Refugee to fashion designer

Family, community and faith
October 24, 2019
Reflecting on my life
October 28, 2019

 Refugee to fashion designer


My background 

I came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam in 1981, aged 11 years.  I completed some primary school and all my high school in Australia and then trained as a fashion designer/seamstress at Bentley TAFE.

I am good at fashion designing and worked for a clothing designer in Perth in their bridal shop, but was let go after two years because management could pay a new recruit less money. I also worked for another exclusive bridal couture for nearly 2 years. I worked very hard, and was underpaid and never got paid on time. The pay cheque often bounced so I left that place and lost all my entitlements.

 After that I decided to open my own bridal shop and had it for 3 years. The rent doubled and it was hard to keep the shop going. Also I was having my first child so I moved back home and worked from home. I also worked from home making clothes on consignment.

 I found all of this hard and was afraid of going back into the workforce.

From back injury to career change

My first visit to Ishar was after I injured my back at netball.  I came to see the doctor and take part in the exercise program. 

From there I learned about other Ishar services like the computer course. Through Ishar I did the Wider Opportunities for Work (WOW) course at TAFE.  Then I returned to TAFE to do a Cert 3 course in Community Services. 

A big difference in my life

Ishar made a big difference to my life. Every staff member at Ishar has helped and I took up every opportunity that came along. I was helped in many ways with my studies and especially with language issues and with computer skills.

The Manager of Health Services recommended that I become a support worker with Ishar and that helped me rebuild my confidence. I was linked to an Ishar staff member who managed the perinatal program and she encouraged me to become a bi-cultural worker with the perinatal program.

I have learned a lot and am a much stronger person. I can now speak in front of people and have the confidence to manage a group of people.


This story is an example of how little things can make major changes in a person’s life and how setbacks can contribute to positive changes.

  • Giang’s (pseudonym) early experience at work as a fashion designer was demoralising and made her wary of repeating that workforce experience.
  • She has shown to be responsive to available opportunities and not afraid to try new things even if they seem very challenging.
  • She responds to people and people respond to her. She is a good communicator with a bubbly personality.
  • Her own experiences and her bilingual/bicultural skills and understandings became a good base for her current work.
  • The medical help she originally sought opened many other life-changing doors, but that depended on Ishar staff seeing her possibilities and Giang taking up all that was offered to her.