GEARING Fiji's young fashion industry up to the international designer label standards is indeed an unenviable challenge that Brook Pannell faces.
Brook, who hails from New Zealand — and of course a Crusaders fan to the core — considers this an important statement to focus on and never lose sight of.
He is the marketing officer for Fiji Fashion Week, a local company that is organising local fashion designers to evolve into marketable entities.
His involvement comes from a background of marketing and a love for the clothing industry.
As anyone involved in marketing, the nous for enticing customers through their impulses makes marketing an area similar to that of a neurologist or the intangible as Brook loves to put it.
"I have always been interested in clothing and begun working in menswear stores while at university. I love that clothing is a combination of the tangible — the look, feel and performance of a garment, and the intangible — the way a consumer feels when wearing it and the perception they have of the designer or brand," Brook says.
And one of Brook's heroes is American fashion designer Ralph Lauren, a rags to riches American dream that stretches from the Bronx in New York to the US Army before landing his first ever fashion design shop — designing and selling neckties.
Brook studied advertising at Auckland University of Technology and then followed up with an Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of South Australia.
"Marketing can be very creative and rewarding especially if you are promoting something you are passionate about," he says.
For some involved in this field, it means a person who is on the go constantly as a single day in their schedule could be meeting sponsors to directing photo shoots, talking with graphic designers and printers, right through to the nitty-gritty of organising or attending events.
So with his background and love for the clothing industry, Brook got involved with Fiji Fashion Week after he moved to Fiji with his wife some years ago.
"I attended a Fashion Education conference that Ellen Whippy-Knight and her team had put on to get stakeholders talking about formal fashion design education here in Fiji. I talked to Ellen and we both agreed that I might be able to contribute," he says.
And already he has been part of the Fashion Week's most recently successful shows which has attracted a lot of designers and media as well as businesses that are interested in selling the creations some of the local fashion designers have produced.
"There is plenty of design talent here in Fiji and there is some real entrepreneurial talent. It is really impressive, but it is a competitive industry internationally so we need to be operating at a high standard," Brook says.
In an effort spearheaded by Fiji Fashion Week and of which Brook is now a part of, fashion design is now part of the education curriculum which is done so with the aim of trying to ensure fashion designers in Fiji are educated with the finer skills of designing, cutting and modelling that makes up a fashion house.
"FJFW has also gathered together a group of interested stakeholders to form the Fashion Council of Fiji. The aim of this body is to foster the local fashion industry.
"It is also really promising to see that the Ministry of Education has introduced Fashion Design into the Home Economics curriculum."
Brook thinks this is a major step because it lends more credibility and also ensures manufacturers as well as potential business partners that Fiji's local fashion designers are well prepared.
"Like many small businesses, cash flow is probably the biggest hurdle. It isn't easy for local designers to raise the funds to make enough garments to sell consistently.
"If they had access to formal fashion design education they could contribute to the established garment factories in Fiji while they build their own businesses."
He says Rob Cromb of Kookai should probably be the biggest inspiration for Fiji designers as this Fiji-born designer has over 30 shops and his highly fashionable garments, which are made in Fiji, sell for up to $1000 each.
"With a laptop and a Facebook page, designers can promote their work to the world and create a very successful business. However it requires both creative and business skills. Some designers have targeted very clever niches, such as plus-size women's wear and focused on the wider Fiji diaspora."
Brook says the Fiji Fashion Week can be a very good platform on which a local designer can build from and turn their talents into a livelihood.
"Believe it or not, for a very small investment, a designer in this year's show can be seen by over 300 million households through Fashion One, the international Fashion TV station which will be attending.
"The key is to capitalise on this marketing platform. This means being ready to put in the effort to sell their ranges once FJFW is over and build from there." And Brook is hoping to definitely leave a very tangible mark in Fiji fashion if he ever leaves.
"Well, before I leave I want to have sold out shows! Hopefully you all buy tickets and then I have done my job!
"When I leave, I would hope that I have contributed in some way to what Ellen Whippy-Knight has worked so hard for.
"I hope that FJFW continues to grow, I also hope that we see more and more success stories of local designers who have built themselves strong export businesses," Brook says.