Ema-Lea Phillipps


A woven cloak that skims the ground, a homage to a majestic kākahu (Māori cloak), is interpreted like a modern-day shield by Otago Polytechnic fashion design student Ema-Lea Phillipps. 

Made from cotton drill cut into strips and sewn in a fabric yarn, this garment represents Ema-Lea’s answer to protection and survival amid modern-day fears and anxieties. 

"I wanted to draw from an origin within me; a primal connection to bring out strength in a creative way. I did this by drawing from my Māori heritage, working with my hands to create a sense of mauri (life force) within the garments and re-interpreting traditional crafts, using my emotions and identity as a source of pride and power."

The intricate knotting detail encompasses the entirety of the cloak, and is fastened with a carved crochet hook created specifically to handle the weight of the garment. "One of the main challenges was that I couldn’t find a crochet hook large enough for the forms I wished to make, so I endeavoured to create my own hook. Using a laser cutter and a file to shape it I found creating the hook myself added more of my personal energy to the kākahu."

Ema-Lea's kākahu in the Moana Currents exhibition at Canterbury Museum, 2020. Image © Ema-Lea Phillipps.

By drawing on her own energy spiritually and physically for inspiration, the collection is a representation of how Ema-Lea uses her culture and vulnerabilities to inform her creative practice. "I’m not only being inspired by forms and techniques from my heritage, but also energy in the way I shared my mauri with this collection. I found it to be a celebration of both my own identity and Māori/Pasifika identity in general."

Text by Dan Ahwa. Photo of Ema-Lea with her kākahu at the Moana Currents exhibition at Canterbury Museum © Ema-Lea Phillipps.

Published July 2020.

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