"It was never supposed to happen this way," says New York designer Yuri Lee Keown. She had planned to come to Kilkeel in spring last year to marry her fiance Thomas Keown, but thanks to the pandemic she found herself stranded in Northern Ireland, unable to go ahead with long-held plans to return to the States to launch a fashion line.
Instead, she found herself debuting her Love Wonky brand from a sheep farm in the Mournes and recruiting her mother-in-law's friends to knit hats and scarves that retail for up to $200 in the States.
The 38-year-old designer, who is of Korean descent, has been part of the industry for 17 years, working for big names such as DKNY, Victoria's Secret and Anthropologie.
A few years ago, she began working for the sustainable lifestyle brand Amour Vert in San Francisco. The brand expanded hugely in the following years, with Yuri becoming a designer with the right car, the right apartment, the right social circle and "the right metrics".
Once she had acquired all those things, however, she encountered the age-old problem of finding they weren't as fulfilling as expected.
"Three years ago, something broke in me. I thought 'This isn't the way I want to live', even though I was doing fashion in a kinder way," Yuri says.
"I had achieved all the goals I had set out to be 'successful'. I lacked nothing materially, but my life lacked purpose and meaning.
"I was a part of an industry that was very good at telling you what you needed to look sexier, cooler, smarter, but I didn't know how to make my own life more meaningful.
"I had seen the worst of the fashion industry and the ways in which people who produce the things we wear are exploited and mistreated.
"I believed there was a better way and I wanted to use my experience to help find it.
"I had no idea how, so I quit my job, put my things into storage and set out on a journey, spending six months in Africa and India.
"I didn't know how, but I knew I had to do something that helped people who weren't me."
It was around this time that she fell for Northern Ireland-born Thomas Keown, whom she met at a friend's wedding in Brooklyn.
When she was looking for an organisation to volunteer with, someone suggested she contact Thomas, the co-founder of the Many Hopes organisation, a non-profit based in Manhattan and London which aims to rescue children from poverty and abuse and equip them with the tools to tackle injustice.
When she met up with Thomas, things did not go as planned. She soon realised that her skills as a fashion designer were not what Many Hopes needed, but the meeting did lead to the start of their relationship.
"While he was very gentle in letting me down, the next time we were in New York, we met up and talked a little bit more," Yuri says.
"That's how our relationship began - with a series of noes.
"In so many ways, he said that their work was with orphans and they can't have people coming in and out of their lives.
"When I came back from my travels, I wanted to be really conscious of how much I didn't know and (I wanted) to offer something that people would need. I would try to learn from our conversations."
After travelling around and making connections with organisations in other countries, Yuri realised that while many women in developing countries were unable to access schooling, they had often learned craft skills from the older generations that could be adapted to earning a living.
Her intention was to work closely with women in Latin America to create beautiful handmade garments that could be sold via her Love Wonky brand, while at the same time generating employment.
The plan was to launch a partnership with a non-profit in Bolivia in 2020, followed by another non-profit in Guatemala this year, but Covid changed everything.
"I was going to go back to work with the women and collaborate on designs and do sampling, then the pandemic hit," Yuri explains.
At the same time, her Kilkeel wedding plans were thrown into disarray.
"The plan was to get married in May. My family was coming from Korea and we had a bunch of friends coming from the US," she tells me.
"I started hearing about Covid in Korea in mid-February, so in April I decided to come to Northern Ireland a little bit early to see what the situation was like and monitor things.
"But come April last year, we had to cancel all our plans because everything was shutting down. We were supposed to have our wedding in Thomas's home church in Kilkeel and have the reception at the Green Cottages, but it was postponed to September and then it was going to be postponed to May this year."
Adding to their problems was Donald Trump's decision to close the US's borders to non-essential workers, meaning Thomas was unable to return to New York.
"The choice for me was between going back to the States by myself or staying in Kilkeel, where I don't have a community. I couldn't even drive," Yuri explains.
"It felt like a bit of a hard decision, but what I hadn't anticipated was just how warm the community was here.
"I really love it here, which is surprising because I've always lived in big cities like New York or Seoul. I've never even lived in a house before."
Thomas adds: "We ran into a thousand administrative and legal issues that would have been comical if they weren't so hard and frustrating.
"Weddings were banned here, so we thought we'd go and get married in America instead, then America closed the borders to Europeans, so Yuri could go there, but I couldn't.
"The next option was to do it here later, but then we realised Yuri's visa would expire before we could do that. She was already here, so it was very hard to get a wedding visa to enter a country she was already in.
"Later, weddings were allowed outdoors, but the Church of Ireland can only marry people inside church buildings.
"Finally, we got a ceremony in front of seven members of my family and two iPhones Zooming to Korea."
Yuri's plans for launching her new brand had been thrown into disarray by the pandemic, in part because the women she was working with lived in remote areas and were unable able to move around because of Covid roadblocks.
Even if they had been able to continue working, they were unable to move their products.
Because of the lack of work and tourism in their area, their income was badly hit.
Yuri remembers receiving a text from one of the women she was working with in Bolivia who was trying to care for four children with no income.
"These were people I'd spent time with and I wanted to help in some way," she says.
Inspired by the women in Thomas's family, Yuri came up with the idea of recruiting local knitters to create handmade garments that could be sold and the profits used to generate employment in Latin America.
"Since moving to Kilkeel and seeing how many people here want to help the less fortunate around the world, seeing how many people love to knit and knowing how many people in the States desire handmade goods, this idea jumped out as a win for everyone," she says.
"The idea first came about because of Thomas's grandmother, Sadie, who despite never leaving Northern Ireland, knitted almost every night for 80 years for premature babies in Malawi that she would never meet.
"I wondered if there might be more Sadies around - and, goodness, there were."
She started off with two or three Kilkeel ladies knitting hats and scarves to sell under the Love Wonky brand. The idea quickly caught on.
"That turned into five, six, seven and all of a sudden we had 20 ladies knitting for us. They're so fast that I was surprised. The demand has been surprising. I think people really like that it's hand-knit and they like the fact that when they purchase, it's going to a good cause," Yuri says.
One of her volunteer knitters, Ruth Johnson, describes the project as a "win, win, win".
"It's a win for the ladies in Northern Ireland to be able to help someone else, a win for the ladies in Guatemala and Bolivia to gain steady employment, and a win for the customer who gets a beautiful hat that also helps someone," she says.
Rathfriland knitter Elizabeth Watterson, who has been knitting for Love Wonky since October, adds: "It's nice to know you can sit on your sofa with your fire lit, knit a wee bit and realise that you are helping another lady in another country and there's a reward in doing it: a wee satisfaction for yourself."
Yuri named the brand Love Wonky because she believes the beauty of handmade products lies in their imperfections.
"We believe that handmade goods carry a soul that factory made goods never can," she explains.
"We believe that your clothes should be as unique as you are and that every purchase you make can and should make a difference.
"To be able to do something that we enjoy doing anyway and also know that it is helping a woman on the other side of the world gives our knitters a good feeling."
While Yuri is delighted with her brand's performance, she's also loving life in Kilkeel.
"I'm learning new words and pronunciations, that soda bread is something that exists and that you can never drink too many cups of tea," she says
"The difference between the pace of life and the attitude of people here, I just love it, even the little things like waving at people over the steering wheel when you meet them driving.
"Wherever Wonky goes in the decades ahead, it will always be the kindness of Northern Ireland that started it.
"That this was also able to provide ladies with something meaningful to do with their time and skill during lockdown is so perfect for what Wonky seeks to be in the world."
To learn more about Yuri's fashion brand, visit www.lovewonky.com