A cup of tea with...Couture Hat Designer Sahar Freemantle: 'What motivates me is my purpose of spreading creativity and beauty, and having people shine'

For a number of years I've been dreaming of a tea-inspired hat, which I could wear at events (given the tea obsessive that I am). That dream remained in my head until I happened to mention it at a dinner in Japan last year. My dinner companion said 'do you see that elegant lady in a hat? You need to speak to her, she's a milliner.' Fast forward a few months and I finally met Sahar in her creative studio to make my hat dream a reality. I was so inspired by her energy and creativity that I just had to share her incredible story and way of thinking. Enjoy!

What was your inspiration for Sahar Millinery and how did it all begin?

I did my degree in Costume Design and Making at Edinburgh College of Art, and got the basics in millinery there. A friend recently recounted a college trip to a milliners studio and apparently I said 'This is it, this is what I'm going to do' .... I can't remember that at all! But I do remember immediately after graduating, meeting some milliners and them having a bunch of hats in the boot of their car, and I utterly fell in love, and knew deep down I'd met 'the one'. (Millinery, that is)

It did take me a while to settle on specialising though - for a few years I worked in the costume dept of films, and also made wedding dresses. Then I came to London and had to get a part time office job to support myself whilst found my feet. I started trading under the name UglyLovely, as that was an apt way of defining my style at college - a kind of beauty in the unconventional, using found objects, seeing the beauty in rust, insects, moss etc. Sahar Millinery got created a few years later as the umbrella label to house UglyLovely and the other styles I now do. 

Elephant hat Sahar Millinery

What has been the highlight of running your business so far?

There's been a couple of clear highlights, making hats for Downton Abbey has been one, and having my hats displayed at the V&A has been another! 

Sahar millinery

What do you do and where do you go to find fresh new ideas for your business?

In terms of hat designs - every once in a while I'll have a flurry of design ideas come to me - it'll normally start with one idea then I'll get excited and a whole bunch more will come, I always very roughly sketch them out with arrows and notes so I don't forget. And then there's 'business' ideas - so, what else I can bring into the business to expand and give more to the world. What drives me is an excitement to discover and share creativity and beauty. That can be putting a hat on someone and seeing the transformation that takes place, a confidence that grows. Or, it could be conducting hat-making workshops, or putting on an exhibition. Or, it could be much more broad - and wide-reaching, like discovering other creative talents and showing them to the world in the form of video. Eventually, I'd like to do this on a big scale, on TV with a show in which the concept is discovering and sharing creative joy. 

Sometimes ideas will come seemingly out of nowhere (although in all likelihood they're a result of a few subtle things I've thought of / noticed unconsciously - or they might be more 'Divine' and come from prayer and may be Divinely inspired) - I always write these down, some I'll actively work on and take actions, others I'll let park until it seems right to action them. Some ideas are easy to action - take The Milliners Drawing Room for example (this is a monthly life drawing / fashion illustration event with a focus on hats). I followed an artist on Instagram and we had a mutual love of each others work. He then invited me to get drawn in my hats by him and his friend Layla. As soon as Layla saw all my hats and costumes she suggested I start my own event, and I asked her if she'd co-run it with me, which she agreed. It was very easy to set up and has been very popular, it's the highlight of my month and I feel so blessed that so many amazing artists come to draw my work (and me, when I model!). 

 

What do you enjoy most and least about running Sahar Millinery?

I'd say my two favourite things are: 1) when clients send me happy photos of themselves at their events in their hats and outfits. This fills me with joy, to see them looking gorgeous and happy in the pieces which I've handcrafted. It really makes me believe I contribute to beauty and joy. 2) The Milliners Drawing Room - This provides so much joy to all involved - the artists, the models, and the venue (Pophub, the co-working part of my studio) - there's a lot of love in the room and a heck of a lot of talent.  

My least favourite thing is when I do a selling event and there's no interest! It normally happens when I've done a run of pop up shops and I'm tired - it also happens when it's the wrong location or time of year. Still, it is really demoralising when it happens and it's very easy to get into a downward spiral of questioning all your life's choices. This is the time when I normally think of packing it all in. Years ago that could wallow for days or weeks. Now, I recognise when it's happening that it's a blip and I might have one day of feeling low and then bounce back the next day. 

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from someone?

Probably the best advice is from my friend who's a writer (Arlette Manasseh) - she was the first to point out the habit we do as humans to wrap up our self worth with what happens 'out there'. For example, if I sell lots of hats, I feel good about myself and rate myself as a milliner. And if I don't, the opposite happens. Which means, my self-worth is dictated by other peoples views and actions. 

Actually I believe we are all intrinsically worthy - we were born noble. The goal is to have our self worth to be independent of other people, and something deeply personal - to value ourselves, for the wonderful, spiritual, connected beings we are. 

What motivates you to do what you do and to follow your dream?

What motivates me is my purpose of spreading creativity and beauty, and having people shine. This is my anchor, my 'why'. A friend of mine always had the advice 'Follow Your Bliss' and I love this! I follow what makes me happy and excited and what brings out a passion in me. I also have a clear vision of my end goal, and plug into various support groups, networking events, personal development programmes (e.g. The Positive Change Initiative with Heather Salmon) and actively surround myself with people who believe in me, which motivates me to keep going. 

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