Oscar de la Rente, world famous doyen of fashion has been known to say "Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself" and that is the life motto our next FJWOW lives by, Creative Director of London Pacific Fashion Week, Ana Lavekau.
Born and raised in Naisilai, Rewa, Ana recalls her childhood days as being surrounded by the love for Fijian meke, music, poetry & art. In addition to this, Ana also had the privilege and opportunity to learn firsthand the art of pottery making and Fijian legends & story telling from one of her grandmothers who raised her, renowned Potter & designer, Taraivini Wati. Being raised in a way of life that encouraged the sharing of oral histories about their ancestry and the voyages they undertook has fuelled her desire to learn more and to find a way to preserve these histories so that those who come after us are able to have that knowledge also. These childhood experiences that were instilled through the beliefs of the strong maternal figures that raised her and also the constant support of those in their Baha'i faith community has also played a part in shaping the characteristics of the person Ana is today and she continues to embody those principles within her own parenting style of her two children.
Ana's entrepreneurial spirit has seen the establishing of her business venture, London Pacific Fashion Week in 2012. Through LPFW, Ana has been able to provide a platform that enables her to represent established and emerging designers & artists from the South Pacific in London. Her theme for last year's show was Climate Change in the Pacific and was opened to both fashion designers and artists as a way to promote South Pacific talent. The line up included both artists and designers from Fiji, such as renowned Fijian artist, Rusiate Lali, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand & Samoa. It launched with a teaser show at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, followed by the main show at the National Liberals Club in London. The designers were also provided the opportunity to be interviewed and talk about their work with BBC World Live. All this made possible through LPFW networking and how successful the shows have been for the last 5 years. Ana's plans for 2018 for LPFW includes a showcase in September for designers from the Cook Islands, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji and Australia to be held in London at the Exhibition Hall, Australia House.
In addition to her business venture, Ana also has 3 projects that she focuses on each year. The first being the Vosa Vakaviti UK project. This is aimed at producing Fijian language, meke, art & pottery workshops for Fijian children based in the UK, however at the moment she is focusing mainly on the areas in Hampshire and Wiltshire counties. Ana founded this project in 2013 and has since partnered with the University of East Anglia for the Fijian Art Project and also with the Oceania Archaeology Department for Cambridge University. The second project that Ana is involved with is her Fijian dance group MekeArt TribeUK. MekeArt promotes a fusion of traditional Fijian and contemporary dance here in the UK. Founded in 2013, MekeArt has performed on international media platforms such as live performances during the Rugby World Cup 2015 Breakfast show on ITV channel and also at Twickenham Stadium. Ana is the sole dance choreographer and director of the group, their next upcoming event is the Commonwealth event in Guildford later this year. Ana's final project that she is currently working in partnership with the Hampshire County Council with, is the Fijian Bure project. The idea behind this project is to ultimately work towards the goal of building a permanent Fijian bure (traditional Fijian hut/house made from wood and bamboo reeds) in Surrey. This would act as a cultural hub for Fijian children whose families are based in Surrey with the hopes of creating a standardised curriculum which the Hampshire County Council is assisting with, through their Community Project Team. Ana hopes that over time, the project would be used to facilitate workshops for women's groups; religious groups and also charitable Fijian led organisations. Ana is gearing herself towards it's launch later in August this year. Ana also plans to pursue further postgraduate studies in Creative Fashion at Southampton Solent University later this year.
One thing that Ana emphasised throughout our talk is that the work that she does is always geared towards empowering young girls/boys & women in the Pacific and in the UK. Building self confidence and teaching them to meet the standards required to pursue a career in the Arts, Fashion PR and Community Development Projects. Ana feels that there is not enough support for women in our Fijian community. She believes that our community is filled with women from all different professional backgrounds and more needs to be done to identify these talents & skills as it would not only empower other young girls & women within our community but also allow for furthering of career opportunities. Ana hopes that in time, we will be able to have annual networking events that enable us to help each other with our respective business ventures and projects and also strengthen community ties.
When asked what fuels her passion in the arts, Ana said that she is driven by the fact that we come from a tiny island in the South Pacific with some of the best artists & designers in not only fashion but also painting; pottery; wood carving; music; architecture; design & dance. All these creative artists need exposure on the right platform in Europe. Ana is determined to provide them with this opportunity. Ana points out that in London alone we are surrounded by cultures from 212 ethnic groups, all wanting the same exposure and if you as an artist are not bold enough to put your PACIFIC brand with these other competing nations than you are are not deserving of this international platform.
When asked about the barriers she has had to overcome, Ana explained the whole mechanics of how London Fashion Week works and how difficult it has been to have a breakthrough into the industry. London Fashion Week is a corporate body that promotes Established & Emerging British and International Fashion on the runway each year. There are two main fashion shows that are run in February and September. Ana's biggest challenge was finding a way to receive accreditation from them. As a designer wanting to showcase on London Fashion Week, the stakes are very high. You as the representative of your BRAND will have the sole responsibility to prove that you have achieved the targeted net sales quota that they set. In addition to that, as a Brand Partner you would need to prove that you have had your work published in a UK Fashion Magazine. After 5 years of Ana's continuous hard work through promotions of her LPFW brand in London, Ana has now received her accreditation, this was made possible by a recent feature of the LPFW brand in fashion magazine Beauty Mute in November last year. This accreditation also allows her access as the Creative Director for LPFW to all the showrooms during London Fashion Week. This has been a major breakthrough for Ana and she attributes it to her collaboration with the right fashion creatives team and especially with fashion photographers such as Tim Copsey & Ioana Mitroi.
Ana's advice to young people looking to get into the fashion industry is, explore channels to further your studies in Fashion Design or Fashion PR & Marketing. Be sure to set yourself a short term goal and work towards it. Never decline a collaboration opportunity that allows you to work with other creatives because this is an opportunity for you to place your name in the fashion circle and to put your brand out there, by doing so it allows for the right job opportunity to come your way. Ana also emphasised that young and upcoming fashion creatives should always do their own research and try to attend as many fashion events in London and around the country as they can. By being at these events they gain insight on in-house knowledge and how the industry works as a whole. Ana's final piece of advice to young entrepreneurs like herself was - "Always see events as a networking opportunity to brand yourself and be confident in your brand."
Ana's success for her LPFW venture has been a long time coming, but in it all she remains constant in the belief that all this would not have been possible if it had not been for her two grandmothers 'Bu Wati and Pu Ma' who nurtured her artistic talent earlier on in her life. Their commitment and dedication is what has motivated Ana to keep pushing forward with the work that she does whether it's teaching Fijian meke; building a Fijian bure or producing a Fashion Show, they have kept her grounded and humble.
**To follow more of Ana's work, visit her website on here.
Hope you've enjoyed reading about another one of our phenomenal Fijian Women of the World.