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The Co Down designer who has Hollywood celebrities all wrapped up

Sara Hall, a member of the famous Sands singing family, tells Stephanie Bell about her exciting fashion venture, her life in Spain and her next production ... baby number two

Published 17/09/2016

Caped Crusader: one of the capes designed by Sara Hall
Caped Crusader: one of the capes designed by Sara Hall
Expanding family: Sara Hall with husband David and daughter Adrianna
Caped Crusader: one of the capes designed by Sara Hall
Co Down designer Sara Hall

It is only a year since Co Down woman Sara Hall launched her own luxury fashion label and already she is selling to celebrities and fashionistas around the world.

And an excited Sara can't wait until the weather turns cold when she hopes that American A-listers Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson and Olivia Palermo will be among the first stars wrapping up warm in one of her new winter capes.

Not that Sara needs to worry about the cold herself. The fact that she now runs her own business allows her and husband David - who is also self employed - the freedom to live wherever they want and the couple have made their home for part of the year in sunny Spain.

The rest of the year they rent a house close to Sara's famous family home in Mayobridge, a small farm known across Co Down and beyond as the Ceili House.

Formerly home to her grandparents Mick and Bridie Sands and situated in the townland of Ryan, it is where the famous Sands Family singers - her aunts and uncles - grew up.

Both her grandparents came from families of singers, musicians and storytellers, and encouraged a love of Irish culture and tradition in their seven children.

Her grandfather Mick Sands, who grew up in Ryan, was a fiddle player. Their home where Sara then grew up became known as the "ceili house" during her dad's childhood.

It was a focal point for neighbours from nearby farms as well as musical wanderers from much further afield who often gathered around the fireside for long winter evenings of song, music and craic.

Although her father Hugh, who plays guitar, is not involved in the band, his siblings are famous across the world as the The Sands Family folk group.

Sara's parents, Hugh and Mairin, moved into her grandparents' home and have continued the ceili tradition. For Sara, it was an idyllic childhood growing up on a rural farm surrounded by musical talent.

And the tradition has now been followed by the current generation with Sara's brother Fra and cousins Sorcha, Ryanne, Eimear and Moya playing across Europe in the very successful traditional Irish band Na Leanai.

While Sara says she is not musical, she certainly has inherited the creative gene which is apparent in the sensational early success of her fashion brand.

Just launched on September 1 under the new label Sands & Hall, Sara specialises in designing luxury capes.

The collection is now predominantly made up of womenswear capes with six styles available in Harris Tweed for Autumn 2016 and a further six launching for Winter 2016, including one menswear cape, for the first time, in Donegal Tweed, Harris Tweed and cashmere.

The firm's global appeal has taken her by surprise, especially as it all grew out of boredom when she decided to take some time off after having her first child, Adrianna, who is about to celebrate her fourth birthday.

Now with her second daughter due next week she is hoping to take a well-earned break after launching her new collection at the beginning of September.

She explains where it all began: "After Adrianna was born I had taken some time off and was living in Vancouver.

"I became a little bored and needed to do something.

"Rather randomly I had bought a woollen cape for Adrianna which she grew out of really quickly. I couldn't find another one online and it gave me the idea to start making kids' capes.

"I launched Cocoon Capes through Facebook and it went really well. I then had friends and mums asking if I did adult capes.

"I started to make adult capes and because the name Cocoon related to children we decided to rebrand and relaunch under Sands & Hall, which we did on September 1, so the new venture has only been up and running for a couple of weeks and it is bizarre how well it has gone so far."

Sara (35), who oversees all design and marketing aspects of the line, had enjoyed a successful career in public relations before she launched her own business.

Six years ago she decided to take a year out from the then job in Belfast to visit Vancouver where she met David, who is also 35.

Born in Botswana to English parents, David moved to Canada with his family at 15 and went on to specialise in online advertising and graphic design, working for some of Vancouver's top advertising agencies.

He now takes care of all branding and online marketing for Sands & Hall. Although she had no design training or expertise, Sara has focused on quality to establish her new brand in the luxury end of the market.

She says: "We decided to keep it small and do them really well and use only high end materials. Everything is hand sewn. I just learnt on the job and did a lot of online research. I only started this journey a year and a half ago and to get from there to where we are now is incredible - it has worked really well so far.

"I'm already working on a collection for Spring 2017/18 so that we can get it into the fashion calendar and in front of the big boys in time.

"It has been really hard work so I am looking forward to taking a bit of time off with the baby, who is due next week, and then maybe start back in January, working when the baby is asleep.

"I love the freedom of working for myself. My husband has his own business and also works on the marketing, branding, packaging and customer experience side of the company which is a massive part of what we do.

"As a mum it has worked out great as I can arrange my hours to suit.

"I can't believe how amazing it is to create something yourself. Of course, it is stressful too but it is worth all the stress. I can't ever imagine now not being able to work for myself."

The couple enjoy life in Javea on the Spanish coast, where their daughter has just started nursery school. They spend three months of the year in Spain and the rest of the time in Northern Ireland.

Sara says: "We were living in Vancouver when Adrianna was born and when she came along I wanted to be closer to home in Northern Ireland, but David wasn't that keen on living somewhere as cold as Ireland so Spain seemed the perfect in-between.

"We are about an hour from Alicante right on the coast and it is very beautiful.

"There is a lot of sunshine and not very much rain.

Belfast Telegraph

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