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Olga Khimich, Designer / Womenswear Pattern Maker

 All photos by Brendan Kitto

All photos by Brendan Kitto

"It is a beautiful country, honestly, compared to Russia. I remember hearing a gun and always being scared, it’s pretty dangerous and a few of my friends were killed."

I am Russian, I came here in 2001 with my ex husband and my daughter who was 5 back then. We divorced and he went back to Russia three years later, and I chose to stay here. I’ve been here 17 years now.

When I was in school, I thought ‘wow, this country I will never, ever be in’. We were studying about Captain Cook and stuff, I thought, ‘I am never going to see this country’.

It is a beautiful country, honestly, compared to Russia. I remember hearing a gun and always being scared, it’s pretty dangerous and a few of my friends were killed, and one was badly beaten. It’s quite dangerous and stressful.

Here it was actually a hard adjustment for me because of the life speed in Russia, you don’t really have time to see what is around you, you just rush from one thing to another. Here it was really hard to slow down but once you slow down, you realise your mind calms down and you realise you don’t have to worry about being scared and unsafe.

I think New Zealand is home. Sometimes I miss Russia and I miss European culture, architecture, and night-life, it’s still hard for me when everything is closed here at 5pm. Every time I go there for a month and come back to New Zealand, when I get out of the plane, I think, ‘I’m home now, thank God I’m home now’. It’s the air in NZ, the moisture, the warmth. With the first breath, I think I’m home.

I always say that I work for Zambesi, and I do patterns and design. Womenswear pattern maker and design assistant for Liz. So I always have pride.

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I’d always been sewing and picking for other people in Russia, I was involved in dress making and interior design, curtain making, so it was my passion. But education-wise, the situation in the Soviet Union, education was free there and you basically just went where your parents suggest you go. Both of my parents were engineer ship builders, and I went to do a Bachelor of Engineering for ships. Six years I was studying this. But my passion was sewing, I am a very creative person.

When I first came to New Zealand I didn’t have to work straight away because my husband provided for me with necessities, and I thought OK, I can’t just sit and do nothing. There is a large Russian community from where I came from, I’m from Vladivostok, and a few people already knew I make clothes, so they started to ask me to sew curtains and clothes because they couldn’t find what they liked in NZ.

"My engineering background absolutely crosses over into fashion."

Making clothes at home you have a basic knowledge about pattern making and construction and being brought up on Italian quality tailoring in Russia, everyone picking Italian suits and coats to understand how they’re made. I started doing pattern making and design for the Derek Corporation and then I went to Paris to do a fashion design course there, and when I came back a position was open at Zambesi so I applied. I was employed by Liz as a pattern grader, and I moved up to pattern maker and design assistant. I’ve been working here for 12 years.

When I came to NZ I walked into their shop and it was the only shop I was interested in re-visiting. When I started to work for Zambesi, it was like a dream. I couldn’t believe it and when I started to look at the fabric libraries Liz had collected over the years, it’s like touching treasure. I love this feeling of discovering a treasure. First couple of years, it’s like touching something sacred.

My engineering background absolutely crosses over into fashion. Imagining how things are actually constructed. Before I see how a pattern will work in my mind, I visualise it completely, from there I transfer it to paper, it helps me in a lot of ways. I’m more architectural and graphic than frills and flowers.

"The philosophy which is behind the brand is really quite amazing ... it’s not easy and you actually have to believe in supporting New Zealand."

Liz is great she provides me with lots of materials and the time and possibility to experiment, she doesn’t stop me. There’s not many people to promote creativity, to create something new, innovate new design and employ new materials in fashion. It’s a really rare opportunity now in fashion.

The philosophy which is behind the brand is really quite amazing, especially now how the fashion industry has changed a lot. People find the easy way to survive the business is to relocate production in China, to reduce the price, to reduce the cost of manufacturing, [so that it’s] easier to sell, and you don’t risk as much as producing here. It’s really expensive and it’s not easy and you actually have to believe in supporting New Zealand.

It’s a deep philosophy to have the strength to stand their ground. I’m not as strong, I would probably have given up a long time ago, because sometimes it’s pretty tough to survive and find high quality machinists. It’s just not easy. Sourcing is quite limited with fabric. You have to be creative in a different way. It’s always a challenge, I have a deep respect, and they stand out for their unique vision of design as well.

 

Dmitry Dymnov, Senior cutter

Elisabeth Findlay, Head Designer