How Did 48-Year-Old Crystal Demas Achieve

From a young age, I was fascinated by beautiful clothes, and I remember watching my grandfather, a selftaught tailor, meticulously turn fabric into stylish men’s garments. My childhood best friend always wore the latest fashion, and I’d secretly admire her wardrobe, knowing my single mom could never aford clothes like those for me. Although I would dream about swirling about in a new skirt or going out in a smart jacket, I only thought about making my own clothes later as a teenager. When I got to high school, I was lucky that I could choose needlework as one of my subjects. As I learnt more and practised sewing, it soon became less of a school subject and more of a hobby.

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On weekends I’d fix small tears in clothes, and I’d have fun choosing fabric and even designing my own garments. I soon discovered that I had a talent for it, and it was an inexpensive way to update my wardrobe. When I turned 18, my mother bought me a second-hand sewing machine – I was delighted! I could now experiment more and not spend ages threading a needle just to put up a hem. On a weekend away in Durban, my friend and I were unexpectedly invited to a birthday party. I hadn’t packed anything appropriate to wear for it, but I managed to tweak an ordinary skirt and turn it into an amazing bubble skirt. I was pretty chufed with myself, and the compliments from everyone at the party were the reairming push I needed to start taking my hobby more seriously. For every party I was invited to after that, I would buy material and then sew my own outfits. Soon my cupboard was full of my own creations.
After finishing my studies, I ended up working full time in a pharmacy retail job, and while I still loved sewing, I didn’t have much time to focus on making my clothes. Plus, now that I was earning a salary, I could aford to shop for a new top or dress whenever I wanted to. I met my husband Roy in 1985. Soon after we got married we started a family; I had my two daughters less than two years apart and I decided to leave my job to be a stay-at-home mom. With only my husband working, finances were tight so I opted to make clothes for my kids instead of buying them. I really loved creating small outfits, from their First Holy Communion dresses to everyday wear they could play in. When my eldest daughter was nine years old I went back to work. I didn’t enjoy my job, but we needed the extra money. On weekends I’d spend hours at my sewing machine, and I’d often wonder if I could turn my love for making clothes into a living. At the end of 2011, I was still unhappy at work so I made the decision to quit and turn my dream into a reality.
It was a big risk but Roy was very supportive of my decision. I was anxious about the next step and worried if I’d done the right thing financially. A few months later, while I was still figuring out how I was going to start my business, I made my daughter’s matric farewell dress. She looked stunning, and for weeks after the event I received compliments about the dress. It was the confidence boost that I needed. Then I was introduced to Robyn Roberts, a bridal dress designer in Cape Town. She was good friends with some women I’d met at church, and after they told me about her, I knew that we had to meet. She showed me how her business worked and gave me tips on being my own boss. I was so inspired that I registered my company Opal By Chrystal – the combination of my birthstone and name – the next day. It hasn’t always been easy, but my business has grown over the past few years. I was lucky when South African musician Jimmy Nevis approached me to make costumes for his music videos, and I’m now the go-to dressmaker in my community. This year, I entered a reality TV show for budding fashion designers called Stik-Stik So, and the experience and exposure I gained as a contestant has been unbelievable. Although so much has changed since I first picked up a needle and thread as a teenager, some things will always stay the same – like the joy I get from creating special outfits for my daughters.

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