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Image / Style / Irish Design

Irish Design Spotlight: Sarahden Designs


By Sarah O’Rourke
16th Apr 2023
Irish Design Spotlight: Sarahden Designs

Saraden Designs, Millinery Atelier was set up in 2016 by Irish Milliner Sarah O’Rourke. All pieces are hand produced in Ireland by Sarah, who endeavours to bring millinery back to the front of the fahion consciousness. Here she tells us more about her slow fashion brand.

Tell us about you and your brand
Saraden Designs, Millinery Atelier is a multi-award winning slow fashion brand based in Ashbourne Co. Meath. All of my pieces including my fabrics are handmade in-house by myself. Once a sheet is made, it cannot be replicated, making each design bespoke to its owner. All the cut-offs are reworked back into the designs leaving no waste. Saraden Designs supports the idea of creating, designing and buying pieces for quality and longevity. I have a wide creative background and was trained classically in Visual Art Practice and Sculpture Design in I.A.D.T Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. Since finishing formal education I’ve honed my design skills bringing together my love of textile design and sculpture to create beautiful bespoke millinery pieces.

My sculptural background gives me an advantage. I am a self-taught milliner, so everything I design I have taught myself through experimentation and developing my techniques. I take my 2D fabrics and transform them into 3D sculptural pieces. I really enjoy manipulating my fabrics and the journey as a designer that this has taken me on.

A Saraden piece is innovative. My work distinguishes itself with its bold, unexpected materials and colour combinations while my love of fine art sculpture is peppered throughout. I am also an advocate for women in business. I recently took on the role of Network Ireland Meath Vice President. Network Ireland is a progressive and dynamic organisation supporting the professional and personal development of women in business.

2022 was a big year for me, I was one of 16 artisans from eight European countries to be awarded a Go and See Trade voucher by The Design and Craft Council Ireland and Crafting Europe. I attended The NY NOW trade show in New York in August 2022. The aim of the programme is for businesses to go and see trade fairs abroad, gather information and understand the essential elements of exporting their produce properly in the future.

I was one of 30 Irish and French Designers to take part in The Honora French and Irish Sustainable Couture Fashion Show on July 16th 2022. It was organised by The Limerick Bastille Day Wild Geese Festival and Celia Holman Lee from the Holman Lee Model Agency. I also entered Hatalk Magazine’s 10th Anniversary Millinery Competition. Over 100 milliners from all over the world entered and my design was shortlisted into the top 10. I represented Ireland at London Hat Week 2022 in the Morley Gallery Westminster with my Millinery Design. I was amongst great milliners such as Stephen Jones who made millinery pieces for Diana Princess of Wales.

So far, 2023 has proven to be just as exciting for Saraden Designs. I exhibited at Showcase Ireland in the RDS Dublin and The Midwest Bridal Expo in Limerick with Celia Holman Lee and I am running my own millinery workshops with more exciting events to follow this year. I’ve won Best Wedding Supplier 2022 at The Meath Style Awards, Event Expert at the Irish Micro Business Awards 2022, Overall winner Event Expert at the UK & Irish Micro Business Awards 2022 Emerging Business Award at the Meath Business and Tourism Awards 2021, Business Woman of the Year Creative Professional Winner at the Network Ireland Meath awards in 2021 as well as Awards and Milliner of the Year Awards at The Cointreau HiStyle Awards 2019, 2021 & 2022 and I was a top 10 finalist at the Irish Made Awards 2022.

Saraden Designs pieces are stocked in Marion Cuddy Irish Designers Emporium, Powerscourt Dublin and Curated by Design Center in Kildare Village.

What is your mission?
My aim is to capture audiences around the world and show them that millinery can be for everyone, there is a design out there to suit your style and to bring millinery back to the forefront of fashion. Staying a slow fashion brand is also very important to me and I want to emphasise the fact that every design that comes through Saraden Designs is handmade in Ireland, handmade by myself and I don’t send anything out for production.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
When I was in school I was determined I was going to be a fashion designer. I made all my own clothes throughout my own teens so it wasn’t a great surprise when I went to do a year of fashion design in college. I felt a bit restricted and my ideas were shot down during that year I found I didn’t love it as much as I should have. From there, I went on and studied Visual Arts Practice Sculpture in I.A.D.T Dun Laoghaire. That’s where I developed my fabric medium and a few years after that my mum was going to a wedding and asked me to make her a hat using my fabric. That is how Saraden Designs began. I wouldn’t brag about those designs now but it’s where I began my journey and without them, there would be no Saraden Designs.

What kind of items do you stock?
I stock all things millinery. From hairbands to small hair pieces to big feathered hair pieces to beautiful hair jewellery. All my millinery designs are made from my handmade fabrics and then sculpted and moulded into their designs.
My hair jewellery came from lockdown. I expanded my collections to include hairpins, hair combs, tiaras and hair vines. What I love about these pieces is they can be worn a number of different ways in the hair and create beautiful looks.
I cater for brides, bridal parties, wedding guests, racing events, fashion shows, bridal shows, communions, confirmations, parties and all things occasion wear for the head.

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
Of course, money was always a concern starting out – the unknown is a scary thing. When the pandemic hit the worry was very real. But I took the time to regroup and redesigned my brand, website, logo, online store etc., I took part in various courses and expanded my design lines. I’ve also set up my own millinery workshops in colleges, schools and privately which have proven to be very successful.

Best business advice you’ve gotten
To just do it because you will always wonder what if. I don’t want to live with the what-ifs, I want to do it and have zero regrets.

Favourite sustainable style accounts you follow
Sustainable Irish Stylist Roxanne Parker – I love that she works with sustainable Irish Brands. She was the stylist for Showcase 2022 and for the recent Curated Fashion Show in The K Club, both featuring Saraden Designs Pieces. Soha – they’re a sustainable fashion rental store in Nenagh, Tipperary. Rentals are the way forward and these ladies are allowing us to look fabulous without spending a fortune and keeping it sustainable. Alice Halliday – she makes clothing from waste or donated fabrics which are ethical, ethereal and elegant.

Best fashion purchase
I found a brand new pair of Christian Louboutins in a local charity shop in my size for €25, so I took them! I saw them priced at €800 elsewhere so I knew I had bagged myself a bargain.

Other Irish brands you love
Clarkes of Dublin, George Horn Gloves, Angela Darcy Jewellery, Caroline Mitchell Knitwear. These are all Irish business owners whom I have met or worked with in the past and who have such thriving and successful businesses – they’re people with whom you can easily talk and work and who I highly respect.

Most useful learning since setting up a business
You have to block out the negative, success brings a lot of jealousy. Focus your energy on your goals, what you want to achieve and when success starts to come, the feeling is immense.

Proudest moment so far
Being stocked in Curated by Design Center in Kildare Village. It was always somewhere I would go with my mum and sister for a day out and some shopping and then to be stocked there with all the huge worldwide brand names was a big pinch-me moment.

I want my brand to be remembered for… being unique, being Irish and being handmade in Ireland.

If I could have anyone wear my designs it would be… I would say Lady Gaga because she has a very eclectic style. Imagine being able to say one of the world’s top musicians is wearing a Saraden Design piece and millions of people would see it!