Congratulations to Elfriede Holtkamp, Founder of Ecole Holt Couture and professional Couturier | 2019 Women of Inspiration™ – Lifetime Achievement Award.
We are humbled to be able to honour a woman who is truly a role model on every level!
Elfriede Holtkamp, Founder of Ecole Holt Couture and professional Couturier in Calgary since 1954, emigrated from Europe and established her couture and tailoring atelier in Calgary with a population then of just 168,000. In a few short years, she was creating professional working wardrobes for women entering the corporate world of a burgeoning oil and gas industry.
Along with evening gowns for annual galas, and outfits for annual Calgary Stampede Royalty from 1964 to 1973, she created outfits for invited dignitaries such as Patricia Edwina Victoria Mountbatten, Katharine-Duchess of Kent, and the wife of the Honorable Governor General of Canada Roland Michener.
Elfriede operated as an independent business owner, with a handful of long-time employees until 1973, when she continued to work solo. In 2007 She opened Ecole Holt Couture School of Sewing and Design, after 15 years in the development to pass on her vast experience and expertise to future generations of creative sewing artisans. She taught until 2017, when she handed over the torch on to her daughter Jutta, also professionally trained by Elfriede. Now in her 94th year, she remains a mentor at the school and elder of couture.
Elfriede’s definition of a Woman of Inspiration someone who perseveres in the face of and despite challenges that life throws at you. Doesn’t listen to ‘it cannot be done’ skeptics. Always looks forward, learns from the past. Focuses on personal as well as professional progress, no matter how slow or convoluted, it’s the long game that counts. Respects the need for creative self-fulfillment, prioritizes family, values friendships, cultures a rich spiritual life, and gives back to the community.
What it means to be recognized
It means that all obstacles overcome, victories won, and investment in my art form has value today that others can benefit from. I would love to see more women create sustainable and fulfilling careers in my industry. Proving that there are alternate ways to serve the fashion market by creating garments that are needed, beautiful, functional and that last, which aren’t a burden on the environment, that will generate a good living for those working not only with their minds but also with their hands. I hope that I have set a good example of these ideas in my own life.
Who have been your cheerleaders and SupportHER’s?
My greatest supporters are my late husband and my daughter who never complained during the times I had to work longer hours and who stepped in to help wherever they saw the need. My long-term clients who became good friends, appreciated the effort and quality of my work, were very supportive and very willing to pay for my work. My students are the champions of my work and of the school. I love each one dearly and want to see each one succeed!
My greatest reward has always been how positive and happy my clients were with their garments – that is what keeps you going, not the monetary reward. Yes, that is necessary, but not what keeps you going
Leadership Words. These are all things I promote and have lived by.
You must be your authentic self; you are totally unique in this world and doesn’t benefit your spirit pretending to be someone else or living up to someone else’s expectations or dreams.
Find what it is you love and are good at, and then make it work for you. That’s what will sustain you through the tough times; where you will find happiness and fulfillment. Not everyone is fortunate enough to earn a living doing what they really love but do, make it a big part of your life.
Stand up for what is good and right. You may not always be able to it overtly, but there are many ways to overcome adversity without being confrontational. Don’t give in to negativity, and don’t give up.
Success is not a destination but a journey. It takes a very long time to achieve success, just like becoming very old – it means you must live a very long time. Failure is a valuable part of learning, don’t underestimate it. The things you learn the quickest and best are through failures, not successes.
We strive to pass these values on to our students. Garments are made for unique individuals, not the other way around. They must be functional as well as beautiful; genuine quality and excellent craftsmanship is the definition of true luxury.
Never be satisfied with ‘good enough’; always strive for excellence in all areas of your work; your reputation relies on it. A successful business can fold in an instant without reputable ethics. Not everyone will be supportive or happy with your success, live with it. Your satisfaction should come from within, not the approval of others, but your business survival depends on it.
Always make your client feel like a VIP. Be gracious and confident in your abilities. Don’t be afraid of admitting to a mistake, repair the damage immediately, and then learn from it and do not repeat. The takeaway is that it earns you respect.
Set good boundaries and be confident in declining clients who you are not comfortable working with, not everyone is a good fit for you.
There is no shame in working for a living, which may sound like stating the obvious, but you must do what is necessary to sustain yourself first while holding fast to your dreams. It takes courage, perseverance, and dedication to follow your dreams.
To cultivate talent with a high success rate, we try to make sure our students are well suited and a good fit for our program. There is no point in taking someone on who is better suited to another type of educational program. Sewing and design skills we teach are useful for applications other than garments such theatre costuming, soft furnishings, adaptable to manufacturing or purely an art form.
Finally, you’ll never stop learning, that is what makes life and pursuing your career interesting and worthwhile.