From a young age, Bobbi 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’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 began working with her dad, and is now completing a New Zealand Certificate in Industrial Textile Fabrication through MITO.

Napier Auto Upholstery work on a wide variety of jobs, but specialise in hot rods, muscle cars, vintage and classic car interiors, so Bobbi 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 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. “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.”

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 transferable 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 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.”

This year, Bobbi was named the Outdoor Fabrics and Products Association of New Zealand (OFPANZ) 2020 Apprentice of the Year (Tier 1). Open to apprentices who have been in MITO’s canvas fabrication programme for less than 15 months, entrants are tasked with making a messenger bag to certain specifications. Bobbi decided to create a feminine bag with an automotive look. “I really wanted to make a bag that looked similar to a classic Chanel bag, but with vinyl,” she explains.

Bobbi was stoked when her quality craftsmanship and attention to detail caught the eye of the judges. “I was pretty shocked, but also really pleased,” she says. “At the start of the year I had written a list of goals for 2020 and one of those goals was to win Apprentice of the Year!” Motivated by this year’s successes, Bobbi is showing no sign of slowing down – in fact, she’s already got her goals set for next year. “I want to take out Tier Two and overall Apprentice of the Year!” she says.

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