From a young age, Bobbi-jo Wilkie always knew what she wanted to do. With a natural creative flair, her goal was a career in fashion design. After completing a fashion design qualification and entering the industry, Bobbi realised that it wasn’t quite what she had imagined and began looking for similar work elsewhere.

Bobbi-jo’s dad, Malcolm Wilkie, had always been in the industrial textile fabrication industry, and Bobbi’s first ever job was helping with odd jobs around his business, Napier Auto Upholstery.

Still keen to work in a role that allowed her to be creative, Bobbi-jo began working with her dad, and is now completing a New Zealand Certificate in Industrial Textile Fabrication (Level 3) through MITO.

Bobbi-jo sees a lot of similarities between fashion design and her current job – if anything, she says, she enjoys automotive upholstery more. “I’ve always said that what I do is like fashion design for cars,” laughs Bobbi-jo. “There’s definitely a lot of crossover between the two careers – there’s designing, pattern making, sewing, and the whole creative side of it like choosing colours and fabrics.” Napier Auto Upholstery work on a wide variety of jobs, but specialise in hot rods, muscle cars, vintage and classic car interiors, so Bobbi-jo gets the chance to work on some pretty spectacular vehicles. This can involve repairing or replacing upholstery from seats, ceilings and door panels in vehicles, as well as convertible tops. She loves that she has a lot of variety in her role – “I get a lot of creative freedom here which I really enjoy,” she says.

Bobbi-jo’s favourite part of the work she does is the satisfaction of seeing the result. “I love seeing something go from a 2D concept to a 3D object,” she says. “Getting to see the customer’s reaction is always nice too.”

Her advice for young people wanting to get into the industry is simple: “You have to have a passion for it,” she says. “Especially when you’re first learning, you have to have a lot of patience, and be able to realise that making mistakes is just a part of the learning process.”

Malcolm says people often don’t realise the full breadth of the industry, and all the avenues one can go down. “Here we specialise in cars and aircrafts, but there’s loads of different things you can do,” he says. “There’s outdoor shade sails, bouncy castles, motorcycle seats, boats – really anything you can think of!”

The best part of an industrial textile fabrication qualification, Malcolm explains, is that it sets you up with a variety of valuable transferrable skills. “I know people who have got qualified and then gone on to work for places like Weta Workshop. You learn design, sewing, welding and fitting skills – all of which are useful in a variety of jobs.”

Malcolm has trained seven apprentices during his career, and when hiring employees, looks for a few main qualities. “Some basic maths skills are always important,” he says. “You need to be able to measure, divide, and work out circles, so it’s important that you have the maths skills to help with those tasks.” Malcom also adds that a bit of creative flair definitely helps too. “Being able to have a vision of what you want to make always comes in handy,” he says. “That way you can work closely with customers to work out exactly what they’re after.”

Bobbi-jo’s plan after getting qualified is to continue working at the family business, and eventually take over. She’s also passionate about encouraging more females to join the trade. “I think for girls especially, lots of them are unaware that this industry exists. I was always set on doing fashion design – but now I’m here, I’ve realised I enjoy this so much more.”

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