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My Life in Clothes — Takutai Tarsh Kemp

For the Manurewa Marae chief executive, hip-hop ONZM and Te Pati Māori MP — dressing is a superpower. With thanks to Showroom 22.

My Life in Clothes — Takutai Tarsh Kemp

Nov 3, 2023 Fashion


So this is a one-off piece by Nichola, she’s a Māori designer, and we won her at auction. Fierce bidding for her! We were lucky — she’s beautiful, she keeps us warm. She gives you shape. Even though this cape looks big and heavy, actually when it’s done up it gives you shape. The idea was that we’d wear her to Parliament for my maiden speech, but I just couldn’t wait. She was just sitting there looking at me every day and I was like, ‘You shouldn’t just be hanging up on the shelf.’ So we wore her to the Whakaata Māori Matariki Awards. Stole the show! And then I wore the cape again at the Te Pae Herenga o Tāmaki Awards. Now we’ll wait for the maiden speech. Like we say, we’re coming to take the seat, Peeni — you can’t just sit and hope you get it back! Because here in Tāmaki Makaurau, our whānau, our community, they’re asking for change. And we acknowledge him for all the work he’s done until now, but it’s time for a new direction. 


I love linen. I love the feel and the flow of linen, how it just drops. You can still look glamorous but with ease. And I like that it’s long, because when you’re going to marae, and you’re going to different hui, you don’t always want to show legs and expose yourself in that way. And it makes me feel more feminine. Clothing for me is about expressing your sexuality, your femininity, just being a beautiful woman, no matter the shape or size. Because I’m not tiny and I’m never going to be, so you gotta use what you got. And clothing helps do that. 



I’ve always been into bold prints and bold colours. Not many people would walk down the street in a bright lime suit and I wore that to Campbell Luke at New Zealand Fashion Week. During the day, when I’m at meetings, I’ll wear a suit. I wear lots of suits — bold colours. It’s my power space. My superpower is dressing. I grew up in the era where you didn’t speak unless you were spoken to so clothing is my outer expression or voice. When I wear suits, I don’t wear black — they’re all bright colours. The only time I wear black is if I have to go to a tangi and even then I try not to wear black.


My glasses are like my safety net. I struggle if I can’t find them. I feel insecure without them. I wanted a bold black pair. I’ve always worn round frames and I wanted something different. I like bold prints on glasses but they don’t suit me. 



I’ve only worn this once — at a hui we had here for Māori Rugby. It’s made by a whānau, a family business in Christchurch. They’re all recycled jackets and it’s that old-school screen printing. It’s not that vinyl you get nowadays. The mum was telling me about her daughter and this is her daughter’s work. She started off doing it as an art project. I got this at Te Matatini, they had a stall there.


I feel like a hat is my statement. I’m actually a shy person — no one would ever think that, but I am — and if I can hide myself under my hat, I’m quite happy to. This [green] one, I just liked the colour. What you do is you recycle hats — go to the op shop and find hats and then you take the band off and change them out into different colours, different hats. 

When I get my photo taken and I don’t have a hat on, I often get asked, “Where’s your hat?” I love that hats have become a statement for Māori. There’s a resurgence of hats. There’s a resurgence in our culture around the Māori Battalion — when they went to war, they wore hats very similar in colour and style, so it’s bringing back that acknowledgement to our tūpuna, who serve our people. The hat that Rawiri [Waititi] wears in Pāremata, that’s associated with the Māori Battalion. 

My great-grandfather used to wear a hat. He was 98 when he died but he always wore a hat and a suit, he always looked smart and tidy. There was this thing — you wore your church clothes every day, you should always look immaculate. Presentation is everything. I grew up in that era around my grandparents, who always dressed like that. My mum’s family, they always dressed well. My grandmother and her sisters, they always looked immaculate everywhere they went. It showed people you took pride in yourself and your whānau. People look at us, people see us. We must always look at our best. No hoodies! If we don’t take pride in ourselves, how can we encourage our people, the next generation, to take pride in themselves? We’ve got to encourage our people to believe in themselves. No one else is going to believe in you. You’ve got to believe in yourself, then you can help others believe in themselves. Believe in ourselves to believe in our people, to help our people.

This story was published in Metro N°440.
Available here.


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Metro N°442 is Out Now.

In the Autumn 2024 issue of Metro we celebrate the best of Tāmaki Makaurau — 100 great things about life in Auckland, including our favourite florist, furniture store, cocktail, basketball court, tree, make-out spot, influencer, and psychic. The issue also includes the Metro Wine Awards, the battle over music technology company Serato, the end of The Pantograph Punch, the Billy Apple archives, a visit to Armenia, viral indie musician Lontalius, the state of fine dining, and the time we bombed West Auckland to kill a moth. Plus restaurants, movies, politics, astrology, and more.

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