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Success At Fashion Design Awards Paves Way For EIT Student’s New Brand

EIT Bachelor of Creative Practice (Fashion) student Ashford Thompson received a highly commended award at the nationally recognised Hokonui Fashion Design Awards - an accolade that he sees as a stepping-stone to the launch of his own brand.

Thirty-year-old Ashford (Ngāti Kahungunu) is in the second year of his degree through EIT’s IDEAschool, but he is already planning for a bright future. Ashford and his wife, Kelsi Thompson, who has completed a Graduate Diploma in Business (Marketing) at EIT, are aiming to start their own fashion line, Thompson Thompson Clothing, in December.

“We're hoping to launch our brand at the end of the year, but things are a little bit up in the air with COVID-19”.

Ashford is one of 20 Māori “fashion creatives” who are in a mentorship programme with Māori fashion designer Kiri Nathan. Kiri Nathan products are sought after around the world, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing the brand and celebrities like Barack and Michelle Obama, Meghan Duchess of Sussex and Beyonce owning KN products.

The designers in the mentorship programme are planning to put on a group runway show in Auckland and the aim is to launch the new Thompson Thompson Clothing brand at this event.

It is an exciting time for Ashford and Kelsi, who returned to Hawke’s Bay after eight years working in fashion retail in Australia, just before the COVID-19 lockdowns last year.

It is a move the couple, who originally hail from Hawke’s Bay, have not regretted.

Ashford is very clear about the clothes he wants to make and the designs his new line will focus on.

“We primarily create unisex products with a focus on sustainability and reducing waste through the creative process. This includes looking at zero waste pattern cutting, and how we can just create less fabric scraps or even reuse them,” he says.

“I have made quite a few pieces that involve upcycling as well, which is what I did for my competition entry.”

That entry, in the prestigious Hokonui Fashion Design Awards in Gore in July, was for a menswear line and Ashford deliberately went for a unique style. This was captured in a photoshoot by IDEAschool second year design students. It obviously worked, as Ashford was given a highly commended tick by the judges.

The Hokonui Fashion Design Awards, which celebrated their 32nd anniversary this year, are firmly established as a key event on the national fashion calendar and continue to attract entries and interest from amateur fashion designers throughout New Zealand. Over the years, the judging panel has included Karen Walker, Nic Blanchet, Francis Hooper, Trelise Cooper, Kate Sylvester, Liz Findlay, Doris Du Pont and Margi Robertson (of NOM*d).

Ashford says: “My approach was to look at the traditional ideas of gender dress codes and the difference between men's and women's codes.”

“So, I made a men's outfit with a pair of trousers, a skirt, a corset, and a blazer. It was all made from materials that I'd got from the op shop. My jacket and my trousers were made from duvet covers, while the pleated skirt was made from an old couch cover. The corset came from a curtain and a man's shirt.”

What made this competition more challenging was that Ashford was not able to fit the outfit in person.

“We were sent a size requirement beforehand because part of the task was making the outfit to prescribed types and size guidelines. It is quite common for competitions to provide the models and we have to make the items fit them.”

His first degree, completed nine years ago at Victoria University of Wellington was in art history and Ashford uses this knowledge to inform his approach when researching some of his concepts.

Another important aspect of his work is his Māori heritage, and he is always reflecting on his experience growing up..

“We have a different outlook on life, time, space and history and I think that's always influencing my approach to my designs and my design process. Māori myth is something that I've always been fascinated by.”

With his career poised for success, Ashford also acknowledges his lecturers and tutors in EIT’s IDEAschool, who he says are very knowledgeable and set a high standard.

EIT IDEAschool Fashion Leader Cheryl Downie says: ‘We were elated with Ashford’s achievement, especially as this national competition is held in high regard within the Fashion industry and education sector.’

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