The Spotlight- Tina Waru

The Spotlight


Meet Tina Waru:      

The powerhouse behind the Global Indigenous Management

A strong woman is confident, straightforward and never gives up while a woman of strength has passion, humility and courage from life’s battles. Tina Waru is the perfect example of both, As soon as she walks in a room, you feel her positive presence and it is empowering!

Tina pioneered the world’s first Global Indigenous Management (GIM) that promotes international Indigenous models, designers, talent and provides customized high end Indigenous fashion events. In 2015 Tina received the Australian of the Day Award and nominated for the 2017 Pride of Australia medal.

Photography: Mark Harris
Models: Pipar Awahou, James Steven, Brooke Mcgrady, Jarron Andy, Darrian Lizotte
Designer: Amber Bridgman, David Roil, George Clarkin, Jeanine Clarkin, Albertini, Farrah Sugar

She is the first Indigenous person in the Commonwealth to change the face of Australian Fashion Industry after creating the Global Indigenous Runway platform in 2012 showcasing Aboriginal, Maori, Native American, Africa, Pacific and First Nations designers, which has for the past four years featured in two Australia’s top fashion festivals: Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) and Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Tina is also currently sitting on the Board of Directors for the World Indigenous Week in Seychelles.

But it was not all sunshine and rainbows for Tina, her story is truly inspiring and because of her, the Indigenous fashion industry will never be the same again. 

The interview: Tina’s Journey

What was life before the Indigenous Runway Project?

I had my first child at 16, grew up in South Auckland New Zealand and by the age of 23 I was the mother of three children. With no education and no career aspirations, it wasn’t until my grandfather’s passing that I was taken on a new journey. This ignited a flame in me to not only educate myself but to work helping our Indigenous young people. 

I initially trained as a makeup artist and was inspired by my family who had established the first Maori fashion show in the late 70’s. My mother was a creative from designer of clothing, shoes, knit wear to jewellery and crafts.  My father was a passionate and motivated man who became the Senior Cultural Consultant in the Health industry. Both parents maintained their strong cultural heritage and became educators in Maori language and cultural practices.  As my children grew up and were all at school I became curious about education and enrolled in a bridging program at the University of Auckland NZ. Having no education and leaving school at the age of 15 made things difficult, as I couldn’t spell and struggled with writing.  I failed the bridging course a number of times and on my third attempt I just reached the minimum pass grade.  My perseverance did not come so easy and it was thanks to my fellow classmates who ridiculed me for not being able to read and write, that gave me the determination to keep going until I passed. Unlike my classmates I went on to receive postgraduate qualifications in Psychology at the University of Auckland and spent over 10 years working in the mental health field in Acute Care and Early Psychosis. I was determined as a single mother to show my children that there was more to life then relying on the benefit and wanted to make my parents and late grandfather proud.

I later developed a yearning to learn about other Indigenous peoples and pleaded with my family and tribe to support me in moving overseas to work with Aboriginal people; as there were very few qualified Indigenous specialists in any given field it was hard for our people to let go those who could contribute to their community. I have spent the past 10 years in Australia working in the health and education sector developing initiatives for Aboriginal communities.


Passion – where does it come from?

My passion comes from my grandfather and my parents, they continued to instil in their children the value of education and how that alone can empower our next generation.  Another person that ignited my passion was my best friend who was an Anthropologist from Norway.  This Viking lived and breathed Indigenous culture and when ever we were together our minds became one imaging the great things we would do for Indigenous people.  Less than two years ago, both my parents and best friend left this world and although difficult they are my inspiration to continue doing what I do.


What advice would you give to Indigenous young people about overcoming any obstacles and setbacks they may experience during their journey through the fashion industry

Dream big and go for it, there are always setbacks in life that’s a given, its just having the strength, determination and perseverance to keep going.  Take the negative set backs as a positive because they are what define you and they are lessons, so always be willing to learn. Most of the time the fashion industry just wants the best person for the job and its up to you to prove that you are that person, so never give up no matter how many times you get knocked back.

One thing that will set you apart from many is your strength, commitment, determination, and humility as a representative for your people.   


Photo credit from left to right
Photography: Mark Harris
Model:   Jarron Andy
Designer: David Roil
Photography: Mark Harris
Model:   Ashleigh Peachey
Designer: Lisa Waup & Ingrid Verner
Photography: Mark Harris
Model:   James Steven
Designer: George Clarkin
Photography: Mark Harris
Model:   Pipar Awahou
Designer: Amber Briidgman


What is one thing that you cannot say no to?

We have had thousands of young Indigenous people apply for our program and its so very hard to do selections but one thing that gets me every time are the young people that share their stories and dreams with you and those that refuse to take no for an answer. 

What are your goals in the next 5 years?

  • To have the program accessible to all Indigenous communities and organisations around the world.

  • To have made a bigger impact in the fashion industry in terms of Indigenous Fashion and Indigenous Models.

  • To become more sustainable and achieve significant growth in corporate partnerships.

If a young girl comes up to you and tells you she wants to be just like you when she grows up, what is your response?

Again dream big and go for it! I never imagined that anyone would want to be like me and the closest resemblance to me is my twin sister.  However if that happened I would embrace the person and cherish the moment.  Why? Because I know then; that my job was done well and that my mentors such as my Grandfather, Father and Mother would be proud and know that their teachings did not go to waste. But most importantly I would say to that young person to never stop dreaming and never give up on anything and to remind himself or herself that they control their own destiny.

Follow Tina on the following accounts:




     Photographer: James Henry            

See you out there,