Misty Ratima & Te Kohu
In 2010 Misty Ratima watched the New Zealand Fashion Week Miromoda show on YouTube and was so inspired to design Māori fashion that she returned home to her iwi to study fashion. Seven years’ later she found herself in the position to inspire others; winning the Miromoda Supreme Award and the opportunity to be in the same show that changed her path.
Misty, who is of Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongamaiwahine, Rongawhakaata and Ngāti Hine descent, decided on her return to Hawke's Bay to learn te reo Māori alongside fashion. "I felt that learning my language was hugely important in becoming a Māori fashion designer who looked to share cultural concepts and stories through fashion," she explains. Fashion was a new direction for Misty, who had moved to Auckland in 1995 to study performing arts.
She enrolled at the Eastern Institute of Technology, and completed a Bachelor of Arts (Māori) in 2013 and a Level 4 qualification in fashion in 2015. By 2017, when Misty won the Supreme Award at Miromoda, she had almost finished a second arts degree, a qualification that she says she used to further explore fashion.
The collection Misty entered into Miromoda in 2017 was called Matariki Ahunga Nui. She took the opportunity to introduce the name for her label, 'Te Kohu', meaning 'the mist' and a play on her name.
Misty screen-printed the Te Kohu logo onto fabric used in her collection, including a garment called 'Jumpsuit Jones' that can be worn in a number of ways. "I created it with the idea of versatility in fashion and as a way of addressing how bad our consumer culture is within the 'fast' fashion industry," she says. The collection also featured coats that were embroidered with her daughter’s face. "It was as a way of referencing the feminine elements of Matariki, celebrating the strong female lines in my whānau."
Another design from her collection, a neoprene white bubble skirt and top, featured screen-printed drawings of Tama-nui-te-rā (the sun) by her then 7-year-old son. One of the judges of the Miromoda competition, Janey Evett, commented that they "could easily imagine Misty’s well-made, wearable creations proudly displayed in a boutique window or strutting down the street."
The prize of showing her collection at New Zealand Fashion Week was an incredible opportunity for Misty who was still a fashion student. "I appreciated the opportunity to watch, learn and experience what it meant to be a part of that world."
Miromoda wasn’t the first award Misty had received for her designs. In 2014, as a first year fashion student, she won a Hokonui Fashion Award with 'Matariki', a dress and steep-collared jacket that features a woven panel symbolising the Seven Sisters of Matariki (the cluster of stars which is also known by the name Pleiades or Subaru). She chose the colours red and tan, alluding to Papatūānuku, and white and silver for Ranginui and the shimmering stars.
Misty’s work brings together all her creative endeavours - tukutuku styled hand embroidery, screen-printing and garment design. She was selected by Lisa Reihana as a finalist to show work in the EAST 2016 Exhibition, and she has exhibited in Hastings City and Community Art Galleries and the Waiheke Community Art Gallery. Te Kohu garments also feature her illustration work, presented in what has been described as a bold, streetwear style popular with well-known New Zealanders including Anika Moa and Miss Universe New Zealand, Harlem-Cruz Atarangi-Ihaia.
But any thoughts Misty had of settling into a defined style were challenged last year when she took part in the tv competition, Project Runway New Zealand. Contestants faced a new challenge each week designing garments to a wide range of briefs.
Misty said the first week was the most exciting challenge - making a cocktail dress inspired by one of the Hopt soda flavours. "I felt that I incorporated the Sandinavian design and flavour elements well, with a twist of drama."
Misty made it through to week 8 but the judges said her final design had "too much drama and not enough design", something judge WORLD designer Benny Castles said he was known to be guilty of. "The judging panel confirmed for me that my customer and community do not fit within the definition of what Westernised fashion forums consider to be fashionable," she says. "I also learnt that New Zealand streetwear is very vanilla."
When the show finished, Misty returned to Napier to focus on her label and also her full-time role tutoring te reo Māori at the Eastern Institute of Technology. "The two are complementary", Misty explains, "clothing has a language of its own and intertwining stories from a Māori world view, transforms the language of garments to speak to a more diverse audience."
One of her first goals after wrapping up filming for Project Runway was to enter Miromoda again. She designed two collections and won the competition, and the opportunity to show at New Zealand Fashion Week, a second time. This time, she says she was thoroughly prepared for Fashion Week. "I went in clear about what to expect and enjoyed the process a lot more."
Misty’s work is a part of family life and her whānau are a huge inspiration. "My tīpuna (ancestors), whānau and tamariki are plenty of inspiration for the moment. And one way or another, my children have a hand in all that I create." This can be seen in her new streetwear label, Out Here Collaborating - a collaboration with other artists including her "Basquiat-obsessed", 10-year-old son, Pātaua. The first collection, Is that you, Liberty? features essential hoodies, t-shirts and joggers printed with Pātaua’s artwork.
Misty is part of the New Zealand Fashion Museum exhibition, Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now.
Text by Kelly Dix, banner image by Tom Hollow of Misty Ratima (centre right) during Project Runway New Zealand
Published November 2019.