Multi Award Winning Milliner Sarah O’ Rourke is the owner and head designer of Saraden Designs. It is an Irish Design company founded in 2016. Sarah began Saraden Designs with a vision of creating unique millinery pieces which really capture the eye of the audience. We at Hi HQ have been keeping a keen eye on Sarah and her business during lockdown and she brought us endless joy with her designs and pictures. Here our Editor Mary-Jane chats the pandemic Pivot with Sarah who recently began an accidental modelling career.
When did you realise that as a small business you would need to pivot?
I had a good inkling in Early March as to what was going to happen judging by what had happened in Europe. When lockdown began in March and everything began to be cancelled I knew I had to market my business in a different way.
What did that pivot look like?
I have 2 businesses my Saraden Design Millinery and My Saraden Design Illustrations. I decided to separate the two out. Saraden Designs is obviously millinery and I began to experiment with other millinery pieces that could be packaged smaller, not be as time consuming and expand into bridal. I had to rethink my social media, join in virtual events as my designs are very visual and create videos to explain my work.
Virtual Events have been a huge focus for me for example Culture Night 2020 was taken online so I created a video of my work with short explanations, Virtual Ladies Days have really stood out for me and I have made bespoke pieces for these as well as wearing pieces I already had made. Myself and mum have been dressing up since March with my hats and racing style to promote Saraden Designs. I’ve also been interviewed on radio and insta live and partaken in various zoom events, it’s the new norm and something which everyone needs to become comfortable with.
Saraden Illustrations is where I sewn portraits and images into handmade fabric and it is then framed. I created separate social media accounts for it and a website is underway. At first I was able to sell through word of mouth/previous clients but as time has progressed and nothing has changed an online shop in the way forward.
How did you home in on new goals?
I took every opportunity that was given to me. I was glued to social media and watching out for who was helping small businesses, how to get involved, watching for virtual events, magazine submissions, grants anything and everything and I am still very much doing that because I need to take every opportunity I can to promote both businesses.
Did the change come from within your business or did external things help?
It came from within the business. At the start everyone was blind as to what would happen and I couldn’t wait for the outcome as I didn’t know when it would be and we are still very much in the midst of Covid. I do have a close connection with a Fashion Academy I work with Project Fashion and we would share information with each other which is always great to know you have support from fellow business owners.
Did you need to reduce your product line?
I didn’t reduce as such as a lot of my designs are bespoke in both businesses. It gave me the chance to build up more ready made pieces. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with a bridal line which has gradually been introduced.
Did your core mission change?
I think part of my business is me being the face and getting out there and explaining that my business is different. Everything is handmade and sewn and love, time and effort goes into everything.
I need to now explain this through my social media and let people who may not already know that this is what I do and I am the one that does it all. I am still very focused on getting my designs into the world and I am doing this by submitting to magazines worldwide and having my designs published.
I have the same core mission, I just have to explain it in a different way.
Do you feel that you have found the shift from direct to customer to online tough?
Yes and no, I have had a lot of people come to me for bespoke pieces through word of mouth and through previous customers. Getting online has its challenges, I’ve had to begin to create a whole new website for Saraden Illustrations and update Saraden Designs. I have built both by myself. I am quite tech savvy but building a website has it challenges and I am by no means an expert.
I quite like the face to face customer so again taking it online and not having that interaction has been difficult.
Covid has had a huge impact with all my events cancelled for the year. I had the opportunity in September 2020 to enter Size Gorgeous’s online model search 2020, something which I probably would not have had the opportunity to do if Covid had not happened. I won the title and a year long modelling contract with Size Gorgeous Management. It will be a good experience for myself, gain publicity for myself and my business and also promote body confidence in women.