In the circle of life Gold Coast clothing designer Joanne Burger has made more than just a few u-turns. The attractive brunette has a New Zealand passport and supports the All Blacks, yet spent most of her life in Zimbabwe.
In her distinctive Southern African accent, Joanne's bright blue eyes sparkle as she talks of a life that began 42 years ago in Kiwi country after her mother made the move from South Africa with then husband, John Ross.
One of three girls, Joanne spent her first year in New Zealand before migrating with her family to Australia, where she lived until age three. Unfortunately her parents marriage didn't last and in her third year her mother took the three girls to live in Zimbabwe. Joanne says her love for designing and sewing began at a tender age. She recalls how, as a child, she would look at dresses in shop windows and feel a strong desire to replicate the designs on her mother's old Singer sewing machine.
As a child she would make clothes for her dolls, tenderly hand stitching the garments until she had perfected the look she desired. As she grew so did her talent and soon family and friends were requesting tailor-made outfits. “I had always sewed for everyone else. One day I was finishing off a dress my cousin was going to wear to a function that evening. I was going to the same function and realised I didn't have anything nice to wear.” Says Joanne: “I thought I'd better make myself something too and within two hours I had put together a lovely outfit.” She loves to drape fabric over herself and play with it to see how it falls. She then pins it quickly and sews it without using a pattern. Marrying at 20, Joanne moved to Kwekwe with her husband, a farmer. Her love for sewing grew and she soon found an outlet sewing lingerie for women living in remote farming communities. “I travelled to different farms selling lingerie sets which were made to order,” she says. “I built up quite a large clientele as there was nothing like this at the time, and most ladies would have travelled to South Africa to buy their lingerie.” Joanne says this nomadic way of selling introduced her to some colourful and interesting characters. “I once made a series of tiny stripper outfits for the son of a theatre family living in Harare. It was an interesting request and didn't take much material at all,” recalls Joanne with a laugh. Joanne and her husband had two children, Daniel, now 20, Kellie, now 18, and while life was good she says her desire to return to Australia grew stronger. “My husband did not want to leave Zimbabwe, but I was keen to go,” she says. “When our marriage ended, I left Africa for Australia and have lived on the Gold Coast since April last year.”
Thinking her experience would see her land a job in the Australian clothing industry quickly, Joanne says she applied for many jobs, but didn't get so much as an interview. “So I went back to college and did a fashion course at the Academy of Design.” This turn of events saw Joanne offered work experience with a business named Shiraz on Kirra. The talented designer was soon offered a partnership by the company's owner and in no time at all was dressing Australian women in beautifully designed, tailor-made garments.
While loving life in sunny Queensland, Joanne says she will always be grateful for the years spent designing lingerie for women in Zimbabwe. “This gave me the feel for how a garment fits a variety of body shapes and enabled me to tailor the perfect fit for the individual,” she says. And while a part of her will always belong to the dusty African plains, her new life on the Gold Coast has her excited about the future. With Joanne's talent and drive to succeed, it is only a matter of time before her name is firmly cemented in the annals of the Australian fashion industry.
One Gold Coast celebrity dressed by Joanne is Moyra Major from Sea FM. Moyra's wedding dress was handcrafted by Joanne. Australian Alana Russell, who was fourth
runner up in a Miss Universe contest, was also dressed by the designer.