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Samoan designer on how his love for fashion saved his life

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Samoan fashion designer TK Taito with his wife Emily and their 6-year-old son Afaese Taito.

A return to his first love of fashion has helped a Samoan man mentally recover and also find a new passion for life, after a close call with death.

Designer Taukoko “TK” Taito’s interest in fashion was sparked from a young age thanks to his mother, who was a seamstress.

“I started sewing at a young age because my mum would ask me to help her,” he said.

“I’m [a] mum’s boy. Wherever she goes, I go. My mum was like my best friend.”

Inspired by aiga – family

A few years ago, his life took a sudden turn when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. He underwent a triple bypass surgery that resulted in a rethink of his life – deciding soon afterwards to pursue his passion for fashion full-time.

At the time, his wife was pregnant with their son, Afaese, who is now 6 years old.

“My son was in his mum’s tummy while it was all happening and he was born shortly after. “My wife and son would come to the hospital every day to be by my side and that’s why family is so important to me.

“God saw my heart and where I was at at the time. I got back into fashion because I didn’t want to just stay home, do nothing and just dwell on my illness,” he said.

Samoan fashion designer TK Taito with his wife Emily and their 6-year-old son Afaese Taito.
Samoan fashion designer TK Taito with his wife Emily and their 6-year-old son Afaese Taito.

“I took out the sewing machine, started sewing and then from there, one person will ask: ‘Are you available’? And from there it was like Chinese whispers.”

Shortly after pursuing fashion full-time, Taito’s skills quickly developed and he began designing bridal gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses and school ball gowns.

Up to seven of Taito’s ball gowns have won best-dressed awards at different high schools around New Zealand.

“It made me feel like: ‘Okay, I’m doing something right’. I talk to my clients [who] come in just to break the ice.

“We talk about a dress’ function, whether they’re going to be dancing or doing backflips…because the last thing we need is a malfunction.”

Taito said his biggest highlight was getting to design and make his wife’s wedding dress.

Expo and fashion show at Māngere Arts Centre

“Behind a good man is a good wife and without her support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”

Most recently, he has started his own business – TKT Bridal and Couture – with the help of an initiative called The Generator programme.

It aims to strengthen financial situations for individuals by helping to kickstart their business ventures through funding and mentorship. Up to 36 per cent of participants are of Pasifika descent.

The Generator is holding a free expo and fashion show today and tomorrow at the Māngere Arts Centre, in South Auckland. Taito will be showing off some of his designs.

“I’m nervous. But at the same time, it’s like when you get that opportunity, you grab it and you go for it, because tomorrow is never promised.”

‘Alakihihifo Vailala is one of 12 cadets in the Te Rito journalism programme, which has a focus on training more culturally diverse reporters to ensure newsrooms reflect Aotearoa’s multicultural society. ‘Ala is a proud Tongan and has a keen interest in writing stories about her community.

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