Hat Talk Magazine Interview
Donna Hartley Millinery was born of a long, close friendship between Joanne Temperley Jones (below left) and Donna Hartley Millinery (below right). Three years ago, the two friends decided to set up a millinery business together. The only difficulty was that they were living over a thousand miles apart and in different countries.
Donna and Joanne first met in the picturesque English town of Hebden BRidge, West Yorkshire. Joanne was 21 and working in her family’s bar when 15-year old Donna came in with her older sister and a lifelong friendship was begun.
“From the moment we met, we have never looked back,” says Donna.”Although we have lived distances apart, we have always been close and there for each other”.
Donna went on to study Fashion Design at Batley Art College and then worked for wedding dress designer Beverly Summers. Finding that she had a talent for creating headpieces, she went back to college to specialise in millinery. This led to a position with Herald & Heart Hatters in London where she designed collection for prestigious customers like the Royal Ascot Corporation and had hats featured in magazines such a Hello and Shropshire Life. Joanne became an artist, designing murals and other original pieces, and eventually left England to live in a mountainous area of rural Spain called Campo de San Juan.
The two women came up with the idea of starting a business together in 2013. With guidance and training, Donan felt sure that Joanne could use her natural artistic abilities to learn millinery so that they could develop their own brand together. The more they talked, the more excited they became and, eventually with the agreement of their respective partners, they decided to try and turn their dream into reality.
Planning to base their new venture in Spain, Donna and her partner quit their jobs in England and made moving arrangements. Before long, they had secured a place to live, sold their British home and booked a ferry to Spain.
“We set off from England in a Luton van,” says Donna. “Household things packed in the back, dog in the friend and John and i driving towards the biggest adventure of our lives! It was January and we had to cross a pretty rough sea for 24 hours. Once we got to Spain, we then had to drive 12 hours to where our new lives were to begin. As we got closer to Murcia and into the mountains, the weather started to change - snow,rain and cold - but we soldiered on.”
As soon as she moved in, Donna set up a workroom in the basement of her new home and began teaching Joanne how to make hats.
“On the first day, Joanne managed to set her feather lined jacket alight with the butane gas fire - whilst wearing it!” Donna told us, “Scream could be heard all over the land. Thankfully, there was no damage done.”
To be able to run a business in Spain, Donna and her partner had to apply for Spanish residency, a process which required a lot of driving backward and forwards to and from the Capital of Murcia. Once the residency was granted, Donna and Joanne were able to register their business and Donna Hartley Millinery legally commenced trading in May 2015.
Living out a dream almost always involves a lot of hard work and plenty of ups and downs. We recently asked Donna and Joanne to tell us a little bit about what their experience has been like so far…
How do you feed that you’ve meshed with the local community so far?
As a whole, things are going smoothly. The language barrier is gradually breaking down (you have no option but to learn the language when you live in a rural area). The local people have welcomed us and are extremely supportive of our business adventures. We hope that, in time, we will able to provide work for people here in the “Campo” and help boost the local economy.
Where do you sell you hats?
We have a wholesale business and sell to America, Australia, England and Ireland. Our first sle to Samuels in Oklahoma (originally from New York) was a real highlight for us. We are new and people don’t know our quality and style yet so for someone to put faith in our products was a major boost. The downside to selling internationally is the dreaded shipping costs. These can potentially make or break a deal and big courier services don’t want to support us as we are new and too small, We also go on the roal to sell our good sometimes and a couple fo exclusive shops in Spain stock our hats.
The other side of our business is a retail to private clients. We are happy to talk to client about creating bespoke piece and become excited at designing a new creation for them. We were recently asked to create a couple of one-off pieces for a catwalk show. This was fantastic as there were no boundaries to what we could make and it is an area where we would like to expand.
Do you work to the seasonal fashion calendar?
It’s important to keep ahead of the game as there are many milliners producing beautiful pieces of work. Creating two collections a year - Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter - enables the artistic flow to continue throughout the seasons.
What are your favourite millinery materials?
More and more materials are available today than ever before and what we are able to achieve has no limits. We like to use different materials and develop new styles and ideas; for example we recently looked into using cork from Portugal which comes in many different thickness. We believe that we can develop on this and produce some amazing work.
Making our own prototype blocks is something we also enjoy doing. In not only develops our sculptural skills but also means we have some unique shapes. It is a mucky business and the pair of us get covered in whatever material we are using, so it has to be done outdoors. This is not a drawback, though as we can sit in fields of lavender and look at mountains that simply take your breath away!
How would you describe Donna Hartley Millinery?
Our unique style has quintessential British flair, whilst our natural surroundings, the Spanish flamboyancy and culture inspire and complement our quirky individuality.
What is it like to work together after being friends for so many years ?
We bounce off each other and have heaps of fun - it never feels like “work”. As we navigate through the days and nights, they merge into a myriad of innovative occasions. We work well together and knew we would as our friendship has lasted for over 30 years. We have played hard in our time and continue to do so and this has been mirrored in our business partnership. Many stunning head embellishments have emerged from the madness within...