From tractor driver to fashion designer

By Sally Rae of the Otago Daily Times

When Christine Wardell was a teenager, she worked for an agricultural contractor and drove tractors - a far cry from the world of fashion.

Now, the South Otago mother-of-two is a fashion designer, working from the farm at Clydevale and creating clothes under the ChristinZ label.

"I'm not your average designer," she said.

Her foray into fashion began quite by accident about six and a-half years ago when she made a pair of pants for herself while recovering from an operation.

They attracted interest from a friend - and then more friends - and before she knew it, she would be on the sideline at cricket or rugby, watching her sons, and the next minute she would be in the toilets measuring women for pants.

The range grew to include skirts, jackets, tunics, dresses, cardigans and coats and the business expanded out of her house three years ago and into a building on the farm. Now that was being expanded to cater for demand.

Mrs Wardell has a mail order service, sells on the road at various shows, fetes, fieldays and in-home clothing evenings, as well as having "pop-up shops"and at outlets in Gore, Geraldine and Timaru.

The timing for the business was ideal. Sheep farming six years ago "wasn't too flash", her youngest son had left for boarding school, and she thought she should get a job.

Before that, she had been busy "being a mum" to sons Callum (now 21) and Kayne (19).

But it was not something that was planned.

"This just happened. I didn't wake up one day and think 'I'm going to do this'. It's just evolved just from making a pair of pants and on it goes. And on and on it goes," she said.

October was a particularly busy month, with an array of fetes and events, and she described husband David as "fantastic". At 188cm, he was particularly good at erecting gazebos.

On the farm, the couple were now concentrating on dairy grazing and were down to 450 ewes, which freed up Mr Wardell to help his wife during the busy periods. It also meant she was not needed so much on the farm.

From her workroom, Mrs Wardell had a "fantastic" view towards Clinton, along with modern conveniences - Sky television, the internet, a heat pump and an intercom "to tell David to put the spuds on when he comes inside".

She got a "real buzz" when a customer put on her garments and they "just look amazing and you can see them grow two foot because they feel really good and confident".

It was also a thrill to see people down the street or at events, wearing her designs. Repeat buyers, with their comments about her clothing, spurred her on.

Women enjoyed visiting her on the farm, seeing the fabric and the sewing machines, and it was a "good story", with people enjoying the fact their purchases were "made at home on the farm".

She has outfitted women for the Melbourne Cup race day and it was a thrill to be asked to outfit management and staff of the Otago netball team in one-off ChristinZ tunics.

The business had been a learning curve, particularly with having to do the likes of accounts and marketing, which had taken her out of her comfort zone. It had also improved her confidence.

Singing and golf had gone on the backburner, although she still managed the time to watch her sons play sport.

She was grateful for the support of her husband and sons with her business venture, while Joanne Sutherland, who did sewing for her, was a vital part of the business.

In the future, Mrs Wardell would like to do more pop-up shops and also enable women to buy online through her website.

When people asked how they could pay, she told them the usual eftpos or credit cards "or come and clean my windows, or do the garden", she laughed.

Mrs Wardell recalled how she rode horses all her life and hated being indoors.

"Now I'm stuck in a room every day sewing, so you never say never." she said, laughing.

The weird thing was that she always thought there was "something out there" but it took her until she was 39 or 40 to figure it out.

"It's cool. It's just amazing what you can do or that you're now aware of that you can do."

- Otago Daily Times

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