For well-known Laois fashion designer Heidi Higgins, 2020 has very much been a year of change.
Even before the Coronavirus restrictions, she had decided to close her boutique in Portlaoise to move her business exclusively online, she had moved to her new family home in Tipperary and is expecting her second baby.
With the days counting down ahead of the new arrival, she now finds herself designing fashionable face masks.
We caught up with Heidi to hear what it was like to close her shop after 10 years, why she’ll be taking a maternity leave this time and how it’s been working in the fashion business during a pandemic.
First of all, many congratulations on your pregnancy! How have you found being pregnant throughout a pandemic?!
Thanks so much! It’s been a strange few months. Time is flying by but some days are much harder than others as I miss that adult interaction during the day and some form of routine no different than anyone else.
As it’s my second pregnancy and in lockdown I definitely don’t have as much time to do all the pregnancy things like go to yoga classes, meet friends and have that same build up as I did with Matilda but then I’m not so sure that would have happened as much as I would have liked anyway with a three-year-old to keep me busy.
We moved into our new house just before Christmas so it’s almost 6 months at this stage and been here so much has allowed me do all my nesting and prepare for the new baby but I do miss my family and friends.
We are blessed to have a new baby to look forward to this Summer. Covid-19 will be the last thing on my mind in a few weeks!
There’s been a house move for you and your family this year. Can we still call you a Laois lady?!
Laois lady has always had a nice ring to it but I do need to make my new roots here in the Premier county!
I will say though I was supporting the Laois hurlers in Croke Park last year and had two flags Laois/Tipp hanging from our half built house at the time!
You’re known for your use of beautiful colour throughout your clothing designs – have you found that you’ve been tempted to use colour similarly in your new home design/decor?
Yes I am all about adding colour and texture to create a homely space. No different than my design process for fashion investing in good quality interiors that will last and grow with us as a family.
Most of my walls are painted white but there are lots of pops of colour dotted around the house including my pink kitchen!
I also have some quirky wallpaper as feature walls in the bedrooms but there is still so much more to do.
It’s important to live in a space for a while too so you can gradually add what you like once you know better how you use that particular room or space.
The Heidi Higgins boutique in Portlaoise closed earlier this year just as the effects of Covid-19 made themselves known – how did you find that process of winding down your “bricks and mortar” boutique?
I closed the HH Boutique in March just as we would have celebrated our 10th birthday.
Luckily I had made the decision to close the retail side of the business before Christmas so I was planning to be closed just as Covid-19 really took on its real effect across retail and all businesses.
It is hard to say goodbye to such a huge part of my working life. I loved having my own shop, meeting customers and working so closely with the HH team in our design studio.
It was like my second home for the last 10 years but change always brings new opportunities and I was ready to make the move!
You’ve had an online presence for quite a while – what brought you to the decision to take your business online only?
The retail landscape has changed so much since I started over the last 10 years and with moving to our new house on my husband’s farm in Tipperary, baby number 2 on the way and the desire to find a happy family/business life balance like so many working mothers moving to an online business model seemed like a natural progression for the business.
I have invested a lot in my online presence over the past few years so I was set up for the move and new business model.
Where do you find inspiration to produce season after season of fabulous designs?!
As a creative person I always have lots of ideas you are always craving to try new fabrics or new sewing techniques.
With such huge advances in technology and sustainability their are so many new fabrics coming to the market.
Although my raw material as a fashion designer is always fabric the selection now a days is endless.
I also have built a great relationship with my customers over the years from working on the shop floor so I know what they like and what excites them season after season to keep coming back.
Their feedback is invaluable to my design process too.
Did you ever consider any other career or was fashion and design always for you?
I absolutely love designing but I also love running a business.
Some designers like to work in their design studio and find it hard to communicate their collections with customers for me its all about a working relation with your customers.
So when creativity meets customers needs it’s a business success and for me that’s what excites me the most!
Covid-19 has meant different things for every business, with those that can adapting where they could – have you found yourself doing anything different or unexpected in response?
Yes the last few months have created lots of businesses to think outside the box.
As a small business I have always had to be creative with adapting to what’s going on around me and pivot accordingly.
We have just launched our first collection of ‘fashionable’ face masks (non medical grade) as it seems it will be the new norm for so many people as we get back to moving around again as restriction lift over the coming months.
The response has been overwhelming to be honest as customers really start to embrace the changes.
In true HH style there are lots of colourful options, everything is made here in Ireland with the HH Team and I will also be donating 10% of each face mask to Woman’s Aid and sending out some to front line workers for use on their days off.
Rather than use up important supplies for front line workers for our own personal use the reusable designs we have made will be more sustainable and less daunting to wear too when out and about.
Has there been any disruption to production during these unprecedented times?
My suppliers and long standing business friends have all been effected in Italy, Poland and France as well as here in Ireland.
Buut together we will get through it and fashion is entering a new phase too which was coming for a long time but with the effects of Covid-19 that phase has been pushed forward and is now being fast tracked.
Quality over quantity and more sustainable business models will be front and centre and hopefully small niche brands will soon have the competitive edge over fast fashion as customers become more discerning about where they want to spend their money!
Where to next for Heidi Higgins?
As I didn’t take any maternity leave with Matilda I am planning on taking the summer off with the new baby, settling into our new home and making plans for the future of HH.
Who would have ever thought I would be designing face masks but the landscape is constantly changing and I am looking forward to making my own mark on it in whatever way I can!!
Watch this space!