Recommended Sponsor - Buy Original Artwork Directly from the Artist

Source: Te Pukenga

It’s not every field of study where the work of ākonga (students) is up against that of one of their tutors – but that was exactly the case on the catwalk at the 2023 Hokonui Fashion Design awards.
Now, the collections of 2023 category winners Sarah Leung, who is in her third year studying fashion design at Ara | Te Pūkenga, and department tutor Denise Mill are set to feature in an emerging talent exhibition at New Zealand Fashion Week.
It’s the first time a selection of prize-winners from the prestigious Gore-based Hokonui awards will be showcased amid the hype and glamour of the country’s biggest fashion event.
Third-year Bachelor of Design (Fashion) student Leung said she felt shocked when she heard her collection was destined for Auckland.
Her Hokonui award entry started as fabric scraps from an internship at premier New Zealand outdoor performance clothing company Earth Sea Sky in February. It ended up winning the O’Connor Richmond Garment with the Most Commercial Potential Award after earlier being recognised with an Open Merit (Upcycled) award.
Leung was thrilled with the win and was looking forward to sharing the excitement with her mentors. “My three-week internship was amazing. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone which is more around creating dresses and formal wear. I learned a lot about their manufacturing process from cutting patterns and working with their sewing team,” Leung said.
Taking the fabric scraps with her when she left, Leung created and entered a collection of four pieces. Her success comes off the back of a Highly Commended in the Avante Garde section last year. “I was inspired by the work at Earth Sea Sky this time, wanting to create clothing that’s good for cold weather but with a street style vibe to it.”
Other Ara students recognised at the acclaimed Hokonui event this year were Morghan Ariki Bradshaw, runner up in the Mackersy Property Open Collections Award, and Oliver Schefer who gained a Highly Commended in the same category. Aksorn Krisnangkura received Highly Commended for her entry in the Mataura Valley Milk Open Upcycled Award. All three had received recognition for their collections in 2022 as well.
But the spoils for Ara | Te Pūkenga didn’t stop with the cohort of talented and hardworking students this year.
The Wools of New Zealand Best Use of Wool award went to Art and Design tutor Denise Mill who crafted a stunning collection of crochet garments during her convalescence from a long illness. Initially noticing a tingling in her face in the classroom two and a half years ago, Mill was later diagnosed with the rare Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.
Stemming from the commonly known shingles virus but affecting just five in 100,000 people, the condition caused paralysis on one side of Mill’s face and has left her with ongoing nerve damage, loss of taste and impaired hearing.
“A crocheter since the age of five” and a dab hand at making rugs over the years, Mill said she picked up her hook on the advice of her occupational therapist and began working on garments as part of her therapy.
“With crochet I can’t stop. It takes me to a meditative state which is a healing state, and it keeps me in the present moment. As my work developed, I began to see the Hokonui awards as a focus and an authentic way to get back out there – so crochet has provided professional development as well,” she said.
Currently on a return-to-work programme, Mill is thankful for the support of her family, insurers and employer and is quick to turn the spotlight back on the achievements of the Ara Bachelor of Design students. Most cut their teeth at the Hokonui awards by entering in the second year of their degree.
She said every aspect of their study – from their creative process to pattern making and construction – is applied through the experience and their hard work is subject to intense scrutiny through participating in the event.
Leung remains humble about taking out a significant Hokonui win and being poised to be part of New Zealand’s biggest fashion event. “People say I’m a creative person. I’m just grateful I’ve learned new skills and found ways to realise my potential,” she said.
Whether she directs that potential into outerwear or fine couture is something she’s still discovering as she completes her final portfolio towards her degree.
In between, her on-trend off-cut looks are set to turn heads at New Zealand Fashion Week alongside the stunning therapeutic threads crafted by one of her tutors.