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Source: Eastern Institute of Technology – Tairāwhiti

9 mins ago

Pam Bicknell always struggled to find clothes that she felt comfortable in, so the 53-year-old commercial accountant quit her two jobs to enrol in EIT’s Level 5 Fashion Programme to learn how to make her own.

“Fashion has always been a challenge for me as a previously bigger woman trying to wear suits and jackets that I couldn’t reach the keyboard in. I’ve been trying to sew my own clothes for years, because I quite like the traditional corporate look.”

“I was sewing really badly and throwing things in the corner in utter frustration because I didn’t know how to get it right.”

It was that frustration that led Pam, who is originally from Wairoa, to take a night sewing course at Creative Arts Napier last year, while still holding down two part-time accountant positions.

That did not really satisfy her design needs, so when she heard that a friend’s daughter was going to attend an EIT Open Day to check out IDEAschool’s visual art and design programmes, she tagged along.

That’s all it took and earlier this year Pam, who has worked for some big international companies, started studying for the NZ Diploma in Fashion at EIT’s IDEAschool.

Although she is realistic that financially she probably needs to return to her corporate life at the end of the year, a career in fashion would be the first prize.

“The simple truth is that I am not the only one who is struggling to find clothes that fit and are the right style. One of our friends is six foot five with really long arms, and he has never had business shirts that button at the cuff.”

With that as the motivation, this year has been all about learning for Pam – about herself and about fashion.

“I have learned a huge amount from the kids, as I call them” Pam says, referring to the younger students in her class. “They call me granny Pam, so it’s okay. They are unconstrained in what they do.”

“With regard to fashion, I have learned how to draft patterns and that it doesn’t matter what shape or size you are, you can find your style.”

As for her favourite creation?

“I created a fabulous 1920s flapper dress silhouette, with enormous 1875 puffy taffeta sleeves. And because budget didn’t allow us to line it, it was a bit see-through, so none of the girls would dare to wear it. “

“One of the guys jumped into it and said, ‘I love it’.”

Pam’s skills as an accountant have not been completely dormant during this time, with numeracy an important part of measuring sizes and making patterns. It has also given her the opportunity to use natural materials.

“There’s a big focus on recycling and waste minimization and the logic of having fewer garments that are well made, natural and are eventually going to completely disintegrate, makes good sense to me.”

“That fits my accountant’s brain as well, because the return on my investment is going to be much better,” says Pam.

EIT IDEAschool Fashion Leader Cheryl Downie says: “We’ve loved having Pam on our programme and would love her to stay, advance her technical skills and complete  two more years in the Bachelor of Creative Practice.”

“The diploma year is all about developing fashion design & technical skills and discovering a career in fashion no matter what your age and Pam certainly has found her niche.”