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Marla Singh and her family left Fiji in the 80s to live in Australia where her obsession with the world of modelling and fashion developed to crazy heights.

Corresponding from their base in Sydney, Australia, Marla, 39, and her husband Richard Walton say they want nothing more than to return to Fiji and live here sometime in the future.

Not one to lose touch with her country of birth, Marla has globe trotted the international scene of fashion with some of the world's best yet still remains a Fiji girl at heart.

Settling into a more quietened life of entrepreneurship these days with her line of totally fashionable Italian-made handbags , she does admit that fashion has always been her first love.

"I have always had a love for fashion ever since I can remember. As a child, I was fascinated by my sister's bell bottom pants, my aunt's saris and my mum's obsession with Jackie Kennedy Onaiss style," Marla says.

"I loved the creativity and passion of what the fashion world held. I was always amazed at how these designers, photographers excelled in amazing creations," she added.

"How I got into modelling was a friend suggested I enter this competition that was on national television thinking 'they are not going to pick me," she recalls. "Well, I was wrong, and won first place, and with the prize money I headed straight to Europe."

"It was very hard at the beginning. I went from casting to casting with rejection after rejection , than came my big break in Milan working for all 5 Major Italian magazines with 5 of the most influential photographers in the world, back to back.

"My agent Marcella said this was fashion history in the making as it had never happened in her 40 year career as a model agent.

"The great thing was, I did not know these guys from a bar of soap , not giving any of them any importance , maybe it was just my island mentality to treat everyone equally....well it took off from this point and lasted a good 12 years!"

Marla was born in Suva and lived in Flagstaff. She attended Suva Methodist Primary School.

 Her father Mahadeo Singh was a business man at the time. Her much adored mother Punamban Kamla Singh, passed away in October last year. She is a cousin of famous golfer Vijay Singh.

Asked how her family reacted to her choosing modelling as a career path, Marla said they were shocked.

"At first they were shocked and very disapproving, you know parents... they always hear the worst things about the industry. I got a lot of "No daughter of mine is going to do that"! So ,after much much pleading to let me go to Europe they finally gave in.

"To tell you the truth, they couldn't bare my whinging... I think they needed the peace," she says, laughing.

"The funny thing is, my beautiful mum who has just passed away, has secretly kept everything she could collect about my modelling. I was stunned when she had shown me recently while she was alive. I think she must have been a little proud of me," says Marla.

Marla lived in Europe as a top model , and was one of the first Fijian Indian to land a campaign with Revlon while gracing the covers of publications like Elle and Vogue to name a few.

Some of Marla's most memorable experiences in the fashion industry include meeting Giorgio Armani, who at that time did not use exotic models, and still doesn't to this day, even though "I' haven't done any of his shows, doing Italian and French Vogue, working with some of the most talented photographers in the world, and working with models that have gone on to become movie stars and seeing how down to earth they are," she says.

"I have worked with Naomi Campell, Trya Banks, Charlize Theron, Yasmin Le Bon. It can be amazing to work as a model at this level but at the end of the day, its hard work like most things," she explains.

After her stints in the modelling industry, Marla developed a love affair with handbags she couldn't control. It came soon after she was featured as the face of Revlon's Sandstorm, which she described as "ecstatic yet humbling".

"I was humbled by the fact that I was the first Indian Fijian to have come so far in the fashion industry. I felt 'this is how you feel when you've earned your stars and stripes," she says.

"At this point, I said to myself, it is time to stand down and concentrate on other things I'd love to do. It has taken some time but I had this burning desire to create something of my own. I thought to myself, 'what could it be?. All of a sudden it came - handbags! Every woman loves a handbag!"

Her love for handbags inspired her to create a fashion accessory which is both practical and beautiful thanks to her early career as an international model and meeting and learning from some of the industry's top fashion players.

Marla has her own luxury line of affordable, leather handbags while assuring the finest quality by being made in Italy. Her designs are classic with a contemporary twist, keeping abreast with the latest fashion trends. She's even opened her very own shop online at www.marlafiji.com which she says ticked a few people off, but which would hear nothing of.

"Doing www.marlafiji.com handbags made in Italy, people have suggested to drop the 'fiji' part as it is a little bit confusing, being made in Italy and all. I tell them Fiji is where I'm from and I cherish it, and want other parts of the world to do the same," a proud Marla says.

Marla says she has never forgotten the beauty Fiji holds and how she would one day love to return to live here.

A regular visitor, she even came back to get married here.

"What I remember about my life in Fiji was the harmony that the Indians and Fijians enjoyed and the community spirit it had.The carefree society it was then gave me a great sense of security and freedom that I have not experienced in any other parts of the world I have live in," she says.

"I got married in Fiji at Nadi, in the Hindu Temple at the end of Nadi town. I noticed a lot of sadness amongst the people. They seemed to have lost their smiles and that island spirit which I so miss. My husband, Richard, also sensed it, as he grew up coming to Fiji. His family had wanted to build a resort here at one stage. He remembers the laughter and the enormous fun of the people," Marla recalls.

"Our passion is to one day come back and create something that benefits the people of Fiji, and to let more of the world know what a special place it is."



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