Learning by watching and copying is how Rawiri Brown began his fashion learning and still stands him in good stead. Growing up in Otaki the subject options at high school were limited so in order to study fashion he had to do so by correspondence. He received videos of lessons demonstrating the 'how to' of a particular task which the student had to reproduce and submit for assessment. Today if he is stuck or wants to learn a new technique or solve a design or make problem he will often search the internet for a video.
His first year of tertiary fashion study was completed at Massey University in Wellington before he moved north and transferred to Auckland University of Technology (AUT) where he graduated in 2007. He has worked in the industry in Australia at Sister Studio in Melbourne and in New Zealand for designers Karen Walker, Cybèle, Crane Brothers, The Carpenter’s Daughter and as a design assistant to Miss Crabb. Currently his day job is at Tatty’s Designer Recycling and he has been concentrating on his label outside of work.
Since 2016 Rawiri has worked alongside friend and fellow AUT fashion graduate Sarah Jane Duff. They shared a studio in the La Gonda building on Karangahape Road until 2018 when they passed on the space to Marina Davis of Ovna Ovich and Sarah Jane opened LaLA (Lost and Led Astray), her own retail shop and studio workroom at 482 Karangahape Rd which Rawiri also makes use of.
Up until recently he has had a personal practice that involved making mainly for exhibitions, pop up stores and the occasional contract job. His interest is in exploring the possibilities of design, construction, and textiles to create exciting styles for the plus size client. Over his 15 years of making he has refined his skills and prides himself on creating high-finish garments with careful attention to the properties of the materials he uses and applying the most appropriate sewing techniques like french seaming and hand stitching.
2020 saw him invited by Papatūnga Gallery, an independent art space located on the platform at Parnell Station, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. It was curated by Te Tuhi’s Curatorial Intern, James Tapsell-Kururangi, who developed a programme of exhibitions and events for the gallery. The travelling show was part of the Arts Festival, Te Ahurei Toi o Tāmaki and showcased new collections by emerging local fashion designers, Rawiri Brown, Emma Jing-Cornall and Taylor Groves. Their models and an invited audience took the 6.20pm Southern Line train from Britomart Station in central Tāmaki Makaurau to the Papatūnga Gallery at the Parnell Station where the fashion show continued.
The same year he was also a recipient of the Tautai Fale-ship, home residency, a project that was initiated to support artists and invite them to share their creative practices and responses to Covid-19 through this period of global transformation. Rawiri’s participation gave rise to a capsule collection, Happy Endings, which was presented at a private showing in Grey Lynn. The collection makes tongue-in-cheek references to his hometown’s sunny logo. Using hyper saturated colour and experimenting with the shapes and materiality of found objects, he made a capsule of beautifully crafted joyful garments.
Conversations about his creative process were documented as part of the Fale-ship and are available online and will be presented at Tautai Gallery in October 2021.
Text by Doris de Pont. Banner image © Rawiri Brown.
Published July 2021.