Fashion maven Thelna Esterhuizen, whose label Est by Thelna recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, tells Liz O’Reilly about getting started and her aim to help women feel good about themselves.
An interior designer by profession, Thelna moved to Bahrain for her husband’s work six years ago. Originally from South Africa, she had previously had a thriving interior design business which she continued when the couple initially moved to Oman.
Once in the Kingdom she started buying clothes and jewellery to send back for sale in South Africa but, finding competition from areas such as China extremely tough, she decided to have her own pieces made.
She explains: “I was buying fabric and having things made up, but I’m impatient. It was taking up to three weeks and, of course, I wanted the pieces straight away. I was in a haberdashery one day when I happened to mention that I was looking for a tailor to work with. Within half an hour I had a call from Ravi, we met and he just gets me. We have been working together ever since.”
That was five years ago and Thelna was soon planning fashion shows to display her works, each with a theme that turns the event into a party, from crowns to circus. One year she ran her show at Muharraq Stables – “A logistical challenge but a lot of fun.” And for the future she is planning a pop-up street show.
Ethereal and almost fairy- tale pretty, Thelna’s clothes tell their own story, from the cowgirl and ranch dresses, perfect for wearing with boots, to netted and embellished confections which would not be out of place in Alice in Wonderland.
And what they all have in common is Thelna’s own ethic that fashion should be for everyone. Her shows don’t feature stick- thin models but rather everyday women – mostly the designer’s own friends. And the magazine she has produced to promote her work takes the same attitude pages filled with average ladies, in all shapes and sizes – having fun in funky clothes.
She continues: “Women can be quite intimidating and I wanted to help them. When I was in Cape Town I did a course with Nina Brown, who’s a colour consultant. I came back and put together my own course called Inner/Outer Beauty which is about discovering your own beauty – you have to be happy from inside.
“I ask what do you see in the mirror? Then I try to teach women to see the good in themselves. We’re all very critical of ourselves and sometimes we forget to be happy. That’s also a message I want to send out with my clothes – they’re about helping women feel good about themselves.”
As her adult line was becoming established she found herself in demand in another, rather unexpected, sphere. Asked to design clothes for a friend’s young daughters to take part in an annual kids’ fashion show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA, she was delighted when the youngsters went on to win their categories.
This led to offers of more of designing for kids in the States and Thelna is now in the position where she may have to make a choice between continuing to work on her adult clothing line or working on kids’ fashion full time.
She says: “To be honest, I could actually be in the States full time but I do love what I do here and I would miss Bahrain and the clientele I have built up here.”
For the moment, she is planning next year’s shows as well as running her classes and holding monthly open house displays at The Art House. So if you fancy a Thelna piece, grab it while you can. g