Me. by bendon is all about empowering women to empower themselves. That’s why we have chosen five inspiring women to be at the forefront of our latest collection. They're from all different walks of life, play many different roles every day, strive for an empowered sense of self, and all share the love of expressing individuality through fashion.
I am a huge advocate for Māori and Pacific success, whether that be in health, education or any other sector. I have spent time tutoring and mentoring Māori and Pacifica students in their competitive pre-clinical years at the University of Auckland, in the hopes that I can play a part in their entry into programmes that will eventuate into careers where their unique input is needed (Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Optometry). On top of my busy student life, I am lucky enough to have fashion as an outlet through modelling. Looking back, I am so thankful that I could be a part of this industry and meet the amazing people that I have along the way. The one defining thing I learnt while modelling is that you should never let society convince you that you are inadequate, or to change who you are because you do not fit the niche you are led to think is more accepted. Fashion is dynamic, ever evolving, and you should never change yourself to cater to any person, brand, or even society. Make yourself the constant and let the industry and the people within it change to fit you. Be true to yourself and be strong in promoting your uniqueness, because fashion is not a one size-fits-all thing, there is a place for everyone.
I left home at a very early age and began work during my first years of high school. Initially I was a TV presenter, before being approached to model, which turned into a 15-year career and counting. After being offered a contract with international agency IMG Models, I started walking the Paris Haute Couture shows just two weeks later. Teen Vogue USA was my first job in Paris. To my agency's horror, I didn't realise the nice man I was posing with was actually a highly influential fashion figure, Jean-Paul Gaultier - the bunny ears I have on in this shoot are a little nod to his creative genius. In recent years, I've taken this career further, pursuing Art Directing and bits of acting that come my way - I've even started an online fashion magazine! In 2010, I became a mother to my first daughter, Hara. I like to call our house 'estrogen central'. Between my partner Louise, myself, our two tween-age daughters and the cat, we've definitely got the lady thing covered. Our little man Lenny (the cavoodle who also featured in this shoot), somehow got past security.
My father is from a village in Tonga. My mother is from Samoa. I am a second-generation New Zealander, born in Auckland and raised on the west side of Christchurch. I started modeling as a hobby at the beginning of this year and was lucky enough to be selected as the first ever me. by bendon open casting model! For my shoot, I brought a few things that means something special to me. In Tongan culture ngatu or tapa cloth is considered koloa, meaning treasure, one that is passed on from generation to generation. The gift of ngatu is one of the highest signs of respect because of the complexity in its craft; every piece unravels stories that are settled within the ink and woven into every fibre. You'll see some persimmons propped up on the top left, I love them, not because of the taste (let’s be honest, they’re not really tasty) but because of the memory I have attached to them. Persimmons remind me of my mother, who passed away when I was 12, and they were her favourite fruit.
Growing up in Dairy Flat (just north of Auckland city) somewhat contributed to my wildly rural personal style: riding pants, a thick flannel, and whatever I find at the West Auckland Salvation Army. It’s a fine balance of finding pieces for getting my mud-on in the bush and dressing up hard out - basically, I wish I’d been in The Runaways, but it’s too much effort to do daily. I love animals, and it just always felt odd that some of them were treated as family so much that they were allowed in my home and bought Christmas presents, then others were chopped up and served up for dinner, that didn’t seem right. I think we were kinda lied to as a generation by dairy giants and meat peddlers that we needed milk and steak to grow strong and other nonsense, my health has literally never been better eating plant-based so it just seems a no-brainer, that’s just me.And obviously climate change. River (the gorgeous bub) and Cisco (the gorgeous pup) are my two babies, the lights of my life. I could spend all day staring at them in front of the fireplace, which I do. Outside of family life, I have music and films to fuel my creativity.I’ve played in a bunch of bands and worked in a bunch of different film genres as an actor and director which I totally love because it’s like joining a new little tight knit circus every time. That vintage 1970s' Stingray guitar is actually my husband's;it had a few good homes before coming my way.
I grew up in Auckland’s North Shore with my mum Susan and my dad David. I was born with a rare condition called Lumbar Sacral Agenesis, which affects my lumbar and sacrum spine. This condition impacts my lower spine which caused complications with my legs and hips when I was born. Hence, I have always found it easier to use a wheelchair for mobility instead of walking. When I was young, I enjoyed swimming and decided to pursue it competitively; I was 13 years old when I represented New Zealand for the first, and I was 19 when I became a Paralympian at the London 2012 Games. After winning a bronze medal in swimming at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, I retired in 2019 to pursue my professional goals, including signing with model agency All is for All as a disabled model. It had always been a dream of mine, and I’ve always loved fashion. Grace, who runs the agency, has always been super supportive, and I would never have imagined it would lead to modelling opportunities like Fashion week and this me. by bendon campaign.
We hope you've enjoyed meeting the incredible women featured in this collection. This stylish campaign was shot by phenomenally successful and effortlessly cool photography duo Karen Inderbitzen-Waller and Delphine Avril Planqueel. We chatted to Karen about her career, fashion photography, and her insight into capturing the essence and individuality of the women they have photographed - with and without clothes on.