Mak­ing make-be­lieve come to life

The Dominion Post - - Career Market -

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

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