THE sudden death of her father to cancer inspired a young Cork woman to start up her own hat business.
And the story behind its name — Harper’s Hats — is equally meaningful as it’s named after her ‘little miracle baby’ born through IVF.
Life changed forever last summer for Lesley Teehan from St Lukes, as the physiotherapist explains: “Dad was diagnosed with end stage cancer — conservative medication wasn’t an option. He wasn’t a fan of hospitals and thankfully Mum was able to care for him at home.
“He passed away six weeks from the day of his diagnosis. It’s crazy to think of it — this time last year he literally decorated and remodelled our whole house, And he laid a patio for us, with the ‘help’ of my husband — although my dad, being the superstar he was, probably did it all.
“Harper was born on August 10, and dad passed on September 8. It was lovely he met her, we have photos we’ll treasure forever.”
Dad, Ger Boland, worked AOC Commercials in Carrigtwohill where he was a spray painter and Lesley inherited his artistic streak.
The gap he left after his death meant ‘endless days’ for Lesley and her mother — Lesley lives in south Kilkenny with husband Barry and nine-month-old Harper, while mum Patsy lives in Youghal, where she had retired with Ger 11 years ago.
“Harper was a dream baby — she slept at night and was content during the day. Even though I had a new baby there was still a lot of free, quiet time that I needed to fill with a distraction,” says Lesley.
“I had completed a basic millinery course with my sister at Beads & Bling, Dublin, some years ago. But as I’m a chartered physiotherapist I never pursued anything millinery-orientated. I had worked part time in Brown Thomas while in 5th and 6th year in school and loved being surrounded by the clothes.
“Then, one day last November, I was sitting with my mum and suggested we start making hats — there was nothing to lose really. Mum has fabulous style and I’m able to sew — we were a dream team.
“We made a few pieces. Then one day I took the plunge and posted a couple of pictures of friends wearing pieces on Instagram. We started getting positive feedback on social media. Next I contacted an old friend, Vicki Creber, we worked together in Brown Thomas. Vicki owns ‘It’s So Me’ in Douglas Village Shopping Centre. I borrowed some of her dresses as inspiration to make new pieces. We decided to collaborate further and do a professional photoshoot and it went from there.
“So, in short, my dad has been the inspiration. And the name came quite easily after my gorgeous little doll, Harper.”
She admits both herself and her mum are “big style lovers” and when she sees an outfit she can almost instantly visualise the headpiece — nine out of 10 times it will work.
“We love to shop high street brands like Zara, Ted Baker, Topshop, River Island... the occasional haul from Penneys and Italian brand Silvian Heach. We both love handbags!
“I admire my mum’s style; we both love Kate Middleton’s style, her pillbox hats are truly amazing! We’ve also been in awe of the ladies attending recent Ladies’ Days at the races.
“Irish fashion stakes have risen considerably over recent years.”
The creative process is labour intensive and usually takes place at Lesley’s kitchen table from 7pm when Harper goes down and goes on until at least 2am — Lesley admits she’s a complete night owl.
“We need a fortnight to complete a hat — to meet the client, discuss design options, colour match with their outfit, source materials, and then make the piece. Our hats range from €150 to €280. All pieces are bespoke and made to order.
“We make unique 3D percher style hats. They have a specially designed, hidden headband that once positioned correctly, gives the illusion the hat is sitting completely independent.”
Of course, this is abusy time for the mum and daughter duo.
“We are busy bees with mother of the bride orders and those attending Ladies’ Day at various upcoming races. We have ladies already booked in for Galway at the end of July! We feel privileged see ladies wear our pieces to their occasions and events.”
Three outlets in the country are also stocking their hats for hire — in Charleville, Kildare and Newry.
The collaborations came about through Instagram, which Lesley says has been an invaluable resource.
“Everyone has been so positive — I don’t think either myself or mum could have predicted the warm reception we’ve received from ladies in the public and the industry. There’s a real sense of supporting each other and wishing each other well — it’s so refreshing.”
Lesley and Patsy will unveil their bespoke collection of Harper’s Hats to an invited gathering in Electric on May 28.
And Lesley feels Ger is with them every step of the way.
“I truly believe my dad is with us, all of this can’t be happening just by chance — I like to think he’s with us.”
For more, see harpershats.com.