He is the first young Fijian to pursue an undergraduate degree in fashion design abroad and this week Laisiasa Davetawalu graduated with excellent results, which began when he took part in a student competition of Fiji Fashion Week.
Like many artistically inclined high schoolers, Laisiasa didn’t see many options for the kind of future he wanted.
But the same day he left Queen Victoria School in 2016, he landed in the Fiji Fashion Week office with no money but with very clear beliefs about the fashion future he wanted.
The Nabukelevu native in Kadavu who won Student Designer and Emerging Designer awards at FJFW, will now pursue a career in Australia.
“It’s a BA in Fashion from the Fashion Design Studio at TAFE New South Wales. It’s so good to be done because I had worked so hard all the time, at home, at school, 24 hours on 24, 7 days a week, for this. I still remember the first day I arrived, my eyes were everywhere. Everything was so new and so foreign. There were many things that I had never seen before” , said Laisiasa.
“Now I’m settled in and ready for some real challenges. Apart from these qualifications, my studies have changed me in that I have grown so much as a person physically, mentally and the work has helped me to be a strong person.
While finishing his last two years of high school at Sigatoka Methodist High School on the Coral Coast, Laisiasa was by his own admission very shy, very sweet and always kept a distance from people, but after winning the FJFW Student Designer Competition in his second year of entering and ultimately in the FJFW Designer of the Year category when he was just 21, the fashion designer says graduating made him stronger.
While he credits FJFW chief executive Ellen Whippy-Knight with her entry into Australian life and the success of her education, Laisiasa said the student designer competition was where it all started.
“Competition put me on a different level. When I filled in this form to participate in this first competition, my parents did not even know that I was in Suva. They found out when they saw me in the Fiji Times. After this competition, people started looking at me in a different way. They were like, Oh, he’s got talent! My parents also began to see the light.
Nationally, students have reached out to Laisiasa to share that her story has also inspired and directed them towards fashion.
In 2016, Ms Whippy-Knight set up a foundation to raise funds from the Fijian community in Australia with the aim of bringing down the winners of the FJFW Emerging Designer of the Year Award to formalize their studies.
Successful Fijians in Australia, many of whom had emigrated decades ago but still considered Fiji their home country, raised funds over the duration of a typical undergraduate degree program. Laisiasa was the first beneficiary of this commitment.
“After almost four years of fundraising and seeking community support to help him pay his university fees, which amounted to A$65,000 (F102,242), we are very grateful that he has made it through and he showed he was worth the support. said Ms. Whippy-Knight.
“There are so many people in the Fijian community to thank, especially Mark Halabe, Lisa Apted, Jon Apted and many more in Australia. Our neighbours, his university friends and so many friends from Fiji have all come together to ensure that Laisiasa succeeds.
She is confident that Laisiasa will go on to bigger things in the design industry “because he is so detailed in his attention to fashion work. He is absolutely one of a kind, he loves and lives for what is at the fashion.
He has made us all very proud in Fiji and Australia and is a shining example of what young emerging designers
FJFW consultant and renowned Australian fashion educator Nicholas Huxley said the company’s efforts to create formal training paths for designers showing up at the now 15-year-old event were key to fashion’s success in the Fiji.
He hopes young people will enjoy and participate in the FJFW Student Designer initiatives.
“Lai showed a very dedicated and professional attitude in her studies and has now graduated with a Bachelors degree in Fashion Design. Fashion Design Studio Sydney TAFE is a renowned Australian fashion institute where students study a wide range of subjects ranging from manufacturing from garment design and construction to textile design and printing, as well as color, elements and principles of life design and drawing, fashion illustration and all areas of design computer aided.
“Lai did extremely well in all areas with her final year eight body collection using almost all of the topics mentioned to achieve her desired innovative collection! Her creative process and innovative thinking went hand in hand with her understanding of marketability! Seeing her collection parade on the catwalk was the most exciting experience for me!It was a wonderful collection…and I’m so proud of her fabulous accomplishments!
Laisiasa hopes that, like him, students who find themselves at an uncomfortable crossroads in their high school careers will find faith in their passion.
“If you had to stop your studies for any reason, can’t afford your tuition fees or whatever and want to participate in the Fiji Fashion Student Designers category, I suggest you do so. Whatever you do now will help you for your future, even if it’s something small,” Laisiasa said.
“Even if you just make a simple dress. You don’t need to have a lot of money to do this, but it’s how you execute the art and the work that matters. Just do that first drawing step and then send it to the tailor. You could soon be doing the emerging designer show and winning because that’s what happened to me. The same can happen to you!
The FJFW x Palmolive Student Designer 2022 competition opened in mid-March and closes May 1.
Open only to high school students who must present proof of registration if they reach the final, each participant must design an outfit with the concept of “Luminous Resort Day or Night”.
A jury will choose 10 finalists whose work will be presented as part of a fashion capsule in public places in Suva.
Winners will receive cash prizes donated by Communications Fiji Ltd, tickets to premium shows at Fiji Fashion Week on May 27-28 and their work will be featured in
More information can be viewed via https://www.fijifashionweek.com.fj/program.
- LICE MOVONO is a freelance journalist and independent public relations consultant.