Irish Bridal Headpiece Designer Sandra L O’Hara chats with Startacus April 29, 2015 12:30
I was so honoured when the guys at Startacus asked to feature me as one of their creative entrepreneurs! Here is the full article from their website;
Taking a creative passion or skill and turning it into a ‘real-life’ trading business can be a tough thing to do. It’s also a process that many post-graduate artists and designers struggle to achieve; the commercialisation of one’s art can be as challenging as creating that art in the first place.
So, when we had the opportunity to chat with Sandra L O’Hara, a Designer, who has taken that very journey, by designing and handcrafting luxury bridal headpieces to be sold within her own trading business Blue Meadow Bridal, we jumped at the chance. Without further ado, here’s our Q&A with Sandra where we asked her about everything from her startup journey and where she gets inspiration through to how she is finding her place in the bridal market whilst turning a craft into a business.
First off, why not tell us a little about Blue Meadow Bridal and what led you to become a bridal headpiece designer?
Blue Meadow Bridal is a luxury, handcrafted, bridal adornment and veil business based in Belfast, that offers brides a range of custom made and bespoke bridal accessories. My journey to becoming a designer started quite serendipitously. In the spring of 2012, while I was still studying fine art at Ulster University, I was also planning my wedding in the south of France. Planning a wedding is never straightforward, and planning one in another country comes with its own set of challenges. Whilst I had a grapple on most aspects of the wedding, and had already found the perfect dress, I was struggling to find a bridal headpiece to perfectly complement it - something that was bespoke, modern, and made with quality materials. I decided to channel all my creative faculties and make myself a headpiece. In the end, my bridal adornment perfectly suited my style, the dress, and our somewhat bohemian wedding.
At the time, this was envisaged as a one-off endeavour. However, I was soon approached by a number of brides-to-be, who faced similar problems finding their perfect headpiece. Despite numerous commissions over the next few years, it was not until the final year of my degree that I began to seriously consider becoming a creative entrepreneur. Even with my first class honours degree in Fine Art, job opportunities within the creative industries were almost nonexistent. It soon became apparent that if I wanted to make use of the skills that I had honed and developed over the past five years, I'd need to carve out a career for myself. Thus, Blue Meadow Bridal was born. It has been over a year in the making, but the Celestial Collection has finally arrived – and I'm thrilled to present it!
In terms of building a collection of headpieces - where do you find the inspiration to create each piece of work?
As an artist and designer, my creative process always begins with a concept, which helps to underpin the body of work. For instance, the Celestial Collection is inspired by the transient and ethereal nature of early spring. While each piece is a self-contained entity, they are all thematically related, which is apparent when viewing the collection as a whole. Once I've settled on a theme, the next stage is research. For this particular collection, this involved everything from attending exhibitions and visiting botanical gardens, to sourcing old, historical volumes of Vogue and studying the visual language of the Art Deco period. Having sufficiently saturated myself in the theme, I then move on to sketching designs and creating mood boards. It is during this phase that I begin to request samples and source materials, which really helps translate the concept into something tangible.
Your website www.bluemeadowbridal.com is recently up and running. What was the hardest part of the process in terms of conceiving and launching the business?
Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult aspects of starting up has been financing the enterprise. Funding opportunities in the creative industries are notoriously limited, so I have raised the majority of capital myself. Blue Meadow Bridal is a luxury retailer, so it required quite a lot of money to source the finest materials - silks, soft English tulle, Austrian rhinestones, and freshwater pearls, to name but a few. Equally, sourcing the right materials was a process of trial and error, which demanded a lot of perseverance. Thankfully, I have developed a strong relationship with a number of UK and Ireland-based suppliers, who now capably fulfil my business needs.
How are bridal headpieces normally made and sold, and what makes Blue Meadow Bridal stand out in this market place?
There many approaches to buying and making bridal accessories. They can be sourced anywhere from bridal shops, to online retailers, or directly from individual designers. The same applies to how they are made: there are mass produced items and there are handmade items. Even within the handmade category, the approach to making them can vary greatly. In creating the Celestial Collection, I have striven to develop a collection that I would be proud to wear myself, while also catering for a range of bridal styles: from relaxed bohemian, to high glamour, from effortlessly cool, to the classically elegant bride.
Whilst some designers rely on the existing beadwork on a lace, I invest a lot of time and thought in a piece - stripping away the existing beadwork, before hand-sewing a unique arrangement of beads, rhinestones, and pearls, deftly creating a completely original composition. My designs are unique and labour intensive, something I am proud to showcase on my website, utilising a zoom-feature on all my product images. While some designer's websites tend to obscure their products, through elaborate photography or over-styling, I prefer to let the pieces speak for themselves, employing a clean and contemporary stylistic approach to displaying the work.
More generally, what valuable piece of advice would you pass on to any other creative entrepreneur looking to take that leap into self employment?
My main piece of advice is to be realistic about how long it may take. I have been at the mercy of suppliers over the past year: at times waiting over a month on samples, only for them to arrive and not be quite right. I try to see an opportunity in what initially seems like a setback. For instance, a forced interlude while waiting for materials to arrive affords the space to continue researching and refining your craft. Most importantly, be proud! Pre-existing opportunities for creative people are limited, perhaps more so than in any other industry. It can be tempting to take a job that has nothing to do with your creative skills for the sake of security; it takes real bravery to carve out your own career and become a creative entrepreneur.
Images © S L O'Hara