Emerging label Lumai celebrates Papua New Guinean women

Lookbook image from Lumai’s debut collection. Image by Julia Mage’au Gray.

Designer Andrew (Dru) Douglas founded his contemporary womenwear label Lumai late last year and his debut capsule collection reflects his Papua New Guinean heritage with modern Western influences. Dru grew up in PNG before being selected for a scholarship to study IT at Otago Polytechnic which he completed in 2005, he later studied fashion design at AUT, completing his degree at the end of 2014. He sees his new label as a chance to create something special that is ethical, has cross-cultural appeal and allows him to give back to his community.

We caught up with Dru to find out more about his brand, what inspires him and where he sees Lumai heading.

How did you first get involved in fashion?
Ever since I was a child I’ve always had an interest in fashion but growing up I was encouraged to focus more on academia. Fashion never really was career option for me until I moved to New Zealand. I started writing for the blog mac+mae and did the NZFW coverage for them which really helped me gain some clarity on where I wanted my career to go.

What was the best thing about studying fashion design and how have you applied the knowledge to what you’re doing now?
I think just learning the whole process from concept right through to the finished garment. Having that knowledge has really helped me launch my label.

Where did the idea for your label come from?
I wanted the label to be for and about the women of Papua New Guinea so it made sense to name it after my mother’s indigenous name, Lumai. Growing up in Papua New Guinea I’ve always been surrounded by amazing women and thought there’s been a real lack of representation of women of colour in mainstream media, so I wanted to change that. Also mainstream media only seem to showcase stories about Papua New Guinea when there is something negative to say and I wanted to show there’s more to it than what was being reported.

What has the response been like so far?
It’s been really good. In Sydney last year in October, I was fortunate enough to show the first capsule collection at Pacific Runway, which is Australia’s leading Pacific Fashion Show for Maori and Pacific designers. The feedback was great and there were some amazing reviews written about the collection in various publications around the Pacific Islands.

Can you tell us more about your goal to give back to the women of Papua New Guinea with your label?
Representation is important with Lumai, so apart from featuring women of colour in campaigns and lookbooks that they could identify with, they should be part of the process. I’ve reached out to women’s artisanal collectives and I’m currently collaborating with them to create woven bags. The aim is to showcase their work, skill and stories behind the different pieces that we make together.

Lookbook images from Lumai’s debut collection.

What are your favourite pieces from your first collection and why?
Every piece means something to me, but if I had to choose it would be any of the pieces with the crossover body ties over the shoulder. The inspiration behind that was taken from the women in my mum’s village in Papua New Guinea who’d go to the beach and use their laplaps (sarong) to tie around the neck in a similar fashion. I love the ease behind it and wanted to incorporate that aesthetic into Lumai.

How would you describe your personal style and how it influences your products and brand?
I love anything that feels comfortable and allows my skin to breathe, so usually wear a lot of natural fabrics like cotton, linen and wool. I do enjoy wearing a slightly more relaxed silhouette. I also make some of my own clothes when I have the time. At uni we were always taught not to design for ourselves but for a customer. So it’s always important to empathise with those that identify with the brand, as such I’m not sure if my personal style does influence Lumai. Perhaps it does with the ease and comfort factors.

What’s the best thing about running your own label and deciding the creative direction of your brand?
It’s liberating and scary at the same time. At uni there’s always a brief to follow but having your own label, there’s so much freedom and it can be overwhelming. I always love learning and evolving so it’s exciting (and scary) to create a label from scratch and work on every little aspect of it, from concept, to end product then to marketing, web design, social media and selling. I definitely do enjoy the pressure and getting outside of my comfort zone and I am happy I get to do it while celebrating a part of my cultural heritage.

What inspires you?
For Lumai, inspiration comes from Papua New Guinea, its people and sense of community and generosity, music, culture, tradition and definitely the colonial history. Most of the works I admire and love are from Pacific Islands and indigenous artists who tackle decolonization in their work so I like to try and embrace that through Lumai.

What are your plans for your label at the moment and where do you see it going?
I’m hoping to release the woven bags this year and include some accessories which I will be working on with artisanal groups in PNG. Also Lumai’s second capsule collection is coming out later in the year. Part of the goal is to show Papua New Guinea in a different light to what everyone sees in mainstream media and to also emphasise PNG within Pacific Island dialogue, which is usually centred around Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga etc), so hopefully that will continue.

Lookbook images from Lumai’s debut collection.

Images supplied.

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