Pacific designers hit the Fairfield runway

As a young girl, Failepou Peni can remember when she got her first Barbie doll back home in Auckland.

"I would create doll dresses from scraps of fabric left from my mum's sewing, to leaves and anything that I could get my hands on, as long as it was good enough to cover my dolls," said Failepou, who is of Samoan descendants.

"My taste for dresses in the shops was minimal, conforming to fashion fad was not my thing, hence the desire to create and design."

That passion led the Fairfield West resident to create the Pacific International Runway fashion show. On Saturday, she hosted her fifth show at Manor on Elizabeth in Wetherill Park.

Her goal was to bring multicultural designers from the Pacific region to an affordable platform where their brand is acknowledged and exposed to the mainstream market so they can grow their business/brand. It also gave local designers - both established and emerging - a fashion platform to expose their seasonal collections to mainstream stockists, fashionistas and bloggers.

Designers came from New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Pakistan, India, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Australia and England with 48 models featuring in 16 collections featuring resort wear, day wear and evening wear.

Former heavyweight boxer-turned fashion designer David Tua launched his sports brand at the event.

Australia's Got Talent finalist Olina Loau performed at the event which organisers hope will develop into a major fashion event for the west.

"Our international designers have reported back to say that they are overwhelmed with the onslaught of orders from what was showcased at the weekend," Ms Peni said.

"It was not just about an event. Much work went on behind the scenes - mentorship, training and workshops - with different Pacific nations to better prepare our designers in what to expect in mainstream market especially if their market was targeted towards our shores.

"Too many times Pacific nation designers are labelled or boxed in because of cultural background and tend to be looked over when we are more than capable of designing mainstream wear."

Failepou is proof of that. Not only does the mother-of-three design for other international designers, her own brand Lepou for high-end resort wear has featured on A-list red carpets across the world. It has also been accepted to feature at the Couture Red Carpet Runway in Cannes France in May.

Her design career was inspired by her mother Ane Fasavalu Saipaia who was a sewing teacher.

It was a passion that was self-taught in New Zealand looking through Vogue magazines before coming to Australia more than three decades ago and attending the Whitehouse School of Design at night while juggling full-time work, wife and mum duties.

She opened up the first Polynesian fashion store in Fairfield before undertaking four years of missionary work. Today she mentors, trains and conduct workshops for the Pacific community on basic fashion design, fabric printing and how to utilise their gifts into sustainable income.

The Melbourne Pacific International Runway fashion show is on November 30.