Designer returns to her roots for fashion festival

PRE-SHOW BUSTLE: Ngaruawahia Fashion Designer Batreece Morgan preparing for a fashion show at Te Wananga o Aotearoa Campus.
PRE-SHOW BUSTLE: Ngaruawahia Fashion Designer Batreece Morgan preparing for a fashion show at Te Wananga o Aotearoa Campus.

This year, her designs reflect the fierceness of a woman. It's like her alter ego is coming out, says Batreece Morgan, known locally by her middle name, Poto.

It's nothing like the collection she took last year, with its feminine focus and soft shades. This year, it's edgy. Bold. Black.

Jet black.

"It's about that fierceness a woman has. The seductiveness, the power, the poise."

That's because this year, the designs reflect a woman who is more focused, a woman who knows what she wants, says Batreece. An energetic woman.

But it also reflects a woman who owes everything to her roots.

She's named the collection Whakapapa: appropriately, because her nan helped knit some pieces for it.

Nan is Daphne Morgan, 87, the person she bounces all her ideas off. Daphne taught Batreece everything she knows about working with harakeke (flax). Most importantly, she never thinks that Batreece's ideas are crazy.

And these aren't always conventional.

Because Poto doesn't weave. She imagines new uses for harakeke. Layering, dyeing. Men's style cloaks for women.

It's the texture of flax she loves, and its history. Its stories.

The harakeke plant represents the whanau: inside, the shoot, the child, surrounded by leaves, the parents, and, on the outside, the tupuna (grandparents and ancestors).

"As we cut off the parents, more babies come through: future generations."

Her Whakapapa collection reflects the shared knowledge between her and her grandmother, and the women who went before them.

Hers is a niche market, she realises that.

"It's a completely different genre of fashion and there isn't much of a target market. But I love doing it, that's why I do it."

That doesn't mean she can't see a future in designing full time, but she's not giving up her day job as a sales rep just yet.

She tries to do a mix of wearable art and ready-to-wear, to make it accessible. It's about getting people interested, and social media has been a great help - for fundraising and for spreading her name.

And there has been interest. She was invited to Vancouver Fashion Week, but she'd already agreed to go to Melbourne. Actress Theresa Healy bought one of her vests. Rachel Hunter was photographed wearing her work for Remix magazine.

And while Batreece is looking forward to schmoozing in Melbourne, her Ngaruawahia roots will always be with her.

Unearthed: The Indigenous Fashion Show is Batreece's kind of show - a great place for Maori designers and models to showcase their skills, alongside Aboriginal designers and models. She's interested in indigenous design and culture from just about everywhere.

But she's not worried that those traditional skills will fall by the wayside.

The knowledge passed down will always stay around, because there are always people interested in knowing. "I know it's all going futuristic now - flying cars and all that - and some things might get lost along the way, but some might stick around, depending on who's passionate enough to get it out there."

Batreece Poto Morgan, for one, is putting her hand up.

Waikato Times