Milliner Margaret O’Connor wins top entrepreneur prize

Woman’s headwear collection wins award at National Enterprise Awards 2019

Margaret O’Connor in her trademark fedora

Margaret O’Connor in her trademark fedora


Two years ago milliner Margaret O’Connor was unemployed but she had a great reputation and a string of international accolades to her name.

Now she has a new title, Ireland’s Top Entrepreneur, with her new collection of headwear called Cloud Nine.

Ms O’Connor was chosen from among 17 shortlisted finalists at the Irish Local Development Network awards in Tullamore on Thursday evening.

Most of the finalists were made redundant or lost their jobs but are now back working as a result of support received from local development companies, the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) and Short Term Enterprise Allowance scheme (STEA).

For Margaret O’Connor the award is the culmination of an amazing year that has also seen her win the best hat at the Dublin Horse Show. Her creations have also been worn by Lady Gaga and featured in a music video by UK band Years & Years.

“I want people to take a chance on fashion, for it to be more accessible to them. When I was younger fashion wasn’t that accessible to me because of my rural background.” She is from Tubber, Co Clare.

Business plan

“I would be happy on my own in my studio making hats until the cows come home, I couldn’t do this if I hadn’t been made do this or guided to do this, I needed to be pushed. Clare Local Development Board were the ones who got me to do my business plan, they got me to do everything, to get my premises.

“Suddenly in two years I am a business woman.”

In joint second place were Daniel Nugent of Ambr Eyewear (Dublin) and Sukhvinder Kaur, of Sukhi’s India (Wicklow).

Sacha Cahill of Ambr Eyewear explained that she and her partner Daniel Nugent were both keen to set up their own business to give them a better work/life balance following the birth of their daughter Aurora. Using their digital design expertise, they set up their own company which now offers screen protective glasses which come in 42 variations.

For Sukhvinder Kaur it was the desire to return to work along with the encouragement of family and friends and with support from the BTWEA, County Wicklow Partnership and Wicklow LEO, that led her to set up her own business Sukhi’s India.

The company freshly grinds, packs, distributes and sells whole spices, spice mix and flour mix using recipes which have been in Sukhvinder’s family for generations. The packaging is completely biodegradable and recyclable.

Chair of the Judging Panel Jackie Harrington of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection commented that “standard and quality of the business concepts this year have surpassed all expectations and show the benefits of these schemes in financially supporting people with business ideas.”

Businesses on the shortlist ranged from manufacturing to agriculture, fashion, food, online, beauty and health. A panel of judges, made up of representatives from the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Rural & Community Development and Local Development Companies, chose the winners.