‘There Is A Lot That Isn’t Right, Fashion Is Still A Side Hustle’

‘There Is A Lot That Isn’t Right, Fashion Is Still A Side Hustle’


Stylish, poised, articulate, and classy, Sandhya Nand – a supermodel of Fiji in the 90s, does not pull her punches.


Sandhya Nand in an Aisake Konrote number.

Stylish, poised, articulate, and classy, Sandhya Nand – a supermodel of Fiji in the 90s, does not pull her punches.

In an exclusive interview with SunBiz, she reflects on the evolution or lack thereof of Fiji’s fashion industry, since her early days in the local industry.

A formidable figure in her own right, Ms Nand is a multimedia specialist with experience in public relations, photography and music.

In essence, she lives up to her role as the multicultural provocateur she says she is.

Now in her 50s – a fact that is often thrown off by her great physique, careful selection of the appropriate wear, and her sheer youthfulness, and zest for life – the closest hint one would get of her age, is the few grey hairs that she proudly flaunts.

Early beginnings

Born in Suva, she spent her formative years in England and India, before she returned to Fiji.

She attended Veiuto Primary and Suva Grammar School, before she furthered her education at an Australian boarding school in the late 80s.

“Sadly, this coincided with the first coup, making it difficult to return home, to Fiji, for over two years,” Ms Nand said.

“As soon as I could, I deferred university studies, and sped back.”

In her younger years, she had stints on air through Aunty Adi Koroi’s show.

“I walked back into Fiji Broadcasting Commission (FBC) the second day I was back, and got a job on air, on the main English station,” she said.

Ms Nand worked for FBC for a few years, before she started at Fiji National Video Centre in 1992, as one of the first newsreaders for Fiji One news.

“I had already become well-known as a model, as I was discovered in 1989 by Anna Sweetman, and Tanya Whiteside,” she said.

“I had also started singing with Tui Ravai and The Freelancers in Traps around 1991, before Ken Janson invited me to join his new band, The Hearts in 1992.

A prestigious event of its time, was the Hibiscus Fashion Parade was organised by Anna Sweetman.

“I made my debut in 1989,” Ms Nand said.

“There were other fashion shows; a weekly one at the Sheraton that I was asked to walk for, a few times.

“Many smaller prestigious ones organised by Anna Sweetman and Bernadette Rounds, who also had a newspaper magazine called Fiji Women.

“There were also a lot of photo shoots, for all the main dailies.”

The face of Tiki Togs

Ms Nand went on to become the face of Tiki Togs and its heir, Tanya Whiteside’s eponymous label.

She recalled the many fun campaigns, ‘lookbooks’ and shoots.

By the early 90s, there existed a fairly well established group of models, who walked all the top shows.

“We are all still remembered, me more than most, because of my television, radio and singing appearances,” Ms Nand said.

Back then, branding was held in high regard.

Many people used fashion events as a medium to draw crowds and gain attention, she said.

“These events were free to the pub­lic,” Ms Nand said.

In the mid-90s, the then Tradewinds hosted weekly fashion shows, fea­turing top models and top labels, she said.

“There were many top design la­bels and stores then,” Ms Nand said.

Wella Design Show

The mid-90s was also when Ms Nand first produced the Wella De­sign Shows, the first major collec­tive fashion events that were award shows.

“This was for a strategic reason,” she said.

Tanya Whiteside, heir of Tiki Togs brand.

Tanya Whiteside, heir of Tiki Togs brand.

“Equity.

“But that is a matter.”

Penning a biography

The talented fashion pioneer, plans to pen her biography.

It is a move that will expound on her profound interest in the develop­ment of Fiji’s fashion sector.

“I have many stories to share,” Ms Nand said.

“Through these stories, knowledge, skills, understanding, experience, I hope to share some wisdom too, but most of all, hope.

“We’re not ‘just Fiji’.

“We are from Fiji, and we thrive against all odds.”

Here is an excerpt of an interview with Ms Nand.

You have had over 30 years inter­national experience in fashion. Upon this most recent return, what are your observations concerning the local in­dustry? What was the industry like in the 90s, against what we now have?

