Georgie Wins ‘Apprentice of the Year’ for Dog-Friendly Design!

Our Industrial Upholstery Apprentice Georgie Fry was crowned Apprentice of the Year at last weekend’s national OFPANZ Awards in Tauranga. We’re stoked for her!

Adam, Georgie, Suzanne and Pete from Douglas Innovation as Georgie wins Advanced Textile Apprentice of the Year 2023

From left: Production Manager Adam, Overall Apprentice of 2023 Georgie Fry, with Pete and Suzanne, owners at Douglas, all of whom have supported Georgie in her apprenticeship.


The annual Outdoor Fabric Products Association of New Zealand (OFPANZ) Awards for Excellence offer apprentices a chance to showcase their technical skills, design excellence and innovation on a national stage.

OFPANZ Executive Officer Amanda Newport said this year’s entrants set a high standard. “Each entry showed a phenomenal amount of detail and effort put in by each apprentice.” said Amanda. “As the industry body, for us it’s amazing to see such talent coming out of our industry.

“We are also stoked to see the continued influx of women entering and excelling in the trade. We still have a very male-dominated industry, somewhere around 80%, so it’s wonderful to be building on that and to see females taking the leap and having positive experiences when they get here.”

The Winning Design: Millie’s Multi-Harness

Apprentices are briefed to create an innovative solution or product enhancement, using just 1.8m2 of outdoor fabric. Georgie’s design for Douglas, entitled ‘Millie’s Multi Harness’, was a custom-designed injury-support harness for her dog Millie.

Millie the dog with the award-winning Multi-Harness

The winning design incorporated several unique features not available in existing similar products, including handles for lifting her safely in and out of the car, easy fixing hooks for a dog that doesn’t sit still, and carry bags with domes to ensure Millie could be kitted out for whatever adventure she may embark on.

“I started brainstorming ideas which would help out at home. Millie’s always needed assistance getting in and out of the car and I realised a dog harness would stand out from previous entries, which are usually bags or covers. The interchangeable harness to coat came as an after-thought which I then had to re-work into the design.” – Georgie, designer.


As a member-funded organisation OFPANZ is a keen supporter of Industrial Textile Apprenticeships, helping to develop the MAST qualification and encouraging uptake across New Zealand. “These apprentices are the future of the industry, and it’s incredibly important that we keep this going.”

As is the case for most trades across New Zealand right now, attracting apprentices is an ongoing challenge.

“Industrial Upholstery is not often in the consideration set for would-be apprentices, but we know it should be!” explains Amanda. “When you consider the skills involved – designing anything from a custom caravan suite to a winery tank cover – fabricating, repairing, and keeping items in good use for decades, these are traditional skills of value which challenge the throw-away mentality and for which we foresee a huge demand.”

Apprentice of the Year Georgie agrees. “I love the job because it has so much variety. You’re hardly ever working on the same thing, from day to day its always different. One day you could be trimming vintage car seats, the next making a giant commercial shade sail. Almost all of our jobs are custom, made to measure, so someone comes to us with an idea of a product they want made, and it’s up to us to find a way of making it work! Once you have the basic sewing and fabric welding skills, its all about problem solving.’ 

On how Georgie got into the Advanced Textile Fabrication trade:

“It happened somewhat just by luck! I’d always been a maker of things but it wasn’t a trade that was ever talked about at school so unfortunately I didn’t find it until later in life. An ex-boyfriend of mine had worked as a Marine Trimmer in France and I’d done a bit of fashion sewing in High School so, I think, when Douglas employed me as a general hand, they must have seen some potential in me.”

The rest is history!

Celebrating with other winners from 2023 and previous years

Georgie (Overall Winner) celebrates on Awards night with other winners from 2023 and previous years – Serena Foote from Duncan’s Canvas in Hamilton (Tier 1 Winner), and previous Apprentice of Year winner Bobbie-Jo Wilkie from Napier Auto Upholstery. Highly Commended went to Richard Simonsen from Canvasland in Levin (not pictured).

The OFPANZ Industrial Textile Apprentice of the Year is sponsored by Workforce Development Council Hanga Aro Rau who covers flights and accommodation for winners to attend the event, textile supplier W Wiggins and MAST Academy, the industry’s training provider, which provides each winner with $250 prize money plus $500 for the winner overall.

The overall winner also receives a technological boost from Carr Group NZ, who gift them a welder for their ongoing advancement in the trade.
Arguably the biggest prize is of course bragging rights and the high that comes from achieving national recognition in their field.

As for Apprentice of the Year, she’s chuffed. “It feels like such a huge compliment for me to be awarded with Apprentice of the Year. The awards night was an incredible experience, celebrating the dedication and innovation of our industry and it was awesome to be part of it. I’m so grateful to the mentorship and support I’ve received from everyone at Douglas. In particular, our Production Manager Adam, and Pete and Suzanne, the owners, who have all been so supportive along the way. My dog Millie is pretty happy about it too!”

In addition to the apprentice awards Douglas received an Award for Excellence for our work, winning the Tension Structures & Canopies Award for our shade installation at the Co-op Cafe.