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Irina Kouzakova, Sample machinist

 All photos by Brendan Kitto

All photos by Brendan Kitto

"Architecture doesn’t help much in sewing, mostly patterns. If people make a mistake, I can talk to our pattern maker and say, ‘Don’t be pissed off, I’ll show you how it should be’."

I’m originally from Russia and Western Siberia. I was born in a very old town, more than 400 years old. I graduated in architecture. I worked as an architect over there. Sewing was always my hobby from school. When I came to New Zealand, I said, ‘why not?’

When I first came here, I worked for a Russian lady from Kiev, she left to Australia. I had heard about Zambesi and my husband saw something in the paper about them, he called me and said, ‘look it’s you, it’s your style’. Then I interviewed here, and showed my skills, and they hired me.

It was a hard life in Russia, it was a hard economical situation, Yeltsin was President. We had a daughter and there was really high crime that period, you were always scared about her life and your life, especially when she had to come back from school, and if she was five minutes late, I’d be so scared. You would hear shooting on the streets. It was not very good.

We arrived in October 1996. My first memories of NZ was that it’s amazing, it’s a quiet life. No worries, no hurry, just relaxed. We keep some Russian traditions, but NZ is home now. We cook Russian food, but this is my home. When people ask me do I like it, I say, ‘what do you think if I’ve lived here more than 20 years? Of course’.

My grandmother was a professional sewer as well. She passed on those skills to me. I was six, seven when I would ask her, ‘show me that, show me that’.

I love it, especially with Zambesi, Liz, she trusts me. When I say where I work, people say, “ooooh” I sew samples for collections, I do special orders, some production. People say, ‘you’re lucky’, I say ‘I know.’

We help each other, and show special ways, on how to do that piece and how it’s better if you finish a garment one way, it’s much nicer. We keep it so it’s not The Warehouse, it’s high fashion. High level commission.

Architecture doesn’t help much in sewing, mostly patterns. If people make a mistake, I can talk to our pattern maker and say, ‘Don’t be pissed off, I’ll show you how it should be’. They listen to me, and ask my opinion on how it could be better for sewing and finishing.

It’s not my style to make something easy and fast. I prefer harder, and nice finishing, so you can see it and think, ‘Wow’. Zambesi, some of the clothes are masterpieces.

Jenny Chin, Sample machinist

Esther Lim, Sample Machinist

Esther Lim, Sample Machinist