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Career

I swapped a career in forensics for fashion and now I'm showing collections in London!

From crime to korowai, Dot Stowers has had a big change of scenery!

Five years ago, Dot Stowers decided she wanted to collect feathers instead of fingerprints.
Worn down by shift work, the police crime-scene attendant swapped a career in forensics for fashion, launching her own business designing handwoven contemporary korowai (Māori cloaks).
And the leap of faith seems to have paid off – if not yet financially, Dot jokes, at least by filling up her "creative and emotional kete". Her dining room now doubles as a weaving studio, and the first thing you notice in her home on Auckland's North Shore are the dozen or so mannequins lined up from the hallway all the way through to the lounge, draped in exquisitely decorated cloaks.
Each one has a story, but it's a regal, white korowai adorned with coral peacock feathers that catches our eye.
"Ah that's my Erihipeta (Elizabeth)," says the 55-year-old, smiling.
"Of course, I had to get a photo of myself wearing it outside Buckingham Palace, secretly hoping her namesake might just be peering out of the window at the same time!"
Dot's bespoke pieces have been sold in Ireland, America and Australia.
The Weekly is catching up with Dot not long after she's arrived home from three weeks in England, where she launched her collection at London Pacific Fashion Week. And it's clear she's still on cloud nine.
"Seeing my 14 creations go down the runway, and getting to showcase my artistry and culture felt like a dream," gushes Dot, the only New Zealand designer to feature.
"I had to keep telling myself, 'I'm really here!'" she says.
The London-based models weren't aware of the prestige associated with korowai, so she shared the meaning behind the traditional garment.
Dot also said a quick karakia (prayer) to bless each korowai and those wearing them, giving the models a simple piece of advice before they walked on stage: "Think of yourselves as Audrey Hepburn, a timeless beauty with a lot of mana."
Since the show, her bespoke pieces − which have been labelled 'couture korowai' − have sold to buyers in Ireland, America and Australia.
"I seem to be globally hot, locally not," laughs the bubbly mum of two adult sons, Kurt (37) and Ryan (27).
"I've had some criticism from my own people, but my sons and husband Steven [58] believe in me 100% and that's what keeps me going. There have been times where I've thought I should go back to (police) work, but my husband's been adamant I stay with my passion."
In contrast to traditional korowai weaving, which is made with flax fibre, Dot creates her modern interpretation of korowai using polyester braid, cottons and wool.
Each cloak takes more than 200 hours of work, including finalising the designs.
"The preparation work is just as long – soaping feathers and cutting the whenu (braid)."
Dot, who is of Ngāpuhi and Irish descent and grew up in Otara, South Auckland, says starting her own business – aptly named WeaveRdream – has not only been a labour of love, but a journey of self-discovery and a way to embrace her culture.
The upper case 'R' is a tribute to her mother Rita, who Dot cared for until she died in 2005.
"My mum had a hard life as a single mum of five. We'd always had a strong relationship and I would do anything for her," Dot says.
"She was a strong and spirited woman in spite of her challenges in life. I'm proud she still held on to her te reo and tikanga Māori and her sense of humour. Those qualities have given me strength and courage, especially when I found myself as a single mum at 21. I didn't have much money for food, but I owned my own house and paid my bills."
Following Rita's death, Dot began doing things outside her comfort zone, including skydiving and joining the police after working as a public servant.
"I had never thought about entering the police force until I saw an ad looking for applicants to be trained as crime-scene attendants," says Dot.
"I was up against students who had just finished their master's degree in forensics, whereas my strengths were in customer service.
"My job was to swab DNA, take fingerprints, and collect and preserve evidence, among other things, for high-volume crime such as commercial and industrial burglaries."
Dot was honoured to have her designs showcased in London.
However, the yearning to pursue creative endeavours never let up and Dot realised she no longer had the heart for police work.
So, on her days off, she did a weaving course at a marae in Papakura. She walked in only to discover that one of the tutors, Ida White, was an aunt she hadn't seen for five years (Ida was recently awarded a Queen's Service Medal for services to Māori art).
"A year later, my nephew was getting married and my sister asked if I'd make two korowai," she says.
"I'd never made one, but I knew if I could visualise it, I could make it.
"The wairua (spirit) that emanated through all of us when I placed the korowai on my nephew and his bride gave me goosebumps. They started crying. It was so magical and I couldn't ignore that this feeling signalled the start of my future path."

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