Westmeath Milliner Thrived During Lockdown Thanks to His Instagram Facemask Tutorial

Milliner Derek Montgomery’s hats have been worn all over the world, with Britney Spears among the celebrities that have worn them.

As a fifth-generation fashion designer based in Mullingar, a flair for craft is in his DNA.

His business started after his appearance as an apprentice on RTE’s Craft Master series in 2013. The show acted as a springboard leading to the opening of his own shop in Mullingar.

His early focus on knitwear gradually shifted to millinery, which offered a year-round trade. By continuously upskilling in millinery and investing in courses run by the world’s leading milliners, he mastered new techniques and styles. Today, his headpieces are available in 24 boutiques and hat hire shops across Ireland and the UK.

In January 2020, he was poised to diversify his business by offering Millinery classes. Initial demand was really strong until COVID changed all his plans.

Forced to close his shop and cancel his classes, he also had to face the impact of lost trade from postponed weddings and Ladies Day events that were his strongest sources of revenue.

With a dearth of demand for his products, he shifted his creative energy into his social channels, starting out by sharing baking tutorials with his followers before deciding to show people how to make their own face coverings at home. The latter changed the course of his business in ways he never even imagined!

After sharing his tutorial for face coverings, he woke the following morning to an order for 100 face coverings from a local business. His tutorial then went viral after US Designer Michael Costello, who designs pieces for J-LO, Beyonce and Cardi B, shared it on Instagram with his 1.2 million followers.

Because he was one of the first people in Ireland to start making face coverings, he says he quickly became the ‘Go To’ person for face coverings with orders pouring in from all over the world.

He now has a team of 22 people working with him to keep up with demand and has signed a distribution deal with Pharm Med, who distributes his face coverings to pharmacies and businesses all over the country.  

#SupportLocal #ChampionGreen

Derek says that supporting local is the lifeblood of any business and something he has done on a personal and professional level for many years. “I’m from Mullingar and I’m a huge supporter of shopping local. The pandemic has highlighted just how crucial it is to support local going forward, particularly as businesses that would rely on international visitors have been decimated.”

To do his part to raise awareness of supporting local business during his time, he makes sure that ‘made in Ireland’ is clearly labelled on all his face coverings and hairbands. He believes it’s a powerful way to emphasise the importance of supporting local business.

Derek was overwhelmed with requests from front line workers all over Ireland looking for face coverings and, because there was a shortage of PPE in the early days of the pandemic, he donated over 7,000 face coverings to nursing homes, hospices, supermarkets and businesses that were operating while the country was in lockdown.

He has always been an avid supporter of local charities and has been involved in numerous charity events to raise funds for causes such as the Irish Cancer Society and the local hospices in Westmeath.

Most recently, he has designed and produced a collection of camouflage face coverings for his friend Amy, who has a fundraising page called ‘Amy’s Army’ to help her raise funds for a bionic hand, which she needs after the amputation of her hand due to a rare form of cancer.

Derek is a proud supporter of local businesses in Mullingar. “The town has some great boutiques and shops, cafes, hotels, restaurants and salons, which I frequent on a regular basis. It all helps keep money in the local economy. Given the devastating effects COVID-19 has had on pretty much every business, it’s even more important for us all to shop and support local as much as we can,” he says.

To see more from Derek, follow him on Instagram and on Facebook or visit his store on Mount Street, Mullingar.

Champion Green is supported by @KilkennyShop and @VisaIreland, in association with @sfa_irl@retail_excellence and Chambers Ireland.