Kara Kupe founded BARE Boutique in response to the rampant lack of diversity in the fashion industry. The line of bamboo intimates sets a new standard for inclusivity by redefining what we understand to be flesh tones, and conventional body types, and has become a tangible representation of Kara’s own journey to self acceptance, as well a platform for other women of colour to pursue theirs as the models and creatives involved.
When I first met Kara, I was struck by her unapologetic intolerance for all the problematic BS that women of colour (and people of colour in general) experience daily. I was in awe of her resilience and ability to speak outwardly and proudly about her identity, and willingness to share her knowledge, with the people in her life who needed it most.
Bare and everything that it stands for is the complete personification of the powerful Maori women that Kara is at her core. Through her campaigns and work with Bare she has paved the way for new space to be held for women of colour, in an industry that they have been so relentlessly excluded from.
Sabina McKenna: Why did you decide to start BARE?
Kara Kupe: I’d been trying to find a creative outlet that suited me politically and was in line with changing ideas about what and how we consume as humans for a few years, and I wanted something that represented my own story as a Māori woman, but also considered what and how we take from the Earth, and how we replenish that. I wanted to create a product that was first and foremost for women and femmes of colour in all aspects—not just as consumers but collaborators, but as creatives and muses too!
SM: Why do you only feature mostly models of colour?
KK: I prioritise working with women and femmes of colour because they deserve to be represented and celebrated in an industry that has constantly let them down, until now. The representation was non-existent when I was growing up. I never saw anyone that looked like me in fashion magazines and advertisements.
The lack of diversity created a lot of problems and to be real—is white supremacy infiltrating our lives from adolescence through the fashion industry, which makes PoC feel unworthy while also stealing from our cultures and applying it to other bodies that look nothing like us. I’m not here for it! I want to celebrate the beauty of PoC first and I will never apologise for that!
"The pinky beige—pretty much the colour of a pig, was called ‘skin colour’, tricked me every time! I would colour my skin with this shitty beige-pink and look at the finished product like wtf."
SM: What did the term ‘skin tone’ mean to you when you first became aware of it? KK: This is funny but also really not. I loved art at school. I was good at it and people told me so. But that damn Crayola coloured pencil got me every time! The pinky beige—pretty much the colour of a pig, was called ‘skin colour’, tricked me every time! I would colour my skin with this shitty beige-pink and look at the finished product like wtf.
The three standard options for underwear. Black, white, pig-pink beige.
So obviously the plan with BARE was to begin a spectrum of browns, which I plan on adding to. That’s why I called my first collection PARAURI. To represent my skin tone and PoC skin tones in all the glorious browns.
SM: Size diversity also seems integral to the Bare ethos—why is that?
KK: I struggled with body image A LOT when I was younger. I didn’t know that one day I would celebrate my juicy thickness in all its plump glory. It is important to me to celebrate all bodies in BARE and if I ever fail to do that tell me and I will fix it! I haven’t been able to represent size diversity in the shoots due to sample sizes being tiny and slow fashion being slow. But all my shoots will be size diverse once I have the full size range available.
SM: Yeah the body image struggle—didn’t we all! How did you experience your own journey to self acceptance?
KK: Most of my friends in high school were slim and white. I looked very different to them and really I felt it. I struggled with my weight and I didn’t really know how to deal with that and as a consequence, never felt beautiful even though I was! My journey to self acceptance has truly just been time. Probably too much time, but I am a product of growing up in the 90s where curves were not celebrated.
Social media can be shitty for people’s self acceptance but my experience has been the opposite. The access we have to different bodies, gender, race, sexuality, kinks etc is so far and wide anything I ever experienced as a teenager and if I’d have had access to that, it would not have taken me so long to celebrate myself. I love the way I look and I will never apologise for celebrating that, because I remember the darkness of not seeing it.
Visit Bare Boutique here.