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Eleanor of Els-bels at her Innov-is 10a Brother sewing machine

Charity work leads to #BrotherBiz dream

Like so many others, Eleanor Leadbetter, from Oranmore in Ireland, reached for her sewing machine to help pass the time during the COVID pandemic.

After getting over her fear of re-threading her Brother Innov-is 10a sewing machine and making more than a hundred facemasks for charity – she’s turned her lockdown hobby into a business!

Tell us about you and your business:

Els-bels Boutique sells a variety of handmade accessories such as handbags, purses, scarves, wrist warmers and dog bag holders.

My wrist warmers have been very popular as well as my bespoke bags, but I’m always looking for new lines and ideas.

As well as regularly attending local craft fairs, I also sell through Facebook and my online shop.

Bags and wallets made by Els-bels Boutique Galway

When did you get your big break as a business?

I’d say it was more of a slow burn rather than a big break.

I started sewing out of necessity during lockdown, because I really missed the creative release I got from my singing group.

I found a charity that wanted people to make face masks for vulnerable people, and I decided it was the perfect outlet.

I had very little sewing experience, but masks were a great place to start, and turned out to be the perfect way to give back whilst also improving my sewing.

After more than a hundred masks I finally felt comfortable with changing a needle and threading different colours, so I decided to try something a little more challenging. I started with some basic clothes such as leggings for my daughters, then I moved onto snoods and scarves.

It was when I started sharing my makes on Facebook that people started asking me if I’d sell any of my items – and I thought ‘why not?!’.

The next big step was a year later when I decided I was going to open a market stall. This time I wouldn’t be selling to friends and family, so I needed a lot more stock which required a lot more work and planning. It went well and I ended up doing a few more markets, and by Christmas 2021 I decided to set up Els-bels Boutique.

What equipment do you use?

After all this time I still use my trusty Brother Innov-is 10a sewing machine.

It’s an entry-level sewing machine and quite compact, but it’s been fantastic for what I’ve needed it for and I’ve no plans to replace it just yet.

I’m aware I will have to upgrade at some point because it’s not designed to sew through some of the thicker materials I use for my handbags, such as vinyl and cork, but it’s doing a great job so far.

I also have an overlocker and couple of vintage machines which I use for some of the heavier top stitching.

I’m very fond of the Brother Innov-is 10a sewing machine, so I’m going to stick with it for as long as possible. However, I am very mindful of keeping it in the best condition possible, so I have it serviced regularly and keep it well-maintained.

Eleanor sewing on her Innov-is 10a Brother sewing machine

Do you have any advice for beginners with less experience?

My advice is always give things a go. Even if you feel your skills and experience aren’t up to it, you will still learn and surprise yourself.

It’s great to be able to make money out of doing what you love, and I would really recommend it, but it does take a lot of work.

My husband Adam and I had already decided that I would continue to home-school the children after lockdown, so we had already got used to living on a single income and there was no financial pressure. This may not be as simple for some, so it’s important to look at how you can manage your time around a career. 

The great thing about turning a hobby into a business is that it’s already something you spend a lot of time doing around your existing commitments – so it should just take a little more planning if it’s something you are serious about.

Once you make the commitment to set up a business it’s important you change your mindset from hobbyist to a business owner. Listen to other people’s advice and look around you to see what others are doing.

A lot of it is trial and error but if you are lucky enough to know someone who has been doing it for longer than you, then make the most of their advice! I have a wonderful friend who is a sort of unofficial mentor to me, and she has taught me a lot. I wouldn't be without her.

two girls in snoods and a cocker spaniel with a poo bag holder

What’s next?

I’m very excited to have recently launched my website which will hopefully generate more orders from further afield. I’ve sold to a lot of friends and family through social media, but it will be fantastic to get some more general sales from across Ireland and Europe.

One day I’d like to learn a bit more about the financial side of things – particularly import and export tax. I’d love to be able to sell in the UK but there’s a lot of forms to fill in, it’s quite overwhelming.

On a personal level I will continue to home school my daughters Megan, 11, and Becca, nine, and yes – that includes teaching them to sew too!

Where can people find you?

You can contact me at elsbelsboutique.com, Instagram @elsbelsboutique or on Facebook @Elsbelsboutique.

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