Co Down fashion designer Sara Hall: I'm just taking a break until the next chapter
Sara Hall's elegant capes were a global hit when she launched her business four years ago - but now the Co Down woman is taking a step back to devote more time to her young family. She talks to Stephanie Bell
A woman who launched an international fashion label four years ago has found herself in the unusual position of being a victim of her own success.
Sara Hall, from Mayobridge, Co Down, has taken the difficult decision to bow out of her business Sands & Hall this year to free up more of her time to spend with family.
However, she has reassured her tens of thousands of followers on social media that she isn't about to shut up shop for good on her luxury cape brand.
Sara (37), who lives between Northern Ireland and Spain with her entrepreneur husband David (38) and their two girls Adrianna (7) and Evelynne (2), set up her company four years ago.
She had no idea just how brilliant her business would turn out to be and within a few months her first collection of capes had gone global and were featured in fashion bible Vogue.
As the brand continued to get bigger and bigger, Sara found herself so immersed in work that it was impacting on the quality of her family life.
Her recent announcement that she would be stepping back from the business this year on the Sands & Hall Facebook page, which has 55,000 followers, led to thousands of emails and messages of support.
The firm's global appeal has taken her by surprise - especially as it all grew out of boredom while off work after the birth of her first child Adrianna.
She says: "It still completely blows my mind when I look back at how far I've come. It has been an incredible journey and I have loved every second of it.
"I don't believe at all that it is over. I am taking a small break until the next chapter begins.
"I was so emotional the night I put the Facebook announcement up.
"I had kept delaying it as I feel responsible for the brand and for people who are genuinely obsessed with it. A lot of people were devastated thinking we were closing down but it is not going to be forever, I am just taking a break."
Sara is from the well-known Co Down musical Sands family of singers and grew up in Mayobridge where she and David still split their time with their home in Spain.
Although her father Hugh, who plays guitar, is not involved in the band, his siblings are famous across the world as the Sands Family folk group.
It is a tradition now 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.
Sara, however, discovered - quite by accident - that her own creative talents lay in fashion design.
She had enjoyed a career in PR before meeting her husband David, who worked in online advertising and graphic design, while on a career break in Vancouver eight years ago.
She stayed in Canada and when their daughter Adrianna was born, Sara decided she wanted to be closer to home.
The couple decided to move to Spain and spend half their year in Co Down and half on the continent.
It was just after Adrianna was born and Sara had taken time off work that she had the idea for her new clothing business.
She says: "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 capes for kids.
"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 launch under Sands & Hall."
Although she had no design training, Sara focused on quality using only high end materials and hand sewing the capes to establish her new brand in the luxury end of the market. She was working on a new collection when her second daughter came along in 2017.
Today she admits that, while she has loved every minute of her success, that same success was starting to cause unhealthy stress which has led to her huge decision to take a step back from the business.
As the brand took off beyond her wildest dreams, the workload increased and Sara found herself at a crossroads when her only option was to grow the business even further and take on more work - or take time out and keep the brand going in a smaller, more manageable way.
She explains: "It had just got so big and was getting bigger. It had got to the stage when I needed to take on more staff and so I had the choice to continue to grow it or to take a step back.
"Evelynne is two and Adrianna is seven and there is only so much of me to go around and I just thought 'how am I going to cope with this and look after the kids?'.
"Also, David only launched his own online business a year and a half ago and I wanted to support him too - he was busy with that all day and evening and it made me realise there is only so much you can take without the kids missing out in some way, and that's something I didn't want.
"I do want the business to be there for them when they get older and that is very important to me."
Sara has struggled with her decision, but has made a healthy choice with herself and her family at the centre of it.
She feels fortunate that her customers support her decision and she will continue to keep the business operating on a much smaller scale when she returns to it later this year.
She says: "If you had said to me back at the time the capes were in Vogue and the big magazines that I was going to have to take a pause because it was getting so busy and so brilliant, my ego might not have accepted it.
"But it has become stressful and I don't want to be working continuously and worrying about the kids.
"Some people can run a fashion business and do it alongside a happy, healthy family life but I knew my own limitations and I knew what was right for me and my family.
"Also with my husband being an entrepreneur and both of us having young businesses it meant often we would both be working into the night.
"I am not just doing it for the kids but for the whole family and for myself.
"I am looking forward to having down time to get back to fitness and eating healthy and doing things that I didn't have time for."
Currently, all Sara's capes are sold out online. Her plan is to take a few months to rest and recuperate before putting together a new, smaller collection towards the end of this year.
She is confident in the devotion of her followers that even by reducing her range it will continue to be popular.
In the long term she is dedicated to keeping Sands & Hall going for the sake of her two girls.
She says: "I don't think it is going anywhere. We have 55,000 followers on Facebook and they are all so completely and utterly interactive too and I get so many comments and emails from people saying how Sands & Hall has helped make a big difference in their lives.
"Many people have said that putting on one of our capes when they were feeling down made them feel really empowered and that to me is absolutely amazing. It is something that is really special and that will always be there."
Sara's range of capes are made in the finest Harris and Donegal tweeds as well as a beautiful limited edition cashmere.
The majority of her clientele is UK-based but the company's reach is international with customers based in America, Russia, Germany, Australia, Canada, China, Japan and France.
Her plan now is to use the fabrics she has already bought to make a range of capes for pre-order at the end of this year.
"I haven't brought a collection out for spring and summer and right now I would be in the middle of pre-orders for next season - in my mind that doesn't make sense as it is just so stressful," she says.
"It is my plan now to run it on a smaller scale and I now know what works and what doesn't work. At some stage I will look into new colours for next year.
"My plan is to do a very small batch of my bestsellers towards the end of the year and continue to run the business.
"It will be nothing like the scale that we have done before, but more simple and with less stress.
"I had thousands and thousands of messages on Facebook, it was absolutely crazy and I also don't want to waste the past four years.
"I am just calming things down for a while. It has brought people a lot of happiness knowing the brand is carrying on and the messages of support from people all over the word has been unbelievable. Is quite amazing."