The Queen behind the RUNWAY
By JONE KALOUNIVITI Photos by JASON CHUTE
A little over 10 years ago, the name Ellen Whippy-Knight was known to only a small circle of former journalists and socialites in Fiji. Today, anyone who has access to any form of mainstream or social media knows of her, has heard of her or has seen her on television. In the same period, the Fiji fashion landscape has undergone a huge transformation. Much of it can be attributed to the zeal, resilience and never-say-die attitude of Whippy-Knight, now dubbed Fiji’s Queen of Fashion. After 10 years, Fiji’s Fashion Queen has decided its time to move on. “I think I have done enough to help set up the fashion industry in the past decade, I think its time to move on and spend more time with my family and husband back in Australia.” Since she took on the Fiji Fashion Week event in 2008 to the now blossoming fashion industry in 2017 Fiji, Whippy-Knight has managed to create a platform from which fashion is now considered a serious business. She has taken on Fiji’s movers and shakers to establish the Fashion Week event and even tried to introduce fashion education as part of the school curriculum. Inevitably, livewire Whippy-Knight has stepped on a few toes, sealed and broken deals to develop her project and the industry. She has even been the butt of jokes. However, her street smarts, passion for fashion, confidence and outgoing personality have seen her push on through. Her fashion passion has been a torrid affair, which has dealt some heavy blows to her family, finances and friends from far and wide. It has also been a labour of love. Her vision is to change minds and help establish a respected industry to make use of the abundance of natural talent of Fiji designers. “In saying that, we have a lot of natural talent, but it can only be matured with fashion education – which was something I had hoped the Fiji Fashion Week event would help propel,’’ Knight-Whippy said. “Fijians have a natural aptitude in designing, it’s in our DNA – we built magnificent canoes now used by Disney, we made tapa designs, tattoos and built magnificent bures and temples with those unique shapes and sizes and even our traditional clothing is unique.” “But to tap into that flair we needed a platform and that was Fiji Fashion Week.” A lot has been said and written about how she took on an idea from her niece, Donna Whippy and helped develop it. It has been 10 years since she began establishing Fiji Fashion Week. Milestones marking the way to the 10th anniversary this year were achieved through the work of those who had tirelessly journeyed with her, she said. “We met brick wall after brick wall, with sponsorship being the main issue and the second being attitudes of locals as far as fashion was concerned.” Whippy-Knight said they had spent the first seven years trying to improve the event, find committed partners and Government support. “I am glad we pushed on through those years because the biggest changes have occurred within the past three years. I‘m happy to say the younger generation are now becoming more involved.” The Fiji Fashion Week was launched in 2008 by Donna Whippy, who seemed to have picked up on the family’s passion for fashion while growing up. “I was always into fashion, our mother was known as one of the most fashionable women in Suva and my dad never let us out of the house unless we were dressed respectably or uniquely.