Golden opportunity: How budding designers would dress New Zealand’s Olympic stars

On the eve of a unique mid-pandemic Olympic Games, we asked four emerging fashion designers to share their sketchbooks and envisage their own Tokyo 2020 debut.

With Covid dictating the rules of engagement, the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will shed much of their usual character. There will be no spectators. Those who can attend, cannot cheer. But even masked, socially distant and silent, one Olympic tradition can still make some noise: what the athletes wear.

The opening ceremony plays an important role for the host country. For Japan, it’s a chance to send the world a message — one of resilience and recovery from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster; although complicated by the ongoing pandemic.

Participants from around the world are presented with an opportunity, as well, to put their best fashion foot forward (for better or for worse).

Australia’s Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony uniform was unveiled in May this year. MATT KING/GETTY IMAGES

Australia’s Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony uniform was unveiled in May this year. MATT KING/GETTY IMAGES

Many countries partner with some of their most iconic brands: the United States and Ralph Lauren, Italy and Giorgio Armani, France and Lacoste. Since 2009, the New Zealand Olympic Committee has partnered with the international sportswear brand PEAK to produce their official apparel, featuring collaborations with Kiwi designers over the years.

But fans, at home and abroad, have not always cheered the New Zealand team’s style. Their 2018 PyeongChang opening ceremony look earned the title “Least Imaginative Team Wear”, among others.

The New Zealand team, dressed in black, during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony. MATTHIAS HANGST/GETTY IMAGES

The New Zealand team, dressed in black, during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics opening ceremony. MATTHIAS HANGST/GETTY IMAGES

Yes, the colour black is iconic to New Zealand sport, but on the world stage, before hundreds of millions of viewers, this is a chance to really go big and make a statement.

We asked four up-and-coming fashion designers to share how they’d approach the challenge, if given the chance.

Fern: 123RF

Fern: 123rf


A recent graduate of Massey University and a finalist in the 2021 iD International Emerging Designer Awards, Jordyn Harris roots her design in the silver fern.

“I wanted to explore how the fern could be integrated into the outfit in a unique way,” Harris says, “with its asymmetry inspiring the wrap over [shirt] and curved elements of the look, while the overall shape was translated into cut-outs [in the fabric].”

In a step away from uniformity, however, Harris’s modular outfits can be taken apart and worn in a variety of ways. When the woollen blazer is worn without sleeves, for instance, patterns cut out from the side of the jacket form another fern with the silver shirt sleeve underneath.

“Each of the garments has a modular aspect, with the blazer able to become sleeveless, the shirt sleeves shortened for an asymmetrical styling, and the trousers worn open at the front,” Harris says.

The uniform can accommodate different preferences, occasions and seasons for each athlete — an on-brand approach for Harris, who says androgyny and modularity are at the core of her aesthetic.

“Looking around New Zealand, that’s not really a thing,” Harris says. “I was like, OK cool, maybe that’s something I can bring to [it].”


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Drawing of athletes wearing black and white bomber-style jacket with a red fern design, black trousers, and red and black shoes.
The colour black has a long history in NZ sport. NZ sports team uniforms over the years show athletes dressed in black.


Satellite images of Japan and New Zealand show similarities in landmasses.

Satellite imagery: GOOGLE EARTH

Close up of red fern design.
Drawing of athletes wearing black and white bomber-style jacket with a red fern design, black trousers, and red and black shoes.


Satellite imagery: GOOGLE EARTH


George Borrie, another finalist in this year’s iD competition, admits that he’s never designed athletic wear before. But he loves creating coats.

“I wanted to uplift the formal style I’ve created for myself but still keep that pre-existing image that we have of New Zealand as a sporting country — our identity in sportswear,” Borrie says. He also sought to integrate Japanese themes into his designs.

Borrie says he’s always viewed Japan and New Zealand as “sister countries”, especially when comparing their land masses as island nations, and wanted to convey this.

“The silver fern is transformed into a red fern, made from pleated chiffon exiting a seam in the tailored jacket. The jacket is a mix between a sporting bomber jacket and a tailored blazer — to create a formal, yet still athletic, appearance.”

After starting out as a photography student at the Southern Institute of Technology, Borrie “took a step sideways” into fashion and isn’t looking back. Reflecting on his experience with iD, he says being a finalist was the highlight of what he’s done so far.


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Male and female athletes wearing black uniforms. A cloak-style jacket displays a silver fern design. A belt features a kowhaiwhai pattern and the pants/skirt are decorated with koru.


Close up of cloak jacket and the 2016 Rio Olympic flag bearers wearing kakahu.


Full image of uniform designs next to photos of the 2012 London formal attire and the 1948 Olympic uniforms.


Full uniform design with t-shirt and belt close ups.





Zhixin (Carol) Shang’s 2020 student collection Disappearing Blue focused on the traditional Japanese tie-dyeing technique shibori, which reappears in her Olympic designs with a New Zealand twist.

Her outerwear cloak jacket, inspired by the kākahu (cloak) worn by the NZ delegation’s flag bearers, features a large silver fern pattern dyed using the maki-nui shibori technique, where a twisting stitch is used to create a small ‘rope’ of fabric that remains undyed.

“The inspiration for the white stripes on the garments is from [the London] 1948 and 2012 [Olympic Games],” says Shang, who is keen on weaving both culture and history into her designs. Both London games notably featured blazers with white piping in their opening/formal apparel.

Shang designed the kowhaiwhai pattern on the belt herself. The curves symbolise the ocean waves and acknowledge New Zealand’s relationship to the sea while the koru symbolises “new life, regeneration and strength”.

Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Ngāti Hauā

Raya Austin-Stewart prefers not to cut corners. Her design centres around kaitiakitanga (sustainability) and taonga — creating clothing to be treasured and worn, not just to collect dust once the games are over.

“My design is informed by kaupapa tuku iho, traditional Māori values that were handed down to us by our tūpuna,” says Austin-Stewart. “I wanted to specifically give expression to the kaupapa of kaitiakitanga, kotahitanga, manaakitanga and whakapapa.”

“In displaying kotahitanga (unity and partnership) I wanted to show our country’s unique relationship between tangata whenua and the Crown through the Tino Rangatiratanga flag on one arm and the Southern Cross from our national flag on the other.”

Manaakitanga inspired the uniform’s gender-neutral style, emphasising the inclusion of all athletes. Austin-Stewart also acknowledges the host country by incorporating sakura flowers. The pounamu toki (adze) design symbolises strength and determination.

“Whakapapa reinforces the connections between us and those who have come before. In that light I have chosen to adorn the athletes in piupiu, with the intention that these taonga will be kept as part of the Olympic opening ceremony kit to adorn our future Olympic athletes.”


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Two hundred and five countries will march in the Parade of Nations tomorrow night. They’ll bear their flags and national colours, showcasing their culture and paying homage to that of Japan. 

Watching from home, you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate good design. And, alongside millions of viewers around the world, we can all look forward to seeing our favourite Tongan Olympian again.

No matter what the New Zealand team wears, though, we’ll be cheering them on.

Words, production and design: Alex Lim
Editors: Kate Newton and Sam Wilson

Special thanks to Jordyn Harris, George Borrie, Zhixin (Carol) Shang and Raya Austin-Stewart

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