We didn’t have the Internet back then and yet, somehow we seemed more in stride with what was hap­pening globally, because we stayed ahead of it.

We took our status as the first to see the sun – seriously.

I don’t feel we were competing with each other, more, accomplishing to­gether.

The creative industries seemed to band together to celebrate life and ingenuity. Perhaps because we were fresh off the coups that changed Fiji forever, but not for the first time.

The 90s was a very progressive time.

It was as if we wanted to wipe the stigma that had marked us as an unstable society, when I believe we could have been on track to equity.

The creative industries surged forth and we were respected.

Corporates understood branding partnerships and especially sup­ported the fashion industry.

Back then the media, fashion and music industries, were entwined.

I was lucky enough to be in all three industries and celebrated in all.

There was a lot of support, and ca­maraderie.

I feel that that is missing now.

Winning has taken over from ac­complishing, but this is a worldwide problem.

Plus, the standard of excellence back then was high.

We seemed to expect more of our­selves; therefore, we were able to make it happen.

What are some areas of the fashion sector that need improvement – to close the gap, so to speak?

This is a loaded question.

Even though I am more than quali­fied to answer this question, I feel it would be disrespectful to the indus­try, if I spoke to media without dis­cussing with industry insiders first.

There is a lot that isn’t right, but it doesn’t get talked about.

Everyone seems to be scared of the truth.

Telling it and hearing it.

But also, people are just trying to get by, to take a talent they have, and try to get some recognition from it and hopefully some financial ben­efit.

By now we should have an industry full of people earning a healthy liv­ing from their jobs.

Fashion is still a side hustle

But fashion is still very much a side hustle.

When I left Fiji two decades ago, I left a fairly positive industry.

I am heartbroken that it didn’t flourish; but it’s easy to point fin­gers.

What all industries need are sta­bility, structure, transparency and honesty – the last two seem to be in short supply.

I am disappointed with the toler­ance for self-aggrandising, and the conflicts of interest, which creates the issue that fashion is seen as the frivolity of the privileged.

Not denying that it isn’t this, but it is so much more than that.

I feel that an education structure needs to be in place, where fash­ion is considered a subject in itself, rather than an add-on to something technical.

There is a severe lack of under­standing here as to what fashion is, what the fashion industry is, and what modelling is about.

Runway designers

Pacific designers still only design for the runway.

They still think that the runway is the culmination of their hard work.

But the runway is just mid-way, and the start to their marketing.

This is where the model’s role is crucial – and in all other aspects of marketing, publicity and sales ad­ministration.

When I teach about fashion, I teach that fashion is a form of feminism, especially for women from multicul­tural communities.

Fashion is used as a form of indi­vidual expression; that’s why com­munist countries adopt uniforms instead.

Fashion is meant to be a map or a mask.

Sustainable fashion is only heard of in little pockets of the industry. As you may appreciate, it is not the local hype. What is your position on the subject? How do you suppose we could improve upon the development of sustainable fashion?

Sustainability should be the local hype because cultural societies have always been sustainable.

It is colonialism and capitalism that help us forget.

A prestigious event of the 90s was the Hibiscus Fashion Parade, which was organised by Anna Sweetman.

A prestigious event of the 90s was the Hibiscus Fashion Parade, which was organised by Anna Sweetman.

Even then, Pacific designers are forced to be sustainable because of economic reasons.

They cannot afford to make in vol­ume, so they make per order, and that creates a zero-waste environ­ment, aka sustainability.

The white world likes to go on and on about sustainability, as if they invented it.

Then they tour the very world they oppress, and teach people their own ways.

But they need to learn from multi­cultural communities about the es­sence of sustainability.

If they really wanted sustainabil­ity, they would stop having fashion weeks in the mainstream markets, and nurture smaller industries, or industries that they have stolen from under the guise of being in­spired.

Pacific Runway

I am the publicist for Sydney based Pacific Runway.

As successful and popular as it is, it is still a hard sell to get Pacific de­signers stocked in boutiques.

This is because the Pacific is not seen as a viable source of fashion product, creatively speaking, just as a manufacturing location.

It is also partly because the prod­ucts shown on the runway are all that the designer has to offer.

Stock requires an investor to carry the cost of manufacturing in vol­ume.

