Lindah Lepou on fashion, queer acknowledgement and personal wellbeing – Stuff

Lindah Lepou is a native Wellingtonian who was raised in Samoa. She returned to Wellington in 1992 to study fashion design at Bowerman School of Design. She is a fa’afafine, multidimensional artist with interdisciplinary and collaborative practice in photography, film, and performance. This year she became an Arts Foundation laureate.
How did you first become interested in fashion?
I come from a long line of fashion-forward women. I always loved how they mixed home-sewn clothing and vintage pieces from the local op shop to stand out from the rest. Before I came out of my closet I would also sneak into some of their closets to try on dresses and heels before they came home, or put my mother’s makeup on while she was asleep.
What is your favourite thing about designing?
I love the creative process where you have to figure out the best and most efficient way to pull a design idea out of your mind, then onto pattern making paper, using the right fabric and materials for it, putting them together, and then making it appear in front of you as accurately as possible.
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What does being recognised with the Arts Foundation laureate mean to you?
Being recognised with a laureate award by a prestigious institution like the Arts Foundation, for my individual contribution to art as a queer artist, is a wonderful feeling of being seen and acknowledged by my peers and community. This award also acknowledges all the many talented queer, LGBTQIA+ and/or fa’afafine artists who have continuously inspired mainstream artists and industries, but who are often pushed aside and forgotten. I am celebrating them too.
Who is someone who’s most inspired you, and why?
My grandmother Siapo has been a dominant inspiration in my life for a multitude of reasons. She was the rock for me growing up as a young fa’afafine, and she instinctively taught me how to survive on my own. She prepared me to use my talents to build an independent life, making the most out of what I have. She saw me and did everything she knew how to protect me before I left the nest.
What is something happening in the fashion industry that’s exciting to you?
I am excited for Māori designers who have an incredible support system in place to thrive. I think they are a great example for other indigenous designers around the world on how to invest in our own and not rely on, or wait for a Pākehā system to give us permission or access to thrive. The digital space has created new freedom to access and distribute to a global market of customers without being restricted to a local market any more.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been going through a personal transformation these past five years, having experienced multiple deaths – both of loved ones and toxic relationships. Personal wellbeing is my first priority moving forward, including professionally speaking. Watch this space.
Why should people pay attention to what’s happening in the fashion world?
Fashion is not the same any more because the consumer is not the same any more. People need to pay more attention to their own personal wellbeing, and take from fashion anything and everything that enhances that.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to keep trusting her own instincts.
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