It's one of the marquee events in Aotearoa - but it's not just designers able to make their mark at the World of WearableArt. As the 2024 call for entries opens, we break down how any creative can find the WOW factor.
It's got glitz, it's got glamour - and a worldwide reputation for excellence.
But don't for a second think that exclusive means that you're excluded.
The creative world stands, applauds and marvels at the wonders that take the stage at the World of WearableArt (WOW) Awards each year - with around 60,000 people flocking to Wellington to be left awestruck by the multitude of mind-blowing garments.
And it's open for anyone - from dedicated designers to sustainability specialists and beyond.
With the confetti barely settled after this year's stellar show, the 2024 WOW call for entries is an opportunity for Aotearoa creatives to think big and push their boundaries - not to mention the chance to share in a prize pool of over $185,000.
The ability to innovate and use that Kiwi number-eight wire mentality (perhaps even literally!) has already opened doors for those who never usually expect to see their mahi or their materials under the big-stage spotlight.
This year's Aotearoa section was won by a welder - Greymouth's Craig McMillian creating Child-Hood paying homage to that iconic insect, the wētā. Among the other local finalists were glass-makers, commercial cleaners, engineers, stay-at-home mums, dental technicians and artists.
Professional gardener Christopher Davis is a regular WOW finalist - his 2023 entry, Equilibrium, was made from beeswax and palm husk fibres.
It's a great opportunity to break the shackles of commercial restraint - Head of Competition, Sarah Nathan points out you're only limited by your imagination.
“WOW finalists come from all corners of the globe and a broad spectrum of creative and technical disciplines. Our designer community is made up of fashion, textile and industrial designers, jewellers, costumers, architects, engineers, sculptors, painters, crafters, gardeners, doctors, and even boat builders!
"All you need is a strong creative concept and a commitment to robust, quality execution.”
It's an open slate for visual mastery, quirky concepts and unique story-telling - as well as the chance to put what matters to you on centre stage.
Every year, the inspirations and themes behind the garments reach an international audience. Whether it's climate change, mental health or whatever is near and dear to the creative's heart - the message is often inspiring.
This year's finalist entry Hope saw Auckland designer Oliver Cain use 16,000 discarded Cancer Society daffodils that weren't able to be distributed during the pandemic. It raised more than awareness - it saw WOW help raise funds for the cause it represented.
Nathan adds “To see their vision come to life on stage through world-class performance at the WOW Show is incredibly rewarding and often emotional for WOW designers.
"The creative team and models pour immense passion and care into understanding the garments, their inspiration, and stories.
“WOW was born from the idea of taking art off the wall and onto the moving body, and we see that year after year in the entries – both in terms of the visually striking and the important storytelling. We can’t wait to see what comes through for 2024."
Being part of WOW is more than putting your skills on display in the top wearable art competition on the planet. It opens a whole new world of creative networks that can have a lasting impact on your practice.
Entrants have long spoken glowingly about becoming part of an international design community and the sense of camaraderie they build with fellow artists.
Nathan comments “We hosted more than 100 finalists from all over the world for the 2023 WOW Awards and we had such incredible feedback about their time here - connecting with like-minds who share their passion for wearable art and creativity.”
McMillian enthuses “Just have a go - if you like doing it, just do it. I’m a simple guy who likes making cool stuff, and when you’ve got a group of people around you that make amazing things, it just pumps you up to think ‘I need to do it again.’”
Timaru hairdresser Felicity Bruce attended the show for 11 years before entering - and celebrated her first appearance as a finalist in the Aotearoa section with her creation Koha from Tāwhirimātea.
“I have been inspired beyond my wildest dreams. Meeting people, hearing about their stories - I think it pushes you so far out of your comfort zone that the rewards are huge.”
It's also a great hub for growing future collaborations, with WOW permitting teams of up to three designers - as well as individual entries.
It also directly provides a launchpad for those early in their careers with the Designer Development Award for future artistic growth and the opportunity of a lifetime - an exclusive internship with one of the global leaders in design, Wellington-based Wētā Workshop.
Each year, WOW has six different themed sections for judging - and points of inspiration.
Three of the categories are annual fixtures; Aotearoa, Avant-garde and Open - with the three new sections for 2024 being announced as Natural World, Geometric Abstraction, and Crazy Curiosities of the Creature Carnival.
As long as you're over 18, you're eligible to enter. It doesn't matter where on the globe you live, where you're from - everyone who comes up with an intriguing concept and nails their vision is in the running.
While there are multiple return finalists and well-known designers who take part, reputation means nothing in the WOW competition.
Fundamental to the WOW Competition is the principle that anyone can enter, and anyone can win. A closed-judging process means the judges are presented with the garment name and inspiration - not the designer's details or level of experience.
That means the mahi is judged on its own merit.
And time is on your side - among the key dates that should be on potential entrant's radar, local designers have until 24 April 2024 to register their Intention to Enter and until 1 May 2024 to complete their garments and online submission (overseas entrants have until 1 March 2024).
So now is the time to take that concept, that dream, and turn it into a reality.