Some of Erihi Donnelly’s previous designs.
Tikanga Māori underpins the fashion designs of Erihi Donnelly, who began her study journey at EIT in 2019 and is now in the final year of her Bachelor of Creative Design (Fashion).
Erihi (Ngati Porou), who grew up in Gisborne, says it was always her dream to follow a career in fashion.
“I have had a passion for fashion since I was about 13 and I began making clothes and studying textiles at school. But it actually began before that because my nana was a sewer, so I began sewing – not fully making clothes – but helping her and watching a real dressmaker since I was young.
“It seems like I have been in love with it my whole life.”
Erihi, 28, did not have the opportunity to follow her fashion dream when she finished school in Gisborne, as she went to look after her cousin’s daughter and her uncle who had a head injury.
But the desire to learn her craft further kept burning and when a cousin mentioned that she was studying Art and Design at EIT’s Tairāwhiti Campus in Gisborne, Erihi decided to follow suit.
“When I got the information that there was something that could lead me in the direction of a career in fashion, I just jumped into it.”
She enrolled in the NZ Certificate in Arts and Design (Level 3) in Tairāwhiti and began her journey, completing Level 4 in 2019.
Erihi was not content to stop at this level and decided to move down to EIT’s Hawke’s Bay Campus in Taradale so that she could carry on with the Diploma in Fashion (Level 5) and then do the Bachelor of Creative Design (Fashion).
“It was a big change moving down to Taradale, but I wanted to move. I miss my family but it’s good. I have met so many good tutors and students and it’s just a great environment to be around.”
When it comes to design, Erihi says she works with materials that she is drawn to in the moment and whatever will be the best at executing her designs.
However, at the root of her designs is her culture.
“One of the biggest factors that I take into consideration when I’m designing, because if you were to put me next to somebody else in the world that wasn’t Māori, that’s where I’m different to them.
“My points are different, and it’s a big part of who I am. I’ve been brought up in my culture very strongly and that’s very important to me.”
In particular, Erihi is keen to bring Māori legends back to life through her designs.
“I bring them in to mix old history in with more contemporary fashion.”
While Erihi has a clear picture of her career path, she is happy to take one step at a time. The ultimate aim is to run her own business.
“I do know that there are some things that I do need to have a bit more experience in, which will be a big part of my company.”
For now, Erihi is showing signs of leadership as she is in her second year on the Younited Board at EIT.
Cherie Freeman, acting head of IDEAschool, says: “Erihi has had to make the difficult move to leave Tairāwhiti to follow her passion. This bold move has provided Erihi the opportunity to weave Tikanga Māori into her designs and create some beautifully unique garments.
“Erihi’s willingness to help others through her work with the Younited Board will see Erihi combining her passion, talent and leadership skills to achieve her goal of one day owning her own business.”