Making make-believe come to life
NICHOLE DEVINE loves bringing costumes to life. As owner of Lower Huttbased Jesters Costume Hire she is surrounded by more than 5000 costumes, ranging from Disney characters, super heroes and princes and princesses to medieval outfits and ball gowns.
‘‘Before Christmas rotating 40 Santa suits kept us busy – we have everything from Jedi Knights to Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the Queen of Hearts, we’ve even got the iconic Kiwi tomato sauce bottle and a Christmas tree.’’
What sets Devine apart is that she’s a fashion designer – and teacher - by trade, so she’s constantly designing and making costumes to add to her repertoire.
‘‘I’ve made Oompa Loompas, Minions, the Tinman, Scarecrow – show me a picture or tell me an idea and I can make it come to life,’’ she grins.
Devine has also made many a costume for her now 11-year-old son Luke for birthday parties or school dress-up days.
With creative flair and sewing skills as well, Devine’s passion for costumes came about when she began making them for school productions.
At the time she was teaching soft materials technology and other design-based subjects at Newlands College.
‘‘The first production I made costumes for was Grease .Itwasa movie I’d liked as a teenager, it was great fun and at the time I realised it was something I might be able to do as a job.’’
So after 11 years’ teaching, and inspired by Ken Robinson’s book The Element – How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Devine decided to find out.
‘‘The book was all about finding your passion and doing what you love, being in your element to be the best you can be, I felt like I needed a change, a new challenge.’’
It just so happened Devine heard the former Jesters owner might be keen to sell and everything fell into place.
‘‘It all happened fairly quickly. I resigned from teaching and took it over – it hasn’t been easy, I certainly got my challenge! I had never done accounting stuff before, or worked on websites, and having come from paid employment I had to keep the cashflow going.
‘‘The most overwhelming part was going into a place with 5000 costumes.
‘‘It was a lot to get my head around, it took me a year to get a grasp on what was there and where exactly it was!’’
Three years on Devine spends her days answering emails, taking inquiries, dealing with customers, washing and ironing costumes or creating and designing new ones.
Luckily she has loved sewing from a young age.
‘‘My Nana was a head machinist for a Wellington company, I don’t remember her teaching me as such but I used to watch her and inherited a lot of my skills from her.
‘‘My Mum sewed as well, so it has probably been passed down. I’d make dolls clothes and my own clothes.’’
Devine remembers winning the Year 11 trophy for textiles at school, but didn’t consider it as a career path until she’d been in the workforce for a few years.
‘‘I did consider teaching, I have always loved kids, but I wanted to do something else first, so I had various jobs – I managed a cafe, worked in a call centre, did receptionist work.
‘‘Then I decided to do a threeyear fashion design course at [the then] Wellington Polytechnic and loved it.’’
Like her grandmother, Devine worked in a number of Wellington clothing factories, working as a specialist machinist spending many hours on garments for clothing stores.
Because of the repetitive nature of that work, on the side she built up her own client base making made-to-measure dresses and, having specialised in millinery at fashion design school, she dabbled in that as well.
‘‘I used to enter the Wellington Cup Fashion in the Field competitions, and twice I was in the finals, I was happy with that.’’
Not one to rest on her laurels, Devine decided to pursue her other love – children – and completed a year-long course at the then Wellington Teachers’ College at Karori.
She had gone on a placement at Newlands College during that time, and after graduating she successfully applied for a job there, in the technology field.
‘‘One of the reasons I wanted to teach was to make a difference. It’s that whole satisfaction of achievement, seeing a student who doesn’t understand something and then watching their lightbulb go on when they finally grasp it.’’
She speaks proudly of some students who have excelled in the design field themselves.
‘‘A group of talented girls I taught in my early years have got their own business called Stuck on Mew now, they design kids’ apparel, nursery and homeware; another student I taught won an award at WOW a few years back.
‘‘As a teacher I have passed on my knowledge and skills to others to develop as their own, and watching students succeed is very satisfying. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of that.’’
Now, as a designer and business woman Devine has the freedom to use her creative skills as her own.
‘‘I know I am in my element, the making and design process is a natural, relaxation thing for me, and it’s also about the satisfaction.
‘‘When you see that final product you’ve created, or if you’re making something for somebody and you see their face light up, it’s that warm fuzzy feeling that gets you every time.’’
Her goal now is to offer a place for people to come to transform themselves for whatever type of event is looming, and provide them with expert advice whether it be a costume, formal attire or a fancy hat.
‘‘Being a perfectionist at heart I will continue to push myself for bigger and better, I love a challenge and I’ll keep pushing, probably until I’ve exhausted myself,’’ she laughs.
Nichole Devine from Jesters Costume Hire in Lower Hutt. It is her latest career move after being a fashion designer, specialist fashion machinist, milliner and school teacher. Photos: JOHN NICHOLSON/FAIRFAX NZ