Fashion Week: Hoerder begins fashion doctorate

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Hupfeld Hoerder is heading to the Western Sydney University to study “Fashioning Fiji” for a PhD. Picture: SUPPLIED/ASVIN SINGH

The value of academic research is unrivalled but the link between academic and lifestyle sectors like fashion, is not always easily made.

Though glamourous and seemingly far removed from academia, the Fiji fashion industry has needed the backing that research can make into charting a more structured way forward for those who work in the sector.

Fiji Fashion Week managing director Ellen Whippy-Knight has — since taking over the 14-year-old event in 2009 — made several requests to local academics to conduct research into the industry and that effort is finally paying off with doctorate studies now underway.

The researcher is none other than Hupfeld Hoerder, arguably the most successful fashion designer in Fiji whose work spans several decades.

Recognised across the Pacific for his distinctive prints and patterns, many do not know that Hoerder is an academic and faculty member at the University of the South Pacific.

Currently serving out his final weeks as an assistant lecturer with the USP’s Tourism and Hospitality Management School, Hoerder will have completed a decade with USP since joining in 2011 after completing his Masters of Business in International Tourism and Hospitality Management at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

Prior to that, he worked for the Fiji National University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality working with the university’s industrial attachment unit as its co-ordinator.

“People ask me why the hotel industry and I guess it’s because at a very young age I had always wanted to work in tourism. I realise that it is because tourism is multi-disciplinary and yet it deals a lot with creativity.

“There are events and many things where my creativity was put to use but I didn’t stay because my heart was not in hotel management,” Hoerder said.

So while he worked by day as a lecturer in tourism, at night he continued to design fashion wear and showing at every Fiji Fashion Week since it was established and every Pacific-themed fashion event in the region and across the world.

Earlier this year, a chance encounter with another Fijian academic based in Hawaii opened up the opportunity for Hoerder to combine his day job with his side business in a way that will finally give the Fiji fashion industry a step into research that industry stakeholders hope will drive development forward.

“When I saw this research project, I applied for it because I looked at it and it was everything. Absolutely everything that was in my heart and that I have been very passionate about. I knew in my heart and soul that I had to be part of this research project.”

 

The project, “Fashioning Fiji: Investigating Creative Industries in a Developing Context” at the Western Sydney University in Australia gives Hoerder the opportunity to get a PhD and to be supervised by Professor Heather Horst — the university’s director of the Institute for Culture and Society.

Hoerder’s doctorate studies will examine the development and growth of the Fijian fashion industry across Suva, Sydney, Auckland and other global sites such as London, all places he has shown his work at.

Model Adi Lewa Ta’ahinelelei showcases London is calling you by Hupfeld Evers Hoerder. Picture: SUPPLIED/Aidan CK Photography

What is most exciting is the study specifically studies industry growth through the lenses of the use of technology in design, production and also in the marketing of Fiji designerwear.

“The funny thing was that when I prayed about it, and clicked onto the link (to the project), the photos they had were actually my line, they were my clothing line for Fiji Fashion Week 2018. That was the ironic thing about it.”

Though it looked within reach from the beginning, studying in Australia is expensive and there was no scholarship initially so Hoerder worked with FJFW as well as Australian and Pacific stakeholders to put his application together which eventually led to a full ride scholarship given by the university.

“I turned 50 this year so this is my birthday celebration and Christmas present to myself. I was so very happy,
you know because in the midst of COVID when all was locked down, I got this wonderful news that I put my heart
and soul into it. And I’m really looking forward to it.”

The lockdown though has kept Hoerder in Fiji at the start of his PhD research and he hopes to join Professor
Horst in the new year.

“What drives me and what really caught my eye was this is something that could benefit a lot of our Pacific
Island designers and even in Fiji.

“There are so many different parts to this industry that we could study to understand how the market could improve.
We don’t have a study of how designers are making things work, how important is social media and how designers can use that to elevate their work but also to promote their brand and create sales and revenue. So that will be really interesting,” Hoerder said.

“I would like to further research on the impact of technology. What percentage has that on your sales and how
can you improve on it. I want to be able to share that with my fellow designers.

“Another interesting research area is the huge potential in the market and its sustainability. There were many
lessons learnt from how we adjusted to this pandemic and at the same time we could learn how to improve domestic
sales and examine how to support tourism but also benefit from it.”

While Hoerder is already in PhD candidate mode, the Hupfeld Hoerde label remains his top priority and he
plans to return to FJFW 2022 when the event celebrates its 15-year even though his production process now
spreads between Lami and Sydney.

“I plan to come back home for Fiji Fashion Week 2022 and so I’m just crossing my fingers. I’m very grateful
for what has happened and there are challenges but soon I should be able to get up and go.”

While the program will keep Hoerder out of Fiji for three to four years, he is excited at the prospect of working
with relatives, friends and FJFW’s Ellen Whippy-Knight to conduct some shows in Sydney as part of the research.

“The number one priority is I’d like to keep my business running, because I have people working for me and they
are my priority so while I’m focused 100 per cent with my studies, I am outsourcing a lot of work so I can still be
producing whilst in Australia.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy, but my mum also will be assisting me and I have key people who will
be checking in for me and it’s really important to have very good people on the ground here.

“Always be true to yourself, respect other artists’ work and contribution to fashion. Honesty and integrity is also very important because you can only run a successful business if you are honest to your clients and your employees.

“Transparency and accountability is also important because you are able to clearly identify the financial position
of your business and you must take ownership of your mistakes and learn from it.”

Hupfeld will showcase his latest collection “C’est la vie!” at FJFW21 Virtual Show on Friday, November 26 on
Fiji Television alongside Tracey Farrington and Epeli Tuibeqa.

 

  • Lice Movono is a freelance journalist and communications consultant.
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