Who is Kharl WiRepa you may ask?

Fabulous and fashionable darling, Kharl WiRepa, is the first Māori fashion designer to have had his work featured in British Vogue. With fashion running through his veins, WiRepa started his first job when he was 15 years old, working at Supre, where he stayed for 5 years, ultimately ending up in head office. After working as a stylist for Cleo Magazine, he decided to go study fashion. Throughout his studies he won many awards, one of those being The Miromoda Supreme Award, and in 2015 and 2016, he had a private fashion show at NZFW. Over this period he also dressed celebrities, presented his collection to royal families, and in 2015, made no. 17 on New Zealand’s top influencers under 25.

Inspired by old Hollywood and icons such as Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Miss Piggy, Kharl’s designs are nothing but glamour, glitter, and feathers! WiRepa says, “I’m inspired by a vast range of women, but definitely very strong women, from Cleopatra right down to Miss Piggy, they all have strong personalities. I think i’m inspired by strength and beauty.”

This year, Kharl WiRepa’s collection was featured in the September issue of British Vogue, in Vogue’s Top 22 Designers of the Future.


What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be featured in Vogue?

When I first found out I didn’t believe it. I was very quiet about it and I didn’t believe it was true until saw the magazine. Vogue sent the magazine to my house, wrapped up in gold paper, with a letter from the editor of Vogue and the letter said “Dear Mr WiRepa, welcome to the Vogue family, enjoy the rest of your life,” signed by Alexandra Shulman. And when I read that letter and opened up the magazine and saw the image of my dress, then I knew it was real, and then I got excited and I publicly announced it!


So how does it feel being the first Māori fashion designer featured in Vogue?

At first I was excited. Then when I received the response from the public and since the media released it this week, I have received thousands of messages, letters and congratulatory notes from Māori people and European people, from New Zealanders all over the country, and that is an honour! I never realised how much it meant to people and how groundbreaking and historical this was, and has become. And you know there is no higher rank in fashion one can get than being featured in Vogue, on the pages of Vogue. And to be the first person of my culture to feature in such a prestigious magazine, which is the holy grail of our industry, and see how much it means to the people of Aotearoa – it’s such an honour and that’s what is the most exciting part for me. This is like a first Māori Prime Minister type of thing [laughs], oh my gosh, but the fashion version.

Photo supplied by Kharl WiRepa.

How do you think this will affect the New Zealand fashion industry on a global scale?

I think it brings recognition to our industry. To the standard and the quality and the prestige that it is. And I think it opens up doors for other designers and brings in international attention to our nation. The September issue is the most important issue of all Vogue issues in the calendar of the year, because the September issue marks the end of the fashion year and the beginning of a new fashion season. It is fashion new year’s, like our January in the fashion industry. And I think what this will do, which is the most groundbreaking element of it all, is that it will inspire people, it will inspire other designers, it will inspire Polynesian, Māori and Asian New Zealanders, and show them that anything is possible, anything is achievable as long as you put your mind, your heart and your soul, all 100% into the beauty of your dream!


What advice would you give anyone who’s wanting to get into the fashion industry?

My advice for anyone who wants to get into the fashion industry is to first, before you do any type of study or anything, work in retail fashion. Whether you want to go into journalism fashion, whether you want to go into fashion design, styling, photography, I advise anyone to work in the retail fashion industry. Especially the low-end market, like fast fashion, like your Cotton On brands and any of those businesses, because what that will do is educate you on how fast trends turn around, it will educate you on design lines, and on fashion business, and what works and what doesn’t. Then I think after that, have a few years in the industry, then I advise anyone to go and get an education. And throughout that I think you should always stay true to your vision and what you believe and what you want to do. I think education is key, education at university and education by first-hand experience. I don’t think that you can get any better experience than working in a fast fashion store because it will teach you the do’s and don’ts,  and a university education just gives you that understanding of policies and processes of what one needs to understand to do well in fashion.


Can you give us any hints on what we can expect from future collections?

The next collection, released in October at Sydney Fashion Week, is all inspired by Marie Antoinette. It’s inspired by palaces, it’s inspired by royalty, it’s inspired by romance. So what you will expect to see is lots of diamonds, lots of pearls, lots of glitter and a lot of feathers!

Photo supplied by Kharl WiRepa.

If you want to see more of Kharl’s designs you can go to his Facebook page, Kharl WiRepa Fashion.


TANIESHA PARKER is a lover of film and photography. If you asked her to recite a scene from Grease, she could!