer Relations Manager), Phillipa Steele (Model Manager), Dylan Kava (Public Relations Manager), Jorja Naidu (So­cial Media Manager), Hani­si Hodge (Sales Manager), and Alipate Sowane (Assis­tant Model Manager) have just blown me away with their dedication to what we are trying to achieve.

We share a vision, and we are on our way to achieving that vision.

We also have strong sup­port from our sponsors Bot­tega, Victoria Wines, FBC, Fiji Sun, ANZ, Party and Events Fiji, Damodar Cin­emas, Stage Tech, MaiLife, Star Printery, Fiji Water, and The Fiji Orchid, which really has made the process, though challenging, a suc­cessful one.

The Grand Pacific Hotel, who share our vision for a creative Suva, have also been incredibly supportive as the home of the Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festi­val.

How is the Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival dif­ferent from Fiji Fashion Week?

I can’t speak for Fashion Week Ltd as it is a private entity and has current no relationship with the Fash­ion Council of Fiji or the Bottega Gold Fijian Fash­ion Festival, which is Fiji’s first industry owned, not for profit national trade and consumer fashion platform.

Our team is dedicated to the cause of ensuring that every fashion related busi­ness that is a part of the Fes­tival grows as a result of the Festival.

SME development in the creative sector is central to our focus, which is why our “Designer Mall” trade space and Fashion Lounge will be open to the general public on Friday and Saturday free of charge to allow consum­ers to engage directly with our fashion businesses.

The Festival is committed to diversity and inclusivity, particularly in our model line up.

We do not feel the need to reflect the standards of global runways (which are all different anyway), and instead are setting our own.

We have to have the confi­dence to bring global eyes to us and our uniqueness. As such, we have a roster which includes standard size and plus size models, models of different gender expres­sions, and models with dis­abilities.

We have chosen to be the global leader for diversity and we are excited to take up this role.

The Festival is also com­mitted to excellence.

The national platform should be an aspirational platform where designers go to grow their businesses.

We have therefore care­fully selected only the best Legendary, Blooming, and Budding talent to showcase their new season collec­tions at the Festival, with a lineup including Fiji’s most elite fashion talent, as well as those we believe are soon to occupy that same territo­ry of respect in the creative sector.

The Festival will also for the first time in our region feature three individual de­signer shows.

Hupefeld Hoerder, Aisea Konrote (Hefrani), and Zulfikar Ali (AZA) will transform the runway into a space that reflects their vision and aesthetic to present, again for the first time, full new season collec­tions to be viewed by select audiences, and of course through live streaming.

This is not only exciting for our Festival, but for our industry as a whole.

We are also the first platform to have announced all front row, exclusive seat­ing, and a live online stream which will also include a “shop now” feature to allow consumers from all over the world to engage in com­merce with the designer as they view their collections on the runway. We are tak­ing our industry global by utilising current technol­ogy and trends.

I think what I am most proud of, and perhaps a defi­nite point of difference from other shows is that our team is 100 per cent Fijian – all home grown talent.

As a national platform, we should be showcasing the best of who we are, and with such a wealth of knowl­edge right here at home, we should be celebrating our people.

The Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival will be a celebration of who we are, as an industry and as a people.

Will the designers at this year’s Bottega Gold Fi­jian Fashion Festival make clothes that test the limits of peoples imagination?

To some degree yes, but a large portion of what you will see will be the design­ers’ vision of the future of wearable Fijian fashion.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about Bottega Gold Fijian Fashion Festival? And the strongest truth?

The biggest misconception is that there is some sort of competition between the Festival and other events, and this could not be fur­ther from the truth.

The Festival is doing what it’s doing as the platform, and the other events (of which there are many) are doing what they are doing, and we all do what we do based on our own ethos, goals, and vision.

The strongest truth is that the Festival is a family dedicated to diversity, in­clusivity, and excellence. A friend told me recently that “kindness and laughter” has been what has carried us through, and this is our greatest strength.

The fashion industry is extremely competitive and there are a lot of strong personalities in it. How well do you handle high stress situations?

I don’t necessarily agree that it is competitive, or at least it doesn’t have to be if we all just stay in our lanes.

There are different person­alities types in all indus­tries, and sometimes Crea­tive Industries are unfairly judged for having particularly strong on unstable personalities and this is just not true.

If there is passion, there will be ten­sion.

I handle stressful situations in one of two ways.

n I become very calm and rational to find solutions to move forward.

n If the situation is stressful be­cause of tension between peo­ple; I am a very confrontational person so I will often argue out a situation until a resolution is reached. I’m not very good at let­ting things be.

What advice would you give the next generation who daydreams about fol­lowing in your footsteps as a stylist, as chairperson of the Fashion Coun­cil of Fiji and one of the co-founders of the Fijian Fashion Festival?

To be a stylist – work hard, practice forecasting, and develop a strong aes­thetic, and don’t compromise your val­ues for any job.

It’s not worth it, and your integrity as an artist will take you a long way.

To be the Chairman of the Council and the Festival – it’s not about glam­our, and you don’t do this job for any kind of accolade or thanks.

In fact, it is often a very thankless job, and on occasion lonely.

There is a lot of criticism that gets hurled your way, and everything that possibly goes wrong is your fault.

All the while your achievements will often be overlooked or ignored. But you do this job because you love it and because you have a genuine passion for development.You need to be tough and rise above it all to get the job done. And when you do get thanked, when there is a celebration of your accomplish­ments, don’t let it get to your head.

Fashion is about what’s next, so as the leader of the industry I have to con­stantly look at what’s next, while not losing focus on what’s now. You can’t allow yourself to drown in all this.

Now I will often say “God knows”,

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