My Weekend: Hats off to Elaine as hobby turns into business

Elaine O’ Sullivan is the owner of Panama and Pearl millinery. She designs and creates individually handcrafted headpieces
My Weekend: Hats off to Elaine as hobby turns into business

Elaine O'Sullivan of Panama and Pearl Millinery Picture: Miki Barlok

Hat maker Elaine O'Sullivan features in our My Weekend

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m from a small village called Ardagh in West Limerick where I lived with my parents and brother Declan. From an early age, I began expressing myself through poetry, art and other creative means. My mother often says she can’t remember what my natural hair colour is as I dyed it so many different colours over the years! I’ve also always loved fashion although looking back on old photos, some of my fashion choices left a lot to be desired!

I moved to Cork in 1994 to study Arts in UCC and I’ve been here since! While I wasn’t sure then what career I wanted to pursue, I’ve always had a desire to help people and make them feel good. Thankfully what I do now combines both of these elements! 

Elaine O'Sullivan of Panama and Pearl Millinery Picture: Miki Barlok
Elaine O'Sullivan of Panama and Pearl Millinery Picture: Miki Barlok

In 2004, I qualified from UCC with a masters in Social Work. However my creative streak never left me. I have always loved hats and love the drama of a hat/headpiece and the way it can transform a look. I believe that a hat is the ultimate style statement, and the right piece can make a person look and feel a million dollars. At every opportunity, I would wear a hat/headpiece.

After many failed attempts to find pieces that ticked all the boxes for me, I started trying to make my own. This ignited a passion for millinery. 

I began studying with highly regarded Irish milliners and became a member of a millinery and business academy based in London. I also qualified from CIT in 2019 with a certificate in entrepreneurial development. The same year I began my business — Panama and Pearl millinery.

I juggle my business with being a mom to my three kids — Ava is 13, Olan is 10 (turning 11 on 16th December) and Ethan (who calls himself “ the tiny guy” is 7 (turning 8 on 16th January) — and working part time as an adoption social worker. It can be challenging but I’ve always loved a challenge and life is certainly not boring! My latest challenge is designing my website which is due to launch in the coming weeks.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

My ideal Friday night would be spent watching back to back episodes of Married at First Sight, or some other dating reality show, or a really good netflix series. I’ve also just finished the Netflix series Maid and it was just brilliant! Oh and my ideal Friday night would also involve a tub of Ben and Jerry’s phish food and maybe a gin.. or two!!!

Elaine at work on one of her hats, which she makes for her business Panama and Pearl Millinery. Picture: Miki Barlok
Elaine at work on one of her hats, which she makes for her business Panama and Pearl Millinery. Picture: Miki Barlok

Lie ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

Oh lie in’s all the way!!!! I’m not at my best in the morning #understatement!

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

It does sometimes but I don’t mind when it’s only occasionally.

If money was no object where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

Ok, I would go with my hubby Brian to San Sebastian in Spain and go to loads of the amazing tapas and wine bars that are there. We visited Sitges near Barcelona when on a family holiday three years ago and would love to go back there as a couple also.

I’d love to go with the girls to Puerto Banus near Marbella. Me and a few of my friends went there a good few years ago but we did not have a lot of money — so I would definitely love to go back there if money was no object, hire a yacht, stay in a villa... oh yes please!!!!!

Elaine working on one of her pieces. Picture: Miki Barlok
Elaine working on one of her pieces. Picture: Miki Barlok

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

We went on a family holiday to Waterville in Kerry in August. What a lovely spot! It was such a relaxing holiday. The house we stayed in was beside a lake and when we would wake in the morning, you could hear the birds and the water lapping. 

In the evenings I would sit outside in the garden with a glass of wine. 

My dream would be to have a little holiday cottage in Kerry where I could take off to on a Friday evening for the weekend and totally switch off.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

I really enjoy meeting up with friends and family and am always arranging some get together. I try and go home to Limerick as often as possible. I became an Auntie for the first time on 22nd June and my cousin Mary also had a baby girl in August. My niece Sofia and goddaugher Meabh are just adorable and I want to spend as much time as I can with them when I go home.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

I’m in the lucky position that I turned my hobby into a business. I’m a member of the Carrigaline gospel choir and I absolutely love it! I’ve always loved singing! Unfortunately the choir couldn’t meet during Covid but hopefully normal service can resume soon! I find singing in the choir so therapeutic. 

To hear the whole choir sing together — it gives me goosebumps and makes me feel honoured to be part of it.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

Oh to be entertained please! Life is so busy that any opportunity where someone else makes me dinner, I’m there!

We have so many places to eat out in Cork — where are your go to spots for coffee/ lunch/ special meal?

For coffee — an oat meal cappucino to be precise — I’ll usually go to Lulu’s on the Crosshaven walk or Bean and Leaf in Carrigaline. If I’m at the sideline watching one of my kids train/play a match, there will almost always be a coffee in my hand! For lunch, the Castle cafe in Blackrock Castle is lovely, especially sitting outside on a sunny day. For dinner, Thyme in the Imperial on South Mall is fab. I also love Eco’s in Douglas too.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

I wish I could say we all sit down and watch a movie together and relax but the reality is that I’m usually running around getting uniforms together, making packed lunches, checking if training gear is washed and ready for the week .

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

Too early..lol..around 7am.

MORE ABOUTPANAMA AND PEARL MILLINERY

Elaine O’ Sullivan is the owner of Panama and Pearl millinery. She designs and creates individually handcrafted headpieces that tell a story, and reflect a person’s personality and style. Each piece is handmade with love and care, fusing vintage materials and embellishments with innovative design. One of Elaine’s designs was one of 225 hats chosen for London Hat week 2020. As well as making custom made hats and headpieces, Elaine has a ready to wear and hat hire collection, as well as a range of luxury face coverings and turban style headbands. Elaine can also tailor/redesign an existing headpiece, and does home consultations by appointment. She also meets people on an appointment basis in Stitch ‘n Design, Carrigaline.

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