Pasifika Clothing Company
The streetwear label, Pasifika Clothing Company, began in 1992 as one of many creative outlets that emerged from Tuhi Tuhi Communications. The Mercury Lane business was set up three years earlier by Virginia Tamanui (of Ngaariki, Te Aitanga a Mahaki/Ngapuhi descent) and Sjimmy Fransen (of Dutch/Suriname Creole descent). They were joined in 1991 by Stan Tallon (of Samoan-Chinese descent) who had just completed design studies at AIT (now AUT).
The vision for Pasifika Clothing emerged as a response to the social upheaval of the 1980s, and sprung from the dynamic sense of connectedness cultivated through the Māori protest movement. It sought to encourage and contribute to Māori and Polynesian/Pasifika awareness and pride.
"Pasifika Clothing was an innovative response to social structural inequality and a racist postcolonial, mono cultural-anti collectivist, 'skinny' social-psychological milieu that permeated New Zealand society and indeed the apparel industry and fashion rag trade. It attempted to mix economic business aspirations with socio-political and cultural values and goals in a way that privileged indigenous Māori-Pasifika peoples – our sizes, colour and flavour," Dr Virginia Tamanui recalls.
Pasifika Clothing began by stocking a number of streetwear stores. However, Sjimmy and Stan soon realised that because they made their garments in New Zealand, the margins they were making on their label were less than the overseas labels that were being sold in the same shops. They decided to open their own shop.
They aimed to "get Māori and Pasifika design out there" and to create a place where designers could come to share skills and practice their craft. Sjimmy says they hoped that the young people who came to us on work experience would realise that it was cool to be urban Tamaki Makarau Māori/Pasifika.
The Pasifika Clothing shop was opened in High Street in 1993. Stan and Sjimmy continued to sell wholesale to stores such as Paris Texas and World – in fact World's Francis Hooper was one of the first people to support their label. Stan explains: "We decided to place our label in High Street because it was considered to be fashion's geographic and symbolic heart. But we were never invited to any fashion type inner city social events – we were probably too insignificant – but we wanted to create our own vibe."
It was important to Sjimmy and Stan to manufacture their garments in New Zealand. "The attention to quality was our priority and locally-made was part of that. We scoured Parnell textile houses for the best drill denim and t-shirt materials and had them all cut and made locally. We have no samples left because everyone wanted them and we couldn't say no!"
They continued to work collaboratively with their pattern makers, cutters, textile printers and sewers, which meant that the business took few "real financial risks". By 1996 they were selling in eight major streetwear stores, as well as their own High Street store.
However, the economic challenges of the 1998 power crisis in the central business district combined with the increased demands of their other design work meant that the label became less of a priority for Stan and Sjimmy. They retired the shop and wholesale business in 2000 but continue to design t-shirts and shirts under the Pasifika Clothing Company label.
In 2003 Stan started a new clothing label, Sam's Island Gear. Based in Auckland, Stan describes his label as: "We design, print and sell South Pacific/Polynesian Flava tees to the world! Rep your hood & island hard with Sam's Island Gear."
Text by Dr Virginia Tamanui. Banner image of Pasifika Clothing Company owners/designers Stan Tallon (left) and Sjimmy Fransen, 1995. Photo by Angela Ngatai.
First published May 2015, updated October 2019.