FCF Chairperson, Faraz Ali (Fuzz Z Ali) presented his paper on the Fijian Fashion Industry and it’s impact on cultural and creative development in Fiji to the ACP Ministers today at the 4th Meeting of ACP Ministers of Culture in Brussels, Belgium. #ACP #nofuturewithoutculture
His speaking notes are below:
Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalam A Waleikum, Noa’ia and greetings from Fiji and from the Fashion Council of Fiji.
FCF Chairman, Faraz Ali with Glynnis Miller of PIFS who also attended
What an honour it is to be amongst you all today to discuss the strides we have made as a Council and as an industry in developing fashion as a viable business and employment option for the Fijian people, and to discuss with you our future plans to cement Suva, our capital and largest city, as the fashion capital of the Pacific region. I have appreciated the exchange of ideas and will certainly be taking many of them back with me to look at ways in which we can achieve growth of our own cultural and creative industries.
The Fijian experience in the Pacific context is an interesting one. We are a country of just under one million people, sitting at the cusp of Melanesia and Polynesia, with the most ethnically diverse population in our region. We have representation and therefore cultural influences of all the major indigenous cultures of our region. Fiji also has a significant population of South Asian descent, brought as indentured labour during the British Colonial period. Our national identity is an amalgamation of all our major identities, however solidly defining this identity has been a struggle for us with the post colonial period being one defined by political instability, largely due to ethnic and class struggles. Understanding ourselves is something we have never done too well.
In recent years, burgeoning Creative Industries, of which I am pleased to report Fashion has been a standout leader, has led to more constructive discussion around this problem of identity, and in the process has created business, both direct and indirect. The ongoing formalisation of these industries has created means for expression which has seen strong market reaction from both the local population and the diaspora. Essentially, our industry is not only creating jobs, but is also assisting in the preservation and promotion of stability through encouraging expression of our various cultures, and exploration of the same. Our market of both local and diaspora Fijians and other Pacific Islanders are eagerly buying fashion that represents them now. What we wear tells the story of who we are, making fashion the driving force of growing creative industries in our country and region. The Fijian fashion industry is best placed to be a conduit, for sustainable economic development, empowerment of women, and provides our youth with a platform for creative and cultural expression.
But first, let me take you back to the beginning. Our industry has always loosely existed, even if it did not have formal representation in the form of a Council or even have the attention of our governments. The earliest success story of Fijian fashion dates back to the 1980s. Suva was the Pacific’s most thriving fashion centre even then, however successive bouts of political and economic disturbance saw the industry on the brink of non-existence by the early 2000s.
The establishment of Fiji Fashion Week 10 years ago, however, led to the re-birth of an industry. The platform provided an opportunity for designers to explore their creativity and sheer raw talent.
The Fashion Council of Fiji was established 4 years later with the assistance of the SPC and Pacific Island Forum Secretariat under the ACP Culture+ Pacific Project. This was when the psychology and stigma around Fashion started to change. Much like my colleague from Trinidad and Tobago noted yesterday, in Fiji Creative and Cultural pursuits are still thought to be somewhat trivial - a frivolity, a hobby. Having industry representation legitimises our businesses as businesses from which we can earn our livelihoods and improve the lives of our families.
Admittedly, the Council took a while to find it’s feet, due primarily to the fact that our isolation as a country. This leaves us without sister agencies to work with for development. Of course, the Australian Chamber of Fashion exists, but their concerns are entirely different to ours considering their more established and globally connected market. This is the same in New Zealand’s case where their concerns are to do with growth whereas ours at the time had to do with development from the ground up.
Three years ago, thankfully at the establishment of my Chairmanship of the Council, we decided we needed to think differently in order to build our industry which was often described as “fledgling”. It was then that we took a decidedly business approach to the way our industry was governed and organised. We made the collective decision that because we could not be Australia or New Zealand, we would just be ourselves, but more than just that, that we would be every Pacific Designer. Suva, Fiji’s capital and the largest city in Oceania, was designated by our Council the Fashion Capital of the Pacific, not just for show or frivolity, but because it was a good business decision.
To market Suva as such would bring attention to all designers who established, worked, and grew their fashion businesses in that geographic location. We decided that we would bring all education programmes to Suva, all major shows would remain in Suva, and our development goals and initiatives would originate from Suva. It was a tactical move – we come from a region of small population island states which are isolated from each other because of ageing or non-existent infrastructure, it is imperative that we have the Fashion worlds impatient eye focused on one geographic location from which the powers that be can interpret our identity within the industry sphere. Whilst this may seem an anti-regional initiative, in reality it could not be more focused on the growth of regional individuals. As islanders we can tend to see ourselves as small, but in banding together and understanding ourselves as Oceania by recreating cultural exchange routes which were demolished by the establishment of borders during our regions colonial history, we have the ability to reestablish our creative voice in a contemporary world.
Fashion Council of Fiji Initiatives
Council has set it’s focus on three primary development areas: 1. Education, 2. SME Development, and 3. Access to Markets and Fashion Tourism
The foundation of our industry is education. We can have all the raw talent in the world, however without the technical skills and ability to bring that talent to light we are globally uncompetitive. The Council after discussions with all major educational institutions saw the establishment of Certificate III and IV programmes in Applied Fashion Design, provided by the Australia Pacific Technical College. The qualification is awarded through Queensland TAFE in Australia. This has seen a sharp increase in technical skills, particularly in areas of design detail, fabric knowledge, garment understanding and construction.
