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Sewing what she’s made of

May 12th, 2020 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

Kata with her sons Oisin and Darragh who are the inspiration for her business. She's using lockdown days to teach them easy sewing techniques and says it's never too soon to learn how to make and mend.

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A West Cork-based mum of two thought 2020 was going to be the breakthrough year for her organic kids clothes company. Covid-19 had other ideas, but an undeterred Kata O’Donovan is using this time to help others discover the joys of making and mending

A CLONAKILTY-based clothes designer was on the brink of taking her business to the next level before Covid-19 hit, but instead she’s now helping us all to get crafty.

2020 got off to an incredible start for Kata O’Donovan having been selected to exhibit her collection of organic kids clothes in the prestigious tradeshow, Showcase Ireland in the RDS, where serious business is done with retailers from this country and overseas.

Her funky range, Cotton Caterpillars, along with her women’s reusable hygiene products, caught the attention of plenty of retailers and she returned to West Cork with a busy order book.

But since the pandemic hit, nearly all the orders have been cancelled and she’s left with thousands of euro worth of stock.

Understandably, the mother-of-two was devastated for a few weeks. However, now that she’s over the initial disappointment, she’s determined to put her skills to use and is making masks  and donating them to a local nursing home.

Sewing is her passion, she says, and she simply has to sew every day.

Originally from Hungary, she’s a dental technician, and came to Ireland in the summer of 2006.  ‘I came back in the autumn of the same year as I couldn't get a contract in Hungary, so I decided to come over for a couple of years. Then the following year I met my husband Gerry, and everything changed,’ she said.

Kata says she was always crafty: ‘My grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. She was very good with hand embroidering and cross stitching also. My mom was a dressmaker, and my other grandmom was a seamstress. From a young age I’ve made my clothes and everything I wore was handmade.’

But it wasn’t until she became pregnant with her first boy Darragh, now aged six, that she began to think there might be a business idea in it.

‘When I became pregnant I started to crochet little outfits for my baby. Because we didn’t know the sex of the baby, I stayed away from a pink/blue colours. Then when he was born in 2013, all I could find was pink or blue, nothing in between. It was shocking, so I decided to make clothes for him myself. And that's what I did and I also made hats and bibs, cutting up my husband's old denim shirts, and t-shirts. When I realised how fast babies grow, I started thinking how could I extend the life of the clothes he was wearing, and I found a solution, soon after.’

She first launched Handemade by Kata (precursor to Cotton Caterpilars) where her emphasis was on making clothes that would grow with baby with things like adjustable legs and waistbands.

Her core ethos is that clothes should be reusable, sustainable and long-lasting.

Kata also makes and sells reusable breast and sanitary pads.

The breast pads came from her own experience feeding Darragh and suffering several bouts of mastitis: ‘One night I ran out of plastic-backed disposable breast pads and I used a folded hand towel and magically woke up with no pain.

So that afternoon I cut that towel up and made my own pads. I was happy to find a solution, not just for my engorgement, but for the environment as well. Soon the word spread between my friends and their friends and I made some different types and shapes and asked them to try them, and soon I started to make them.

'After that I started using soft cotton cloths to wash my baby, and ditched the cotton rounds, and soon switched to cloth menstrual pads too,’ she said.

She admits a lot of people’s initial reaction to cloth menstrual pads is ‘ugh’, but that more and more women are ‘getting it.’

‘When someone says they are not going to wash blood out of the pad, I ask what they’d do if they got a blood stain on their favourite pair of jeans? Throw them away? Or wash them? Then they start to realise it isn’t a big deal.’

Kata says more women have been trialling the pads over the past few weeks while they’ve been at home, and she urges people to give them a go in a bid to reduce plastic use.

She also makes organic breastfeeding-friendly clothes for women and says both her sons, she’s also mum to Oisin (4), are her inspiration.

‘My boys are involved in the business, I always ask their opinion when it comes to choosing the prints, and they model everything I make. My eldest was with me when I did local fairs, markets and he is a brilliant sales man.

'It is important to me to teach my children what their parents do, where our money comes from, and how hard it is to make.’

She chose to rebrand to Cotton Caterpilars (again inspired by her boys) for Showcase and her hard work paid off as she got business from both Irish and international buyers.

‘That was actually the first time I was away from my children in their lives – they didn't see me for six days.

'I burst into tears when I shared the news with them over the phone about my first order and they both said "mommy, we are proud of you".’

Kata expected to be busy fulfilling orders for the next six months or so, but instead she’s busy teaching her boys to sew and making masks for a local nursing home and to be distributed in a pharmacy.

‘I love sewing. It’s like a cigarette for a smoker – I have to sew every day,’ she said.

• See Cotton Caterpillars on FB (the pandemic has delayed its website) and handmadebykata.ie.

Kata's easy home sewing hacks

• Cut up an old towel and hem the edges to make lots of new face or dish cloths

• Sew up the button holes of an old shirt, take off the sleeves and turn it into a shopping back for lighter items

•Turn an old adult sweatshirt into a soft kids pants

Keep an eye on Cotton Caterpillars on FB for more upcycling tips and tricks, including how to patch a hole. Not as hard as you think – once you know how!

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