Dru Douglas & Lumai
Growing up in the town of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea, Andrew (Dru) Douglas was fascinated by the clothes worn by his mother and aunties. It was the way they styled their clothes, Dru explains, how they tied their laplaps (sarongs) over their bust and around their neck, or wore them with oversized t-shirts. But a career in fashion was set aside in favour of a job in IT until Dru realised that it was time to pursue his childhood dream.
Dru’s father was from Auckland so after finishing high school he applied for a scholarship to study in New Zealand. He completed a degree in IT at Otago Polytechnic and, after graduating in 2005, he worked in that industry in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand for seven years.
But his interest in fashion remained and so in 2010 Dru started to write for the blog mac+mae. As their fashion writer he covered several New Zealand Fashion Weeks, an experience which gave him the confidence to leave his job in IT to study fashion. In 2014 Dru graduated with a Bachelor of Design at AUT, an experience that included six months at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in the Netherlands.
He showed his graduate collection in Papua New Guinea in the Stella Runway Show. "It was quite special being able to show the collection in front of family and friends whom haven’t seen my work in person until that event."
Following graduation Dru gained experience in the industry and interned for another Auckland designer, Lucy McIntosh. By 2017, he was ready to establish his own label.
The women of Papua New Guinea remained a strong influence and he gave his label his mother’s indigenous name, 'Lumai'. "I was always surrounded by my mother's family, especially my aunties and cousins. I always remember their laughter but also their strength. So this had a big impact on me and how I see women's fashion. I spent most of my time in my mum's village Rabuana and learnt how to speak Kuanua fluently."
Dru turned to the Kuanua language when he named his first capsule collection. Titled 'Kolos' - the Kuanua word for 'meri blouse', a loose dress akin to the mu’umu’u or missionary dress seen in other parts of the moana that is commonly accepted as the national dress for Papua New Guinean women. Dru’s earliest memory of sewing was of his mother making a meri blouse so for Lumai’s first capsule collection he drew from those memories. "[The collection] represents another voice of Melanesia which tends to get forgotten when we talk about Moana Oceania. It shows how we can acknowledge and draw on our colonial histories as we endeavour on a path of decolonisation."
Dru launched his collection in October 2017 at Pacific Runway - Australia’s leading Pacific fashion show for Māori and Pacific designers. His designs received great feedback from various publications around the Pacific Islands with the Fijian magazine Mai Life describing his label as "not just extremely wearable but also very symbolic: from the 'assembling' and creation of each garment to the story behind the collection’s lookbook and runway order, eg. the colour white at the start of the capsule and black at the end is symbolic of church and death," (1 December 2017).
Dru’s designs are a reflection of his mixed cultural identity (his father has British/Scottish/Indian ancestry), although he believes that it is his childhood in Papua New Guinea that has the strongest influence. "Its people and the sense of community and generosity, music, culture and tradition. When I design I want that to come through. I want women to feel strong and proud of who they are when they wear my clothes."
Part of Dru’s goal for Lumai is also to give back to the women of Papua New Guinea. For Dru this means collaborating with women's artisan collectives and helping to support initiatives in the Pacific that empower women and help to make their voices heard. "I’m currently collaborating with Serah Linore Tari from the Women’s Export Association in Vanuatu to create woven bags. The aim is to showcase the work, skill and stories behind the different pieces that we make together." Dru’s second capsule collection is due out later this year.
Dru is part of the New Zealand Fashion Museum exhibition, Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now.
Text by Kelly Dix. Banner image of Aasha-Samara Nimo modelling garments from Lumai's first capsule collection. Photo by Julia Mage'au Gray, image © Lumai.
Published September 2019.