The Queen be­hind the RUN­WAY

mailife - - Cover -

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.

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