After a long-standing career as a public health doctor, Cathy Pikholz has ditched the white coat and stethoscope for a needle and thread, and following her passion for sewing and making fashion accessories for our four-legged friends.
The 61-year-old has started her own business, Sew Cathy Sew, which she operates from her inner-city Auckland apartment, making bandanas for dogs and collar covers
"With colourful collar covers, birds can see cats coming and have time to fly away," says Cathy.
The animal enthusiast was making clothes even as a young child growing up in the town of Paarl in South Africa. Her mother, Dorothy Brooks, taught her how to sew and she was making lined tailored suits as a teenager.
Cathy says she would have loved to pursue a career in design and sewing, but was swayed into the medical profession because she was following in the footsteps of her mother, who was also a doctor and died of cancer when Cathy was just 16. "My mum was a very strong woman," she confides. "You had to be tough to be a female doctor in the '50s. She didn't take nonsense from anybody. It was a misogynistic industry and she had to be strong to survive."When I was growing up in the late '70s, if you were bright, you were steered into a career of medicine or law. I also felt pressure from my parents to study medicine."
Cathy married fellow South African doctor Geoff and they immigrated to New Zealand in 1987 to escape the apartheid regime.
"My husband had spent two years of compulsory military service. He hated every day of those two years because it was still under apartheid. In those days, you could still be called up for military camps for a month every year for the next 10 years. We didn't want to live under that regime and bring up our children in that environment."
The pair moved to Patea and became the GPs of the small South Taranaki town, and had two daughters, Emma and Naomi.
"I sewed a lot when I came to New Zealand," recalls Cathy. "I would make clothes for my children. I find sewing and other kinds of crafts very mindful activities. It's a good stress reliever because being a doctor is very stressful."
The family eventually moved to Auckland, where Cathy gave up general practice to become a public health doctor, and her husband became a geriatrician.
"Public health is about preventing ill health and stopping health problems becoming worse," she explains. "If you think of GPs treating individual people, then public health looks at groups of people and the population is the patient. I found my niche when I moved into public health because of the broad focus."
Cathy retired from the medical profession in 2019, thinking it was the perfect time to follow her passion and start her sewing business. She is a self-taught business owner, selling at markets and learning how to navigate her Sew Cathy Sew website.
She started off making her doggy bandanas, then moved into the feline collar covers and now whips up garments for babies as well. She manages her business and orders at home, where she has "a little cupboard", where she knocks out her clever creations.
"It all started in 2017 when I made a cotton Silver Fern bandana for my puppy Mack to wear to support the All Blacks during the Lions tour," she shares. "This started me thinking about making bandanas for other people's dogs. Mack is my muse. He helps as much as he can. He's the chief bandana tester and model."
Cathy's cat collar covers came about after she was trying to find a way to stop her daughter's cat from killing birds and bringing them into the house.
"When I made the bright fabric collar for my daughter's cat, the number of birds she brought into the house decreased," she tells.
Cathy is also using her business to help raise money and awareness for the charity Pet Refuge. Fifty cents of each purchase is donated to the organisation.
"It's an important charity because it helps people escaping domestic violence by housing their pets until the owners are safe and are in a position to care for them again," she enthuses.
Cathy says that challenging herself and learning new skills early in her retirement is keeping her mind active.
"What I'm doing now is really good for me. I'm aware that I need to keep my brain active because I have a family history of Alzheimer's disease and this is one thing that I can do to help."
As a new small-business owner, Cathy says she's grateful to have a loyal client base and make a profit, especially during these difficult Covid times.
"I'm always thinking of other useful and beautiful products to make and sew. I'm a perfectionist, as a lot of doctors are. I enjoy problem-solving.
"I don't have a business background, but I'm working my way through it and challenging myself every step of the way."
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