Pro Features

Fashion Designer draws huge facebook following

The marketing power of Facebook has surprised a Hawke’s Bay home-based clothing producer who has acquired 29,437 page followers, and still counting, since first posting an offer of children’s clothing two years ago.

Donna Paterson-Mills and her husband Bryce have since extended Donna’s design of clothing into womenswear and have launched a website,,which has streamlined order taking, payments and despatch – and made their home life less hectic.

“It’s all grown so quickly. Our plan is for the website to handle the retail side of our business so we can get our own lives back again,” says Donna.

To give some perspective of the popularity of the Oli & Gus Facebook page, its number of followers exceeds by five times the Facebook following of a successful womenswear retailer with 41 stores throughout New Zealand.

The website will extend the offering of “meant to be worn” clothes for women under their Hot Mamma label, which offers short runs of each garment style – some selling out completely within hours of a post on Facebook.

“Our Hocus Pocus sweater is a recent example. It sold out in eight hours,” says Donna, who designs all the clothes and chooses the fabric for each garment.

Uppermost in her mind is the lifestyle of busy women, like herself, who want good quality clothes that are comfortable to wear, will still look good after repeated washes and offer an individual flair.

“I’m sure our customers like the idea that there’s not much chance of someone else wearing exactly the same dress at the same place.”

She says there is no deference to fashion magazines or catwalk trends, as evident in the Facebook photos of Donna ‘modelling’ her latest garments without make-up or any pretence at being a fashion model.

They had tried modelling with a professional photographer “but I didn’t look like me,” says Donna.

son Angus, now 6, to take the photos with her cell-phone, usually outside for natural light, and then Donna selects an image for uploading to Facebook with no thought of any photo edit.

On the supply side, the opposite happens because there is nothing casual about how the garments are produced.

An offshore garment supplier has learned to follow Donna’s designs and fabric choices and their ongoing communications have led to a mutual respect, as seen in a recent invitation to join the supply company at a major fabric market event.

Donna says her interest in clothing design began as a young girl playing with cotton reels, pattern boxes and a button box at the foot of her grandmother’s antique sewing table.

Rose was a renowned dressmaker in the Hawke’s Bay – her last project, at the age of 80, being Donna’s wedding dress with Arabic embroidery supplied by Donna – and Donna gradually learned from her grandmother the basic skills and art of making clothes.

“I had the most amazing wardrobe as a child, all beautifully handmade. I fell in love with a terry towelling bikini and remember the smocked frocks and dresses Rose made for me. Eventually I started making my own pieces from fabric pulled out of a remnants bag.”

A Massey University bachelor degree in resource and environmental planning enabled Donna to travel to Asia and the Middle East as a language and art teacher, a venture that ultimately led her back into clothing design.

“In Al Ain (the ‘garden city’ 150 kilometres south of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates) I spent hours in the fabric markets and met with the artisans who created the most beautiful garments.

“I started designing my own clothes again to wear while teaching at a private school in Al Ain. My designs had to keep within the Donna ‘models’ her garment designs PRO around the house for young son Angus Feature or husband Bryce to take the photos that are uploaded to Facebook.

cultural boundaries of the Middle East but I added my own ideas on colour.”

In Australia, which became her home for 18 years, Donna worked at management level in the fashion industry while husband Bryce continued his management role in industrial construction.

Three years ago (2014), the couple returned to the Hawke’s Bay and created their Oli & Gus label on Facebook as a work-at-home project for Donna.

She attributes the popularity of Oli & Gus to garment quality, price and an individual look in the designs shaped by her own attitude and lifestyle that’s “a little quirky, a bit bohemian … definitely not mainstream”.

The retail price of each garment is kept close to a target of $100.

“This is not designer clothing and evening wear, unless you want it to be, and it’s priced at a level where someone can see something they like and order it online without too much concern.”