My career began when I won the World of WearableArt (WOW)Supreme Award in 1994 with my design Magpie. Three months later I found myself in Saudi Arabia, designing fashion for the royal families as part of the couture design team of Arushi Fashion. I’d grabbed the opportunity and relocated from New Zealand to the United Arab Emirates with little understanding of the culture or challenges awaiting me.
I fell in love with Dubai immediately. The work hours were long and I felt inspired, but for some reason was constantly exhausted. My doctor told me it was the change of climate so I assumed I just needed to pull my socks up and get on with this new life. So I did. After I finished my contract with Arushi, I travelled to Rome and Milan hunting opportunities, but returned to Dubai and took on contracts designing and conceptualising uniforms for multi-national corporations.
I put my constant fatigue, headaches and eye problems down to exhaustion from work stress. Doctors were little help; one simply told me not to think about the exhaustion, aching and tingling and gave me antidepressants.
In 2003, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I was still running my fashion design consultancy in Dubai and also doing a Master of Design degree in Wellington. When I was diagnosed I thought, “Thank God we have a name for this now; let’s move forward.” I had a lot of expectations of my career but felt I was lagging and was giving myself a hard time. After the diagnosis I realised I didn’t have to be so tough on myself which was quite lovely. I understood that my lifestyle and career expectations were making me ill. I immediately gave up the big contract fashion design work and don’t regret it. I think it is important to listen to our bodies but not give up on our dreams – we can adapt our dreams.
I then side-stepped into freelance fashion styling. In the past 12 months I’ve worked in India, Cape Town, Egypt and Croatia, and I’m always in New Zealand. I love the choice and can now manage my work ratio to how I am coping with MS.
In 2007, I entered WOW again. I wanted to show that with MS I could still achieve what I’d achieved in the past, and I came close. My entry won the American Express Open Section and was runner-up in the Montana Supreme Award. It was also the catalyst for establishing the ProtestMS workshops, which aim to bring together people with and without MS to raise awareness of the disease and create a casual, creative, social experience. Wherever I am in the world I will try to do a workshop or arrange a meeting. I don’t feel it’s discouraging to talk honestly about the disease – honesty doesn’t have to be negative. Attitude is a conscious choice and for me is one of the few things in my body I have 100 per cent control over.
For more information about ProtestMS, visit protestms.com