The very fabric of a city

I did modelling as a teenager. My mother, who was a compere for Miss New Zealand, thought it might combat the extreme shyness caused by the strawberry birthmark in the middle of my forehead, but as I turned at the end of the catwalk, looking at the others only reinforced my own lack of pretty.

At the end of the course, I was presented with a certificate for “Most Improved” – make of that what you will.

To the unfashionable-looking, the fashion world doesn’t make itself easy to like. Big fashion’s most famous figures are complete dicks. Take Karl Lagerfeld, for example, with his stupid chicken-neck hiding ruffs (we know it’s there, Karl!) or John Galliano, arrested for making a deluge of racist and anti-sematic remarks in a Paris bar.

An industry not known for its philanthropy, fashion has long been a slow-turning elephant when it comes to kindness.

But not in Dunedin, my little chickadees, where fashion, like our country’s dawn, is the first to see the sun and take steps towards a brighter future.

Enter Aleppo tailors Ola Jubna and her brother, Mohamad, who came to Dunedin in the first group of Syrian refugees to be resettled in the city. Their “Kwinglish” isn’t flash and like most people who have undergone trauma they don’t like to talk about it. Ola’s story brought people to tears when she told it through an interpreter, but she would rather be judged on her work than her past. How though, to make their way through the labyrinth of this strange new culture? Where do they find commonality?

It’s no secret Aucklanders call Dunedin a “village”. And yes, it’s small and gossipy and there’s still a lot of old-school dinosaurs shuffling around thinking they run the place, but a little tenderness goes a long way here and the people have real soul.

Auckland has New Zealand Fashion Week and a lot of money, and we have iD Fashion Week and a lot of volunteers. We all know how successful this has been, starting in a marquee outside an Octagon bar and growing into a truly global event thanks to genius ideas such as the International Emerging Designers Show, this year featuring stunning design alongside deeper messages around sustainability, gender and culture.

The two Aleppo tailors are a small story inside the much larger whole, but they have come to epitomise iD Fashion Week to me.

They’ve been enormously aided by Carl Magnus, owner of Harvest Court, who arranged for space in his company’s building on George St to display Ola’s work and organised for her dresses to be displayed longer-term in the window of an alteration business, so she can drum up work.

“I can’t help with the mental and physical scars, but the other stuff is easy and just a start,” he says.

“She just seems like an extremely nice person and Dunedin is lucky to have her.”

The Fabric Store owner Roger Wall, when he heard about Ola and Mohamad, donated fabric. The Otago Polytechnic helped, too, and, not that she told me this because she wouldn’t squeak a word of praise on her own behalf, so did iD committee member Kris Nicolau. Because, as she said, “it takes a village sometimes.”

The end result of this chain of helping hands is Ola showing a wedding dress and one of her bespoke tailored suits in a parade at the Meridian Mall called “Shop the Look”, on Saturday, May 5, from 10am until noon.

Jarrah Cooke, team leader-employment adviser at Red Cross Dunedin Refugee Programme says, “it’s important to recognise the skills refugees bring, that they enrich the fabric of our society.”

I feel enriched just knowing that this is happening in our small, but perfectly formed town, and I love the way it’s a gift giving both ways in a place which is a stranger to war on our shores.

Moral of the story: the fashion world, at its best and bravest, is a cloak of inclusivity, a language everyone can speak, and kindness is its own reward.Read more at:formal dresses perth | plus size formal dresses

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