Papua New Guinea’s fashion queen: design and hard work

Welcome,

Hard work is paying off for Yaku Ninich, one of Papua New Guinea’s top fashion designers.

PNGFI

The fashion label PNG Fashion International is sold globally. Credit: Oliver Percovich

US fashion designer Vera Wang once famously said: ‘I want people to see the dress but focus
on the woman.’ Well, focusing on this particular woman is not hard to do when she is attired in her
colourful and stunning designs.

Yaku Ninich is a Papua New Guinean fashion designer best known for her label, PNG Fashion International (PNGFI). Her designs appear on everything from clothes and bags to comforters and bedding sets.

Now based in North Carolina in the US, Ninich has risen to her career heights through sheer hard work and resilience. ‘I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit in me,’ she says. ‘I see rainbows in one small idea – that is how my brain works.

‘I never saw being a dropout in grade 10 as a failure or a burden to restrict me from being great or being the best in what I want to do.’

Ninich juggles a full-time job at Toshiba-America and runs PNGFI in the evenings and weekends.
As if that’s not enough, the entrepreneur and mother of three is doing part-time studies towards an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To say her designs are bold is an understatement. Influenced by her PNG roots, they feature Papua New Guinean flora such as hibiscus, frangipani, and the bird of paradise.

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An ode to her Oro heritage (she is from both Morobe and Oro provinces), many of her designs
are also influenced by the traditional tapa design.

‘I see lots of imitations in the PNG marketplace but as designers we have to continue to innovate our ideas and continue to come up with new designs and styles to be ahead of our competition.’

‘I started drawing tapa designs and bird of paradise to bring me closer to home,’ she says. ‘I did some research on print-on demand companies and I did some blanket and scarf designs for my personal use.’

Inspiration & hard work

Yaku Ninich

Ninich was inspired to design her own apparel while employed by the US department store Macy’s, where she worked as a sales associate and later as a sales manager. She says working at
the store gave her the ideas and confidence to design handbags, clothing, and accessories.

She started making things for herself, but then started selling them in 2015. Ninich regularly commutes from the US to PNG. She says PNG customers make up 60 per cent of her business.

‘Right now, I concentrate on selling my products through Glow Boutique in Port Moresby and Kenny Collection in Lae. I see lots of imitations in the PNG marketplace but as designers we have to continue to innovate our ideas and continue to come up with new designs and styles to be ahead of our competition.’

‘PNG does not have a fashion industry yet. Just because we have a few fashion shows every year, does not make it an industry.’

Ninich believes that while PNG does not currently have a fully functioning fashion industry, there
is nowhere else to go but up.

‘PNG does not have a fashion industry yet. Just because we have a few fashion shows every year, does not make it an industry,’ she says.

‘What happens after the fashion show? Do designers continue to grow their brand? How do they do that? Are they able to continue selling their designer clothes? Are they able to fulfil customers’
orders?

‘PNG does not have full-function manufacturing, distribution, marketing, retailing and
advertising arms for the fashion industry,’ she says.

‘I applaud designers who continue to showcase their own work and host their own shows – that is brand exposure. It is expensive but you have to spend money to make money.’

PNG designers and artists should be ready to make clothes and accessories to meet their customers’ expectations and demand.

‘On the other side of the coin, retailers like Jack’s, Papindo and RH should have their buyers scouting what is new out there and should be ready to invest in buying clothes and accessories from PNG designers and artists. These retailers have the industry power to buy PNG made first to
support local creativity.’

These days Ninich is as busy as ever. She is rebranding, expanding her wholesale business, selling
online on PNGFI’s social media platforms and dressing Miss Pacific Islands Pageant 2022 contestant, Alibi Writer Collin.

Ninich believes in setbacks being setups and there being no substitute to hard-work. ‘My setback can one day be a setup for something greater because I allowed God to take the lead. I am always proud to tell my story of how this village girl went from being a high school dropout to working for one of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US,’ she says.

Comments

  1. Jamelyse Michelle Agi says

    Oh the lovely Yaku ! My neighbour here at Malolo estate. too good Queen!

  2. Tina Jimbo says

    What an inspirational story,
    Thanks PNGFI

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