Because of the size of our industry, we rely on the support of Textile, Clothing and Footwear Council members to also send students to make up numbers for the programme. Fiji has a strong garment industry, one globally renowned for quality and ethical treatment of workers. Our garment industry has in recent years moved away from mass production due to the end of favourable trade agreements on the 1990s, and has moved into boutique production with a definitive push towards the production of high value global fashion products. This is a positive move, and something the Fashion industry can capitalise on. Indeed, next year in keeping with our goal to cement Suva’s position on the global fashion industry map, APTC will be open to applications from across the region, offering other Pacific Islanders the opportunity to live and study in Suva on scholarships, thus developing the regional industry through the global focal point.
The issue here however is that courses are skewed heavily towards technical production and are often short on fashion business units which our industry members need to grow.
The Fashion Council has found a way to tackle this – the Fijian Fashion Incubator Project. We anticipate the opening of the Incubator space in early 2018. The space is in the process of being established, and we continue to seek development partners for the sustainability of the project.
The Incubator will have a 9 month incubation period, consisting of 6 month intensive training and 3 months of business development. Essentially, selected candidates, having either completed the APTC Certificate IV in Applied Fashion Design, or having had more than 5 years work experience in the regional fashion industry, will work one on one with a fashion trainer to sharpen their own production skills while being mentored by successful business minds. However the bulk of the intensive training period will focus on learning, then putting into practice fashion business principles, in particular production, marketing, merchandising, and supply. Essentially, the Incubator is designed for the candidate to discover his or her own voice, and to turn that voice into a commercially viable and successful product.
The final 3 months will see candidates use the Incubator as an office space from which to launch their businesses. The Incubator will be a hub for all creatives related to our industry – i.e. photographers, stylists, bloggers, graphic designers and so forth, and so candidates will have an ecosystem within which to work from to develop their brand.
This ecosystem will give birth to multiple other SMEs in the process of primarily developing the designers businesses.
Our Council is firmly focused on SME development in the Creative Industries. It is my personal belief that developing and decolonised nations such as ours can only develop our Creative and Cultural sectors strongly through the Fashion Industry as a foundation, because it is a multi discipline and multi faceted industry. The industry also necessarily, by its very nature, attracts a lot of media attention bringing light to creatives who are a part of Fashion Weeks, Festivals and Charity events. Of course, clothes are also a necessity and a means by which we express our cultural identities.
The central focus of our industry are of course designers, those who actually consider the garments of today and the future, the thinkers who allow us the opportunity to express our identities through woven threads. However, our industry is made up also of supporting players. Textile design, for example, requires visual artists, graphic designers, and printers in order for designers to have access to fabric that fully expresses their vision. Promotion and marketing requires bloggers, PR people, and fashion media. In order to supply images to these people we need photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists. And in order to showcase the creations to buyers and consumers we require events people to organise Fashion Weeks and Festivals, which then of course involves lighting and staging experts, and these are by no means small events. And let’s not forget the literal faces of our industry, our models. So you see, our industry reflects on a larger scale the Fashion Incubator Project – our industry is an ecosystem of SMEs, predominantly belonging to the broader Creative and Cultural sector, supporting each other to build this identity I discussed when I opened my presentation.
It gives me great pride to say that we have successfully created this ecosystem of talent and creativity in Fiji, without government intervention. We have truly accomplished the impossible. But of course the next phase of growth requires investment on the part of our national and regional governments.
Access to Markets and Fashion Tourism
What was missing in the 1980s was a strong ecosystem like the one I have just discussed, however now we are better placed for ongoing success of fashion business. With multiple players in the market, there is greater opportunity for further SME development.
With this growth comes attention and with attention should ideally come access to external markets. The Fashion Council has supported this by sponsoring a design trade space in Los Angeles during LA Fashion Week 2016 which saw relative success for designers who attended. We also continue to financially support the Pacific Resort Show at Australian Fashion Week, and continue to look for opportunities to support other major external shows that could provide access to markets for our designers, and members of supporting industries.
The diaspora market is the largest consumer of Pacific designed goods. Again, it is about identity, who we are as Islanders.
Tourists are a major, and immediate external market, if we do not consider the diaspora. Tourism is a major contributor to our countries GDP at 30%, and we are looking at an industry also that is growing at an average rate of 7% year on year. Our industry, though unmeasured, forms a part of this statistic as our local designers continue to attract the attention of tourists who want to take authentic Fijian made items home with them. We have seen a marked shift from imported clothing in tourism enclaves to Fijian designed and made. A positive shift and I imagine our designers will continue to benefit from this strong and growing industry.
Can I give you statistics directly related to the Fashion Industry, or to the combined Creative and Cultural Sector? Unfortunately not, and this is our greatest limitation as an industry. The Fashion Council is looking to fix this by engaging one of our tertiary institution to conduct a study into the economic contribution of our industry. Whilst there is a loose understanding which has led to our Government being increasingly supportive of our efforts, we want legitimacy, we want to be able to say in confidence that our industry, as a whole, contributes 5% or even 10% to total national economic activity, and that it is growing. Our industry cannot grow at the pace we would like without direct intervention from our national and regional governments, and this effort is hampered by lack of data to support our applications for support.
Vinaka Vaka Levu, Dhanayvad, Shukriya, Faiaksia, and Thank You Very Much.