From a young age, Samoan designer Leu Tiatia Wasasala took to knitting, crocheting, embroidery, origami and arts and crafts like a duck to water. In fact, her creative bent was so strong that when she left school, she asked her aunty if she could work in her factory as a machinist.
“My parents and aunt simply stated “NO” because they didn’t pay for me to go to school so that I would end up slaving away at a job in a factory,” laughs Leu. “None of us knew what ‘a vision’ was about, and dreams were only for people with money. So office work is what I ended up doing.”
Leu zig-zagged her way to becoming a fashion designer. She worked part time in fashion retail and then in production doing computer work. At times, she denied her creative urges, telling herself fashion designing was for people with money, influential connections and a qualification.
“But then I’d come across a gorgeous piece of fabric, or see a beautiful flower, tree or garden,” says Leu. “Or I’d stand in church and see decorations and all of a sudden, ideas would rush through my mind of creating and designing. I realised the question wasn’t why I wanted to be a designer, it was really about me being who I was meant to be.”
Over the years Leu honed her skills by making one-off pieces for friends and family. She even enlisted the help of friends to meet large orders.
“There was one job where I had one week to produce a Fijian group uniform for 40 people,” recalls Leu. “I’m a one-woman band with friends who were keen to help. To cut a long story short – the last button was sewn onto a shirt in the final hour before performance and at the end of the week, the four ladies who helped me were able to sew, cut and trace patterns. These women hadn’t sewn since school or had never done any form of dressmaking at all.”
Leu says her style is arty, ethnic and strange. She’s known to gush over embellishments from Asia, the Middle East, South America and handicrafts from Russia. But she’s also interested in creating new fabric from raw materials in the Pacific.
Joining the Pacific Fusion Fashion Show as a designer is a dream come true for Leu who no longer suppresses her creativity.
“This journey of mine is more about what I can do for others, as well as me overcoming numerous fears of failure,” says Leu. “It’s also about leading the way for many other women who have hidden talents yet to be tapped into.”