Tia Thompson once suffered from anxiety that was so bad she couldn’t walk into a mall without crying.
Now, the mother of a four-year-old is going to be working in a shopping centre, after the Nelson clothing company that employed her opened its first shop in Richmond Mall this week.
Thompson was unemployed for six years, and had been on a benefit for four years, before Divine Design founder Sarah Daly gave her a job as a dressmaker.
“One thing I really struggled with was anxiety, like anxiety with people and not being able to talk to them, so it’s been helpful for me to build relationships with others,” she said.
Thompson said she had always loved clothes and fashion design, and it was “amazing” now that she had been given the opportunity to work in the field.
Another of Daly’s recent hires, for which she received help from the Ministry of Social Development’s Flexi-wage scheme, also faces a brighter future.
Alicia Wilson, who works as the company’s administrator, previously battled depression, barely leaving the house while her children were at school before she got a job with Daly.
Now she works 20 hours a week handling finances and payroll – something she “never thought” she’d end up being responsible for.
“Working has taken me out of the depression I used to sit in,” she says.
“It’s pretty much given me a bigger purpose to my life.”
Her employer is no stranger to mental health struggles herself.
Daly underwent “intense and stressful” IVF treatment to conceive, and after suffering a traumatic birth under general anaesthesia with her first daughter, slipped into post-natal depression as she did her best to cope with two colicky babies born in swift succession.
Teaching herself to sew and create things out of fabric on an ancient, borrowed machine was “therapeutic”, she says.
Turning a piece of fabric into something beautiful “helped me through the day, it just gave me a boost”.
Daly started out selling bunting flags, nursery bedding and cot quilts. After a brief hiatus of three or four years, Daly got back into making children’s clothing and became a member of The Little Beehive Co-op in Nelson.
Her business, Divine Design, has now been running for just over two years – originally as a children’s wear brand, but now manufacturing floaty and feminine garments for women too.
Helping other women lift out of depression and anxiety drives her more than profits, she says.
She has a vision of “bringing back” manufacturing to our shores through the establishment of a “manufacturing avenue” for other Kiwi brands, employing young people who want to learn a trade, or refugees for instance.
“There are so many talented people out there who are seamstresses who find it difficult to get work. I would just love to create a lot more jobs.”
Daly also hopes to inspire others, and to eventually become a mentor for those looking to create their own start-ups.
“So many women have so many dreams and they think, ‘oh, I don’t have the skills to do it, or I don’t have the money to do it’,” she says.
“Everything I have done has been by the sales that I have made. I’ve never put huge portions of cash into my business, and I couldn’t sew straight when I started … There’s really no excuse for why people can’t step out and try things.”