Handbags made of recycled leather from global brands such as Mulberry, BMW and Rolls Royce are among a unique line of sustainably made accessories that will be showcased at this month’s Guildhall Craft Fair.
Orla Vera Accessories was founded and developed by Buncrana fashion designer Orla O’Hagan in 2020 after she had to return home during the Covid 19 pandemic.
Her lockdown project of making purses and handbags quickly drew attention online and by the end of that year her range was being featured on the shopfloor of McElhinney’s Department Store in Ballybofey.
“I’ve always been really creative, even from a child, so when I found out you could study art at college I knew it was the only path for me,” she explains.
“I did a one year foundation art course at the North West Regional College in Derry when I left school and went on to De Montfort University in Leicester to study footwear and accessories design for three years.
“Once I graduated I got a job with luxury accessories designer Sophia Webster in London where I worked for three years designing the most amazing shoes and handbags.
“Unfortunately Covid 19 hit in March 2020 and I was furloughed from that job along with 70% of the staff so I moved back to Donegal and worked from home remotely for six months.
“Work was slowing up so I had a lot of extra time on my hands and started making small purses and wallets from some leather I had left over from Uni on an old industrial sewing machine.
“I started posting my work on Instagram and it just slowly took off there.
“I started making our Vera crossbody bag that and that quickly caught the attention of many shops and my bags were stocked in McElhinneys in Ballybofey in December 2020.
“Achieving that so early in our journey was absolutely amazing and gave me great confidence to keep doing it.”
Orla is passionate about recycling and preventing waste materials being destroyed or going to landfill so it was important to her that all her products are made from reused material.
“Everything is made from recycled or remanent leather, which is leather that is left over from large scale production,” she explained.
“We buy that leather and turn it into beautiful leather handbags and stop it ending up in landfill or being destroyed.
“Although sometimes it’s more challenging to ensure you have enough leather but it’s great for the consumer because we work with such small runs of leather a lot of our handbags are unique one offs which means they are the only person to have that bag.
“Once a leather has run out we have no way of getting it again.
“At the moment some of our leather is coming from Rolls Royce, BMW and Mulberry and the quality is just absolutely unreal.”
Orla Vera now employs three people and they have opened their own store in Adaravan in Buncrana.
The Guildhall Craft Fair will be their first time exhibiting at the popular event and Orla is looking forward to showcasing her work with some of the best known craft design makers in Ireland.
“I’m really looking forward to the Craft Fair, I’ve never done a large Christmas market before so I can’t wait to get organised for it and see what other Crafters are doing.
“Also I think it’s amazing the amount of people that support local and shop local for Christmas and the Guildhall Craft Fair is such a great place to get your Christmas shopping list ticked off in the one weekend.
“Taking on our third member of staff has been a real highlight, in my head I’m just making handbags and doing what I love but being able to create employment and take on work experience and placements from schools and colleges to show that you can create your own business doing something you love will never get old.
“I saw Mary McAleese wear our Vera on TV when she was meeting Joe Biden in Dublin earlier this year, then later in the week when she spoke at a seminar with Hillary Clinton, that was very unexpected and a bit mad!”
The Guildhall Craft Fair returns to the Guildhall in Derry city centre later this month from Friday 17th – Sunday 19th November.
Celebrating its 27th anniversary this year, the event showcases an exquisite range of bespoke craft items created by craft design-makers and artisan food producers throughout Ireland.
The fair takes place in the Guildhall in Derry’s city centre and is renowned for attracting a large number of visitors looking for that special gift or purchase for Christmas.
All goods on display are exclusively handmade in Ireland.
Opening Times for the Fair are Friday 17th November: 12noon – 8pm, Saturday 18th November: 10am – 6pm, Sunday 19th November: 11am – 6pm
The Fair marks the start of a packed programme of events to celebrate Christmas in Derry and Strabane, visit: derrystrabane.com/Christmas for more.
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