Claire Howeson thinks that perhaps she was born to be an entrepreneur. Her father had a cheese business, and she remembers imagining that she too would one day run her own company. As it happens, Claire went to study biology, then law, before becoming a solicitor.
In her own words, Claire craved something creative. She came across a millinery course and signed up. Every Monday after work she went to learn how to make hats. She learned the basic skills – and patience.
Whilst still practising law, Claire began thinking of taking her hobby a little more seriously. At that time wedding hats and occasional hats grew in popularity. “Making hats is extremely labour-intensive, so I had to find a way of how I could scale it.” It was then that Claire looked into fedoras and trilbies.
“I don’t do things by halves.”
With that Claire set herself on a mission to bring back beautiful hats as everyday accessories.
Claire left her corporate law firm in the City to study with milliners Edwina Ibbotson and Noel Stewart. She learned how to make hats but also about wholesale trade, supplies and other aspects of the hat-making industry. After six months at the end of 2012 Claire felt ready to launch Penmayne of London.
Penmayne of London hats are shaped by hat-blockers in the UK and then hand-trimmed and finished by Claire and her small team in her London studio.
“I have a tendency to run before I can walk…”
Claire started selling her fedoras at Christmas fares to test the concept, and before long Penmayne of London hats appeared at Wolf & Badger, a store, showcasing independent designers. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, Harrods invited Claire to pitch to them.
“What I have come to realise is this: you cannot learn whether you are good at something or not, whether you like it or not, before you try.”
I watch Claire brushing a beautiful fedora trimmed with a wool braid and laugh: she says that sometimes she misses her law office. She explains: “I miss being told “Well done” on occasion, leaving the office at 6p.m. and switching off. You don’t get that as an entrepreneur.” It is true. But it’s the spark in Claire’s eyes that tells me her ‘leap of faith’ has been worth it.