|Galway-based milliner Caithriona King talks through how her start-up has gone from being a kitchen table hobby to a viable full-time business.
How did the company come about?
Since I was a child I’ve always had a creative flair and went on to study fine art at Waterford Institute of Technology. I started out on my millinery journey by designing a headpiece for my own wedding and after that I received quite a number of referrals, and the business really started from there.
To further enhance my skills, I studied millinery at the Wombourne School of Millinery in London and that really took the business from a kitchen table hobby to the point where I recently won the Irish Fashion Innovation Award for Millinery.
What challenges did you face in the early days?
Like any small business start-up it’s about getting the word out there, with most of my customers at the beginning being family and friends, gradually expanding over time. It was also important to keep costs as low as possible and develop at a viable and realistic pace - which is why I started working at the millinery part-time at the start.
Last year I made the difficult decision to leave a full-time pensionable job to pursue my millinery business. It was a risky and nerve wrecking decision but on the other hand it was a natural progression and thankfully the choice I made has been paying off so far.
Can you trace how the business has grown?
The business has literally gone from being a kitchen table hobby in 2004 to a full time profitable business. Two years ago I invested in a purpose-built studio giving me the creative space I need for designing, showcasing my work and meeting with customers. I have added millinery workshops for hen parties as an additional aspect to the business in recent years and it’s proving very popular.
In recent months I’ve also taking on an intern to learn the trade and assist me in growing the business. What is your marketing strategy and approach to branding? I keep my marketing strategy straightforward by driving awareness on social media platforms, attending a number of networking and fashion events, race meets and so on.
I’m fortunate that a lot of my business comes from referrals and word of mouth. The brand image I’ve adopted for Caithriona King Designs is to provide bespoke handmade headpieces that are affordable but suitable for any occasion ranging from eccentric creations to more traditional, wearable pieces.
Where do you go from here?
Winning the Irish Fashion Innovation Award for Millinery was a massive boost and recognition for my business, so receiving another award in the future would definitely be a focus. I’ve also been considering selling a selection of my pieces online.
I would love for some celebrities to wear one of my pieces. But really the focus is to continue making bespoke hats and headpieces to an ever expanding base of customers.