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DIVERSE CITY

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From an early age, Larisa Sokele was destined to be a dressmaker.

As a toddler, she watched intensely as her mum transformed bland materials into works of art.

Larise Sokele. Photograph's: NewRayPics.com
Larise Sokele. Photograph's: NewRayPics.com

Into her teens, she spent hours on the sewing machine at home, designing new patterns and blending colours.

Imagination running wild; a blank canvas.

“My mum did sewing at home and she found that I liked doing some stitching, and she started giving me some jobs,some easy ones, to do,” recalls Larisa.

“And I just continued doing it. At 16, I went to an evening class for sewing and, after leaving school, I went to the dressmaker school for two years where we studied design fashion, special drawing, textile machinery... everything, all the types of techniques that can be used .”

Larisa , who has a degree in manufactural technology, was only 20 and working at her local sewing factory when she made her first wedding dress.

Whatever the age, it is a huge responsibility to perfect a dress for someone’s dream day.

“I was always making things from scratch, for myself, for my family, for my daughter,” says Larisa.

“I was 20 when I made my first wedding dress from scratch and the lady still has the dress at home. I still remember the style.

“It is xa big responsibility, but if you're doing this job for 30years, you will be professional.”

Larisa, from Latvia, completed two years at dressmaking school – the highest qualified in her class – and went to work at the local manufactory.

But it didn’t invite or embrace new ideas.

Larise Sokele with one of her designs at her Greenbank premises.
Larise Sokele with one of her designs at her Greenbank premises.

It was a production line that allowed no room for expression or creativity.

Larisa, however, still managed to express herself, while earning a little more income.

“I was taking orders,” she said.

“If someone wanted me to make something, I would do it as well as working at the manufactory.”

Aged 33, Larisa moved to Ireland in 2001.

“I came to make a better life for my daughter,” says Larisa.

“It was a big decision for me because my daughter was growing up and wanted to go to different classes; dance classes, English classes, art school...there were better opportunities for my daughter.”

Larisa moved to Meath and worked at the local sewing factory, making uniform trousers for schools.

Just over two years later, the company laid its staff off and shifted operations overseas.

It was the needed catalyst for Larisa to take the plunge and go it alone.

“It was hard to find anything in manufactory and I just decided, yes, I will open my own business.” Larisa known locally as Lora opened Lora Dressmaking and Alterations at Greenbank in Newry.

Fifteen years later, Larisa - who now works on around 600 dresses a year - is still running her highly successful dressmaking and alterations business.

And she beams with pride as she talks about her daughter Julia’s employment at one of London’s most prestigious retailers.

Julia is a team manager for the designer company Louis Vuitton at Harrod’s.

“I'm very proud,” says Larisa.

“She is doing really well, she started working when she was 23 and was the youngest manager. She was frightened at the start, but he is doing very well.”

“My sister is also doing very well in Dublin. She is a pastry chef in a very, very famous restaurant and is doing amazing desserts and cakes. She wins gold prices regularly which goes into competitions.”

Larisa’s dressmaking and alterations business in Newry’s Greenbank Industrial Estate is also doing well.

So well, in fact, that bookings are by appointment only and she doesn’t have the time to design and make her own wardrobe.

“I don’t get time to make dresses for myself - my time is too expensive,” says Larisa.

Brexit looms over everyone at the minute, particularly businesses.

But Larisa’s unconcerned.

She believes her small but profitable business is sustainable.

And she is hoping to pass on her expertise to the next generation of dressmakers.

“I can not know if Brexit will affect me or not, but I am not worried because I can learn a new language and get work anywhere

“I still have many customers; they have been with me since I opened, they don't want to change the dressmaker.

“There are probably some changes I would like for myself. I am trying to teach sewing. I was doing it in the Ulster University in Belfast and I loved it.

“I love to work with students, because every student is a new project and it makes my brain work very hard for them.

“Teaching is something I would like to pursue, maybe get some classes in the Southern Regional College, because I would like to see somebody help my business continue.”

On her adopted homeland in Ireland, Larisa added: “I love the country because it is so green and the winters are so mild.

“It wasn't hard to adapt; It took a while just to find the language. It felt like I was starting from the beginning, it was hard being away from my family.

“But I am happy here and, to be realistic, I am too old to go back to Latvia now to start a new business again.

“I like here because I am happy here with my partner and my work. There is no reason go back; I miss my mum, but this is normal for everyone. This is my home.”

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DIVERSE CITY VIDEO

Larisa Sokele - Diverse City
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Larisa Sokele from Latvia talks about her Dressmaking business in Newry

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Ewa Gorzelak-Deska from Zawiercie in Poland talks about her life in Newry after moving here in 2016.

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