Collins’ Samoan husband gaffe inspires merchandise

Kiwi National Party Leader Judith Collins shot to national fame unintentionally during last month's New Zealand election with a faux pas about her Samoan husband during a debate for the country's October election. 

But now the phrase has become a brand in itself and is emblazoned on merchandise selling for up to NZD$100 a pop. 

"My husband is Samoan, so 'talofa’," Ms. Collins said during her debate with eventual election victor Jacinda Ardern.

She was speaking in response to a question from Aorere College head girl, Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'i about what each leader would do about high school students being forced to leave school and find employment to support their families, Ms. Collins started off by saying: "My husband is Samoan so, talofa". 

"We've got to get people into trades [and] we've got to get them education," she said, saying her husband also left school to find employment." 

But social media users ignored the rest of her response to argue she was using her husband to "shield herself from accusations of racism".

The remark was met with peals of laughter and mockery on social media; armchair critics thought Ms. Collins was making a ham-fisted attempt to pitch for votes among New Zealand's large and influential population of Samoan voters. 

Newshub reported that Collins was being raked over the coals on social media for "weaponising" her husband's ethnicity during the debate.

But now the phrase has become a brand, with consumers eager to repeat the joke by buying blankets, pillows, scarves, personal protective masks, laptop sleeves, aprons and a host of other items with her immortal words emblazoned on them. 

There are more than 70 products that bear the famous phrase uttered by Ms. Collins during the Leaders Debate.

The merchandise is being sold on the Red Bubble website by an artist who uses the pen name bellaraven and is based in Wellington, New Zealand. 

A comforter with the phrase is selling for $112.82, a shower curtain is going for $57.90 and a throw pillow costs $18.97.

There is also a one size fits most adults apron for $22.09.

The leader of New Zealand's conservative party, who says her political heroes include Margaret Thatcher has been decried by critics on the left side of the political spectrum.

She has relished in taking on left-wing activists whom she claims are obsessed with political correctness, particularly as regards issues of gender and race. 

The opposition leader has asked reporters if there was “something wrong” with her being white and last week decried what she calls the “woke brigade”.

Woke is a derisive slang-term denoting someone who is preoccupied with making politically correct or pious online statements to cast themselves in a positive light. 

New Zealand pop culture, politics, and memes inspire the artist, who only reveals her first name on her online profile on the store selling the Ms. Collins-based merchandise. 

“Kia ora! I’m Isabella from Wellington, New Zealand,” the artist says

“I love making retro-style designs, with my most popular designs featuring Jacinda Ardern, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and various university logos, such as Victoria, Otago, and Auckland. My designs are largely inspired by NZ pop culture, politics, and memes.”

In the final phase of the election campaign that ended with Jacinda Ardern and Labour winning a thumping victory and outright majority in Parliament, Ms. Collins even joined in the fun at her expense buying a mug emblazoned with the famous phrase to show off her capacity for self-mockery.

“That’s excellent, I love that,” Ms. Collins said as she posed for a photo with the mug.

But now, Ms. Collins who has stayed on as party leader despite the election defeat is less likely to be happy about the enduring popularity of the online merchandise as she tries to move on from a devastating defeat. 

Ms. Collins announced a new, slimmed-down shadow cabinet on Thursday. She was at pains to say that her reshuffled shadow ministers had been selected based on merit, and not for reasons of gender or race equality.

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