It was a "very sparkly" bubble skirt Susie Williams made when she was 11 that was the first of her designs to make her proud.

And while she wouldn't like it now, she really liked it then.

Now 17 Miss Williams is about to graduate with a level three/four fashion design qualification from The Design School Whangarei.

"I've always loved drawing and anything to do with art I wanted to do. At first I wanted to design book covers, that's why I did a graphic design course last year and switched over to fashion design this year," she said.

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Today from 4pm to 8pm The Design School Whangarei, which opened in 2014 and teaches graphic and fashion design, is holding an exhibition and open day where students' work will be displayed.

Managing director Mike Saywell said the school was in a completely different spot this time last year because the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) had indicated it would not fund the level two fees-free courses, which meant the school would close.

However, at the last moment the school was told it would receive funding which covered 2016 and would cover the next 12 months.

He said while that initial uncertainty affected enrolments this year, next year was looking better.

"This year's been quiet in terms of enrolments, 2018 on the other hand is already going off. It's going to be really exciting."

Miss Williams said she has always loved clothing.

"I've always designed and made my own clothes and if I did buy clothes I would edit them."

She learned to sew about age 8. The first item she made was an apron but the first thing that made her proud was a skirt when she was 11.

"I made this skirt and I wouldn't like it now but I really liked it then. It was like a bubble kind of skirt and it was very sparkly."

Earlier in the year Miss Williams created a dress for young singer Merlia de Ridder to wear to the World Championships of Performing Arts in Los Angeles.

Miss Williams said it was the first time she had designed something to be worn by someone else.

"It was pretty cool."

Next year Miss Williams wants to start work and save money. Eventually she wants to create an ethical online fashion business with her sister who is studying a business degree.

Ensuring the business is ethical is important.

"A lot of fabric causes a lot of greenhouse gases when it goes into landfill and that's really bad.

"There are so many fake things that don't decompose and they just make so much plastic and I want to do something that is really good."