This has stalled the careers of many excellent designers, specifi­cally Iyara and Lumai from PNG, and hindered the expansion of many Fijian labels.

Another reason is that the gar­ments are not up to mainstream consumer quality, because the gar­ments are not always made by pro­fessionals with professional equip­ment, but are handmade, which ironically makes Pacific designers sustainable.

Sustainable fashion means that the garments are designed, manu­factured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally-friendly.

I believe our designers here can tick the boxes on that, as they de­sign here, they themselves sew, or employ local seamstresses, and most don’t have a shop front.

As a result, they sell online, and make per order; there’s no large volume waste; they sell what they showed on the runway.

Why the chain of sustainability fails here, or is misunderstood, is be­cause the consumer doesn’t want to pay the price, or can’t afford to pay the cost of that sustainability.

The pricing of garments does not make sense here, but that’s because individual tailors set different pric­es for their work.

The construction of a garment is key, so of course designers want the best possible.

But this can make garments unaf­fordable for the majority.

Our designers are all relatively af­fordable, but very few match quality to their prices.

It’s all glam and fabulous, but the quality is in the craftsmanship.

Then of course, there are those one or two designers who bleat about ethical practices and sustain­ability, then rip their customers off, and lie about it.

Things like that give sustainability a bad name; the false practice of it.

Where do you see Fiji’s fashion in­dustry in the future, and what recom­mendations would you put forward over how we can improve on the jour­ney?

By now, we should have our de­signers stocked in international boutiques.

Sandhya Nand says the camaraderie in the industry is missing.

Sandhya Nand says the camaraderie in the industry is missing.

However, I am not throwing shade at anyone.

This is easier said than done, be­cause it is an expensive exercise.

Our contemporary designers do not have the capacity to create in volume, which is what international boutiques require.

The designers that could, that seemed to have a mass production system in place pre COVID-19, are not suitable for ‘mainstream’ mar­kets, they create for their ‘island customer’.

There is a way to feature island motifs without being literal, pairing traditionally inspired patterns with modern silhouettes.

Designers shouldn’t limit them­selves to being ‘island designers’.

They need to think of themselves as designers first.

Australian industry

I wish the Australian industry ac­tively nurtured the Pacific creative industries, especially the Fiji fash­ion industry.

This is something we all strive for, to be seen as a viable source of ur­ban product, rather than just a man­ufacturing country.

That is what I would love to see.

Fijian designers stocked interna­tionally, if not household names then as chic, independent labels.

I have recommendations.

But I would like to be in a position to implement these.

I want to give back to this country that gave me so much.

But I would like to be respected for my three decades-plus of accumulat­ed knowledge, before I start giving away my ideas.

The misuse of couture is almost a given in certain spheres. What is your position on the matter?

Couture, by itself, is the French word for dressmaking.

It is a designer label, one-of-a-kind, exceptionally well-made, ready-to-wear pieces, in standard sizes, known as prêt-à-porter (pronounced ‘prrett-a-porrtay’).

This is high-end fast fashion.

Haute couture (pronounced oat-coo-tyuurr) is the term that gets mis­used.

Haute couture is a French govern­ment regulated term and designa­tion.

Very few fashion houses and labels have this prestige.

The fashion world is still governed by the French, even though fash­ion’s history stems from India.

To be considered an haute couture house, fashion houses must own an atelier, or workshop, in Paris, with at least 15 full-time employees.

They must present at least 35 looks in a show, twice a year.

Every haute couture piece is made to measure for a single client, who goes to the Parisian atelier, for measurements and fittings.

Regardless of how expensive and exclusive a piece is, it is not haute couture, until the Chambre Syndi­cale de la Haute Couture says it is.

It is very elitist, but it is an artform.

Haute couture pieces are works of art, painstakingly handmade by one of “les petites mains”, or small hands, one of the 2200 current seam­stresses who painstakingly bring haute couture creations to life.

While I appreciate exclusivity, I loathe elitism.

I feel that Pacific fashion should not be dictated to by a society on the other side of the world.

I believe we could have an haute couture system in place here.

Fashion Designers Alliance of Fiji were contacted for comment.

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