TWO Cork women are proving that passion and practice can get you further than formal training.
Neither Jade Hogan nor Jo Slevin studied art or design in college but their craft business, Mr Kite Designs, is going from strength to strength.
Selling everything from makeup bags to cushions, the business is based on their shared aesthetic and love of beautiful materials. Ms Hogan explains that initially, it was other people who saw their potential.
"We were friends and we both have young families and we love going to craft fairs and craft shops and love handmade stuff," she said.
"What happened was we were making things for people as presents and they were saying to us 'Oh My God you should be selling these.' People were asking us to make more for other people. That’s how so many people do get started, they realise there is a market."
Once the seed was planted they saw the possibilities and decided to give it a go.
"So we said to ourselves a couple of years ago, when we were both at home with our children, that we would try it, use our respective talents and see could we do something together. We started just under two years ago, very much on a part-time low-key basis initially. We started small, some Christmas fairs and things like that and it has just continued to grow," Ms Hogan said.
It is a very different career path from the ones they were on before starting their families.
"Jo worked in retail, she would have been customer-service based and I worked in Heineken in logistics," she said.
"So nothing whatsoever to do with craft, it was more of a hobby.
"We are both self-taught, we don’t have degrees in Fine Art or anything like that. We just had lots and lots of practice and we would have taken short courses and workshops over the years.
"I do an awful lot of sewing and knit, textiles would always have been my thing whereas Jo is a great artist, drawing and sketching and painting."
Setting up Mr Kite Designs also meant a crash course in running their own business. They have received a lot of help along the way and, for both of them, the most important thing was being able to arrange their working lives to suit themselves.
"We have had an awful lot of help and advice from people," Ms Hogan said.
"In terms of setting up our own business we just sort of went for it. We are finding our feet.
"One of the main things for us was to be able to set our own hours and for it to be flexible around our lifestyles. We didn’t want to go into another 9-5 situation. So we’re just working it out and doing our best."
They have also looked to similar companies for inspiration.
Ms Hogan said, "When it comes to marketing, social media is where it’s at. We try to benchmark ourselves against other people, have a look at what other crafters are doing, people who we think have a fantastic business. We look at how they are doing it and try to emulate the really good parts of it."
With four children under eight between them, business meetings are held far from the typical office.
"We design and decide on things together. A lot of it is done at the playground, in coffee shops or over WhatsApp. We choose fabrics and patterns and shapes together, talk about how it should look and how it is presented together. But we do divide the labour obviously. We have separate pieces we work on."
Their working lives are flexible but no less busy for it. In addition to selling from the Cork Craft and Design shop in Douglas, Mr Kite Designs products are stocked in shops in Clonakilty, Baltimore, Skibbereen, Dunmore East, Mallow and Sligo. They also sell online, through social media and on craft site Etsy.
With every single piece being handcrafted, it is a lot of work.
"Handmade is definitely very time-consuming but that is sort of the point," Ms Hogan said.
"It is me and Jo doing it. It can be tricky sometimes. If people are looking at something and they think they can buy it for €3 in Penneys, there’s not much you can do to sell it to them.
"We take a bit more time to make things and ensure they are quality and are strong and will serve the purpose they are intended for. They are very well made, that is always our aim."
For Mr Kite Designs, quality begins with the textiles they use.
"The materials are what make you stand out from the crowd a lot of the time. If you can get something that is interesting and fresh, that people haven’t seen - that’s very attractive.
"We try to bring in a bit of vintage if we can and then we try to do some of our own materials. We do some hand-printing and dyeing of fabrics and papers ourselves, to make is as unique as possible."
Changing materials and handcrafting makes for an ever changing range.
"A lot of the time we come across new ideas and we try things for a few months but we come back to things that are always popular. So right now we have greeting cards, cushions, purses and cosmetic bags, tote bags. We also do garlands and mobiles and 3D pictures, paper art."
They are participating in Cork Craft and Design month in a number of areas. Their range of products for the home are on display in The Home Event in the James O’Neill Building (formerly The Old Mill) in Kinsale.
They also have products on display as part of the exhibition in ‘On The Pig’s Back’ cafe in Douglas and at The Atrium in Cork City Hall.
For more of their products check out mrkitedesigns on Instagram.
You can find a full list of events for Cork Craft Month at www.corkcraftanddesign.com.