A Maori designer's use of an image of high-profile Maori activist Tame Iti looking like Osama bin Laden on T-shirts has drawn mixed reactions.
Hohepa Thompson's collection was a runner-up in the T-shirt placement category of the 2012 Miromoda Maori Fashion Design Competition, which invites finalists to showcase their work at New Zealand Fashion Week (NZFW).
Thompson said he drew inspiration from his personal struggle to find his Maori roots, his judgment clouded by negative stereotypes and media portrayal.
But not everyone was cheering Thompson on. Although several sales on the night proved some were keen to wear his designs, the controversial collection has drawn a mixed reaction.
A post of the collection on Maori Television news programme Te Kaea's Facebook page received scores of comments, many outraged.
But Miromoda co-founder Ata Te Kanawa points out the Facebook post, which simply asked, "Art or insult? You decide", lacked any context about the competition or the design.
A comment by one person said a T-shirt using the artist Charles Goldie's image of his tupuna, Patara Te Tuhi (great-great-grand-uncle), made his "stomach turn".
Thompson has since added a comment on Te Kaea's post, explaining his design, leading to some positive comments.
The Victoria University student likens his work to the nation's haka by daring to be different, even when it may not seem politically correct.
A T-shirt with a Goldie image includes the phrase "Wai tangi, be happy?" . "Wai" and "tangi", which means to cry, play on both the Treaty of Waitangi theme and the song Don't Worry, Be Happy.
Miromoda's point of difference is the requirement for entrants to submit stories explaining their designs.
The judging panel, which includes NZFW founder Dame Pieter Stewart, picks winners based on commercial potential, editorial appeal and fashion aesthetics.
"We can't have too many limits when we are inviting entries that have a strong design element," Te Kanawa says.
The name Miromoda, a combination of the Maori word miro, which means the twining of fibre, and the Italian word moda, which means fashion, signifies the aim of the competition: to showcase the best Maori fashion and attract national and international interest.
Miromoda is so far succeeding in this goal, having been named best NZFW show in 2010 by the then Dominion Post fashion editor, Carolyn Enting.
It is included in a proposal for a Le Jardin Maori project in France next year, and has been invited to a Maori expo in Dubai later this year.
Native American blogger Dr Jessica Metcalfe has posted about the competition, saying, "Their model of creating a central indigenous fashion board to promote Maori fashion designers is an inspiring one, and one that we should look to construct here in the States".
The Wellingtonians behind swimwear label Surface too Deep, a high-end range, won the competition's established category.
Founded by Esther Miro in 2010, and later joined by Sarah-Jane Abraham, Surface Too Deep already has stockists in Australia and New Zealand, including Ruby, Good As Gold, Madame Fancy Pants and British online fashion shop ASOS. It also has an online store: surfacetoodeep.com.
The pair, both of whom studied textiles, say their designs are inspired by the feminine aesthetic of vintage swimwear and contemporary prints.
"Designers often say inspiration is everywhere, but for us it really is. A quilt, an old book, a scarf and the lining of a drawer have given us inspiration. We find patterns in everything. We combine this love of textiles with flattering feminine shapes to create a product with a timeless beauty."
Monique Lynch, of Auckland, was overall winner, and emerging category winner for her sportswear collection in foam-backed fabric.
Dmonic Intent, of Auckland, was first in the avant-garde category, and Koia Gray, of Wellington, won the T-shirt placement category.