Love Local, Kent Brand Photographer with Miss Ava’s Millinery

Headshots, Local Businesses, Personal Branding

This week in Love Local we meet the lovely Sarah from Miss Ava’s Millinery! Sarah combines her love of vintage fashion, and costume skills from being a cabaret performer to create beautiful, handcrafted, unique hats and headwear. She also creates bespoke hats if you have something in mind ….

Your name 

Sarah Blacker-Barrowman

Name of business 

Miss Ava’s Millinery

What motivated you to start your business and how did you get the idea or concept ?

A bit of a long story, I’ll try and keep it short – originally, I trained as an archaeologist, but after many years working in the field I started having issues with my knees which made excavating difficult. This was around the time of the downturn in 2013, which hit the profession hard, so when voluntary redundancies were offered I took it and looked at what I could do next. Inspired by a bit of family history, a love of vintage style, a creating my own burlesque costumes (another story!), I was drawn to millinery and went off to learn what I could, which led to the birth of my business.

How did you come up with the name for your company? 

There was a lot of thought about it – I swear it’s one of the hardest choices! I toyed (and still do) about using my own name as is common in the industry, but settled on Miss Ava’s Millinery, as Ava’s a nod to my burlesque stage name, Ava Iscariot, and it embodies the vintage influences that come through in a lot of my work.

How many employees do you have?

Just me!

What services or products do you offer?

I handcraft hats, headpieces, fascinators and veils, and offer both bespoke and ready-made pieces. I also made a selection of hair accessories, and hat, veil and lapel pins.

What is unique about your business?

As it’s just myself behind the scenes, and I craft everything by hand using traditional skills, I’m able to offer my clients a personal service and work with them to design a one of kind piece of headwear which works with their outfit and also their personality. I’ve also developed my own distinct style for my ready-made collection, which often blends vintage influences with modern twists.

What three words would you use to describe your business?

Personal, welcoming & creative.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I will never tire of seeing someone wearing one of my creations! The smile that happens when someone tries on their perfect hat is wonderful.

Can you describe your typical day at work?

I try to start with the behind-the-scenes admin in the morning, as it gets it out the way and helps me to keep on top of it all. Then I can move onto the creative side of things, which is where my passion is. Depending on the ‘to do’ list it can vary a lot, from drawing up designs for bespoke clients or new ready-made collections through to sourcing materials. If I’m working on making pieces, I’ll go through the stages which can include shaping materials on blocks, adding hidden essential details, fabric cutting, a lot of hand-sewing and adding trimmings, linings and fittings. I also have in person and virtual appointments with clients, working on design details with them, holding fittings, or arranging collections of their piece.

How have you had to adapt during the pandemic and what is the biggest thing you have learnt as a result?

I’ll admit it’s been a rough year for my business with the cancellation of wedding and events. I’ve been using the quiet time to work behind the scenes on things like my website and learning as much as I can to help with this side of the business. I guess I’ve learnt to be adaptable too, with the silver lining being a move to be able to hold virtual appointments with clients. I’ve also been pushing myself creatively, working on some headpiece that are more elaborate, artistic or playful for shoots and exhibitions which has been wonderful!

How would you like people to remember you and your company?

For being able to make their dream headwear or bridal headpiece become a reality, and for helping them to feel amazing and confident when wearing one of my pieces.

What to you envision for your business in the next few years?

I took on a studio space last year (having been home based previously), so I’m planning on making the most of having a place that clients can easily visit for consultations and fittings. Having the studio has also helped me to become more involved in my local community, which I love and want to do more of. I’ve also been working on developing my range of styles too, so it’s exciting to see how my work will grow and evolve off the back of this. Long term, the dream would be to have a little hat shop with a workshop attached!

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

In many ways, taking the leap of faith to set up my own business is one of my greatest achievements, and one which keeps on giving. I’m also immensely proud of having my work exhibited at London Hat Week and in Rochester Art Gallery, and as an ex-pat Australian, it was also amazing to be interviewed about my work by ‘Frankie’ magazine.

Plan B – If you could choose any other career what would it be?

Millinery was my Plan B / C, with performing in the mix there. The other Plan Bs are having a little tea and cake shop, partly to indulge my love of baking, or acting as I love performing and inhabiting a character.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My earliest career choice was palaeontology, which evolved into archaeology as I got older, and I went on to study and do professionally as my Plan A career.

What do you typically tell people when they ask what you do?

That I’m a self-employed milliner.

What motivates you?

A love of being creative and then seeing people wearing what I’ve made. I also love working for myself.

When was the last time you tried something new (personally)?

I’m a keen cook and I tried making tortillas a few weeks ago, something I’d highly recommend.

What’s the most sensible thing you’ve ever heard someone say?

My mum told me to do what I want to do with my life, not what others may want, and I’m very glad I listened.

What’s your favourite piece of advice?

See above.

What gets you excited about life?

I love a good adventure, which is how a girl from Adelaide ended up living in Kent.

What makes you smile?

The ocean, my cats and cake.

What are you most grateful for?

That I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself with a partner who always lets me be me.

Where do you find inspiration?

I love a fun theme to explore and be inspired by, which how my collections develop. I also adore taking inspiration from an individual’s personal style and translating it into headwear.

What are your Hobbies or what do you do to relax?

I actually find the repetitive nature hand-stitching very relaxing and therapeutic. I also love baking, a lot of this happened over lock-down! I also have an allotment and being outdoors and digging away helps me to de-stress.

To see Sarah’s lovely creations please visit:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/missavasmillinery

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MissAvasMillinery/

Website: https://www.missavasmillinery.com