Six years ago Bronte Hamilton was creating ball gowns and entering them into the Bernina Northland Fashion Awards.

Now, aged 23, she is working for a possum and merino knitwear company called Lothlorian, where she comes up with designs, programmes those designs on the computer and then knits them on machines.

Ms Hamilton, who grew up in Maungatapere but now lives in Auckland, spoke to the Northern Advocate ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Bernina Northland Fashion Awards tonight.

She said her love for fashion started with Barbie dolls.

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"I just loved creating different outfits and how you can change your whole perception of someone or something with clothing," she said.

Ms Hamilton started making her own clothes in high school but the first thing she made was a Barbie dress when she was 7 or 8. She said it was a square of yellow felt with a silver trim around the bottom and velcro down the back.

She realised she wanted to pursue a career in fashion after taking Textiles and Fashion Technology at Whangarei Girls' High School. In year 11, she entered a ball gown in the Bernina Northland Fashion Awards and did the same for the next two years.

It was the first design competition she entered.

"It was a lot of fun, especially as there was always a group of us entering together from school. I got a real buzz from seeing my designs come to life on stage," she said.

After high school Ms Hamilton went to Auckland University of Technology and studied a bachelor of design majoring in textiles.

Ms Hamilton said she became focused on working towards getting into the possum/merino industry and put all her energy into learning as much as she could about the programming and machines.

When Lothlorian approached the university looking for the best programmer, Ms Hamilton's name came up and she started working there the day after university finished, two years ago.

She encouraged other young designers to enter the Bernina Northland Fashion Awards.

"It is a great way to boost your confidence and nothing beats the buzz of seeing your work come to life," she said.

The awards will be held at Forum North from 7pm.