Hats off to an award-winner with big plans

Small Business Inside Track Q&AJennifer Wrynne, milliner

Jennifer Wrynne at Cheltenham last year. Winning Best Dressed Lady at the races was “a major coup”

Jennifer Wrynne at Cheltenham last year. Winning Best Dressed Lady at the races was “a major coup”


Jennifer Wrynne is an award-winning milliner and fashion blogger based in Co Leitrim. Each headpiece is made entirely by hand in Ireland. Wrynne’s designs have won many prestigious awards, including Best Dressed Lady at Cheltenham and Best Hat at the Melbourne Cup. The milliner won an award in Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition for the Leitrim region last year, winning €20,000 funding for her business.

What sets your business apart from the competition? I create my hats using a curtain-making technique taught to me by my mother who is an interiors and curtain specialist. That allows me to make hats from a wide variety of fabrics such as silk, satin and velvet. This results in a very luxurious finish, and means I can offer the customer huge choice.

I am stocked in Arnotts, where I was the best-selling milliner for the spring/ summer season last year, and have recently opened my first boutique in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin, where I stock clothing and accessories alongside my hat designs.

I’m also the most followed Irish milliner on social media with 70,000 followers across the various social media platforms.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? My mother has often told me “once you believe that you can do something, there is not a single person in the universe who can convince you otherwise”. She also advised me early on to “keep control of [my] finances”.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in business? When I first started making hats it was just work, work, work, trying to get all the work done. But the truth is, when you run your own business your work is never done. I knew I wanted to grow the business, but it took me a while to realise that I needed to stop producing all the hats myself and start looking at how to grow the business.

What is your major success to date? I won the Leitrim county award in Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur 2015. I’ve been recognised as a creative person for my work creatively, but it was very rewarding to be recognised as a serious business person.

This win allowed me to look at my business from a completely different perspective. Over the last couple of months I have taken the opportunity to examine the business and it has allowed me to develop a plan to open the new boutique.

Winning Best Dressed Lady at the Cheltenham Races wearing my own designs was also a major coup as it resulted in the volume of my business doubling. I saw a huge increase in the number of Irish and UK clients.

Who do you most admire in business and why? Marissa Carter from Cocoa Brown Tan is someone I particularly admire. Not just because she’s a woman or because she’s Irish, but because she’s created a product which has taken the Irish, UK and US markets by storm, garnering celebrity fans such as Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian.

What started as an idea when she was on maternity leave has turned into an international brand which has gained massive global recognition in a relatively short period of time.

Based on your experience in the downturn are banks in Ireland open for business? In my experience they definitely are. I have just been given finance to aid the opening of my new boutique. I started my business is 2011 in the middle of the recession. At the time I didn’t require any loans but for this next venture I did. My bank manager in AIB was an incredible help to me.

Perhaps it’s because I can clearly show growth in the business or because I’ve agreed a rent-free period which will allow me to develop my clientèle and to get a handle on things without the initial pressure of rent. They had definitely done their research.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business? It was difficult to take on and execute all of the responsibilities of the business. I was the designer, manufacturer, sales assistant, accountant... not to mention marketing, advertising and social media. Now I can employ someone to take over the accounts and administration, and people to help make the hats which I then finish myself.

Initially I had to compete with other experienced milliners on the market so getting my name out there and building a reputation was a challenge.

What do you see as the short-term future for the business? I am excited about opening my first ever boutique in the Powerscourt Centre where Iam selling my hats along with clothing from Irish and international designers. I am keen to build my UK sales. I’ve got 10 to 12 stockists there but with a massive wedding market and four times as many race courses versus Ireland, the UK represents a huge opportunity for me.

What is your business worth and would you sell it? No idea and no I definitely wouldn’t sell.