Ancestors tie Tina to fashion

Tina Waru Photograph by Zita Kiss

Ancestors tie Tina to fashion

Sandra Conte

1 February 2014

Strength comes from my ancestors; they walked fashion before I.
– Tina Waru

Tina Waru, Founder/Creative Director of Global Indigenous Management, is the person many young people turn to when looking for cultural support and understanding but from where did Tina draw her inspiration? Tina reflects on the strength she found in her childhood environment, cultural role models and ancestry.

I grew up in the Maori culture with my siblings learning waiata (Maori songs) as we mastered our tea towel skills and danced with our broom. My father tutored us in kawa (protocols) and tikanga (traditional practices), making us learn first hand at whanau/iwi gathering, a tangi (funeral), or wedding. My upbringing ignited an appreciation for my culture and has helped shape me into the person I am today.

In addition to my parents and family, I would have to say my grandfather, Sonny Waru, has been my inspiration as he was in his time to many others. He worked relentlessly in many positions as a Maori Orator, Tohunga, NZ Cultural Consultant, Actor and Musician. However, his pride and joy was the community program that he developed; he took homeless kids off the streets and into marae (meeting house) settings immersing them in Maori Culture and Language.

For many years I used to complain to my grandfather for not having time for us, and one day I challenged him “Don’t you love us Grandad?” He looked down at me with a tender smile and said “Oh my moko (grandchild ) one day you will realize, that life is no longer about you, it is about your people!” I never understood what he meant until the day I stood up to receive my degree in front of my whanau, iwi and friends during Maori Graduation at Waipapa Marae (University of Auckland). His words became clear as they slipped from my tongue to the ears of my peers; whose eyes filled with tears, as the words affirmed, that their hard work indeed had purpose.

I once remember standing in shock as my parents welcomed visitors and together they broke out in their sweet notes of te reo Maori, not uttering a word of English. When they left my parents wept and wept; as a child they were punished for speaking their language at school and it was the first time since moving to the concrete jungle that my parents felt their people, culture and that longing for home. This is a strong memory which ignited an appreciation for my culture and has helped shape me into the person I am today.

The connection with fashion started with my Aunties, Hana Jackson, Eva Eriwata and Uncles, Steve and Pat Heremaia who established Aotearoa’s first Maori Fashion Event and committee in the late 1970’s; I attended an event celebrating Maori achievement in fashion. Having had my first child on my 17th birthday and as a single parent of three by age 23 I looked at career options and undertook a youth program sewing garments for local businesses and then went on to train as a makeup artist. I participated at several fashion events, but never dreamed that one could make a career in makeup.

After my youngest started school, I went on a quest to discover myself and that’s when my journey began with my grandfather. Everything I did somehow had a connection to my late grandfather and it was from there that I decided to undertake a career that would make a difference and undertook training in psychology; working with our people in the mental health field for more than 12 years. Following my grandfather’s footsteps I developed a yearning to work with other Indigenous communities and arrived in Australia eight years ago. I soon found that my journey would return to an old passion of mine, a journey that would lead Indigenous people toward careers in fashion, ‘My passion became fashion’.

My work with the awesome Aboriginal photographer Wayne Quilliam started when Wayne contacted me wanting to support the initiative, I don’t think he ever knew how much it really meant to me. It was hard to control my emotions because I knew it would mean the world to the kids on the program to have one of their own but also one of the best. Wayne and I spent hours talking about what we could do and the difference we could make and delivered the most fulfilling project; not just for our communities but for those around the world. We refined the program, providing support for our models, photographers and developed some deadly workshops. We were delighted when our Aboriginal and Global Indigenous brothers and sisters and new partners jumped on board to join us in our mission to create history.

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