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The future looks bright: designer Kat Tua on her MR PORTER mentorship, Bob Marley, and the Panthers

6 October 2021

Fashion Quarterly speaks with Kat Tua, one of the three global designers selected to participate in MR PORTER Futures—a year-long design and business mentorship programme.

WORDS BY Courtney Joe

Kat Tua. Image: supplied.

In a world first, luxury menswear pioneer MR PORTER has launched MR PORTER Futures—a global mentorship programme for emerging menswear design talent. Among the first three designers selected is Aotearoa-born Kat Tua, who now resides in Sydney, Australia. With a decade worth of design experience in product development and fashion design, Tua wowed the MR PORTER mentor selection committee with her response to brief—a refreshing take on her Māori heritage and a nod to cultural movements in 1970s Aotearoa. As Tua embarks on her year-long design and business mentorship programme, she speaks to Fashion Quarterly about her inspirations and what to expect from her first solo collection set to debut exclusively on MR PORTER next year.  

I was a bit of a country girl, I guess. My parents were separated and my dad lived on a farm, my mum in a small town, so I was always surrounded by the most beautiful nature—an abundance of nature—and I spent a lot of time outdoors. I think I learnt to drive a tractor when I was about 12. I’m from a large family of four brothers and two sisters, so a lot of men. I think about them a lot when I’m designing my range; I want my clothes to be something that they wouldn’t be scared of wearing.

[My son is] nine years old now, so he’s just getting to the age where he’s becoming aware of his own sense of style. He’s obsessed with Nikes, although I have no idea where he learnt about them. He’ll try on samples that I bring home, even womenswear samples, and wear them around the home and somehow he’ll make them work. It sounds corny, but he’s probably my biggest inspiration outside of professional designers.

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When I’m not designing I actually drive an Uber, and that actually gives me a lot of inspiration because I’m constantly outside, going to new places and meeting new people, who’ll often tell me their life story. It beats sitting at a computer and trawling the internet for inspiration.

I’ve tried to tell my own story, and the story of my Maori heritage, in a way that’s modern and interesting. I started to look back and I came across a picture of Bob Marley receiving a traditional Māori welcome, a pōwhiri, when he came to perform in 1979. As soon as I saw the picture, I thought, “That’s it”. Bob is adored in New Zealand; his birthday coincides with Waitangi Day, or Māori independence day, and there are always reggae festivals, so it’s a huge part of my heritage. The collection is also inspired by the Polynesian Panther Party, a protest group my great aunt was a part of in the late 1970s and 1980s. I found out later that she met Bob when he came to play here; she helped him to settle in when he arrived in the country and later converted to Rastafarianism. So all of these influences combine in the collection to tell my own story.

There’s a leather jacket—I had to have a black leather jacket [in my collection], it’s my take on the Panthers jacket. It’s made up of recycled jackets, deadstock fabrics and leather offcuts, so the idea is to create almost a patchwork texture, and it’s printed black-on-black with protest messages from the placards held by the Polynesian Panther Party during demonstrations.

 

For more information about MR PORTER Futures—including mentor profiles and how to apply for the initiative’s 2023 programme—visit MRPORTER.com

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