When did you set up your business and why?

I began basket making purely in a recreational capacity approximately eight years ago and my business, Helena Golden Willow Woman, was formally established in 2020.

From the outset, I was intrigued to be able to take a bundle of willow rods and a few hours later to have created a practical and functional basket.

As my skills developed, I began to showcase my work at various craft markets, where I ascertained that there was considerable interest in the tactile craft of basket making.

I set up the business, began delivering basket-making classes in Leitrim and we plunged into lockdown, all in quick succession! However, not one to be defeated, I commenced delivery of live online basket-making classes and from that point onwards, my business has continued to grow.

Helena established her business, Helena Golden Willow Woman, in 2020.

I was still working part-time when I set the business up. However, I now work full-time in the business and I employ an assistant who supports me with administration, marketing, accounts and general business development.

I am keenly interested in the promotion of Leitrim and contributing to the cultural wealth of what the county has to offer.

While I travel around Ireland to deliver basket-making classes, people also travel from all over Ireland to attend my classes in Leitrim, often staying locally and taking in additional activities.

Can you explain your process?

Natural, sustainably grown willow forms the basis of my work, although I like to incorporate additional natural materials, such as hazel, bog wood and birch, depending on the nature of what we are creating.

Willow is from the genus salix, hence it is commonly referred to as Sally. It is a rapid-growing plant and is harvested on an annual basis.

I alternate the materials I use on a seasonal basis - for example, I am using lots of wetland rush these weeks around St Brigid's Day.

My inspiration comes from my country roots. The rugged Leitrim landscape is an oasis of calm and creativity.

What is your best seller?

My basket-making classes are my most popular item, as I can tailor classes to meet the needs of a group, whether it's a hen party, women's group, a group of older people or a group that may have additional needs.

By taking time to understand the needs or wants of the group and making people feel comfortable and at ease, they can fully enjoy their immersive basket-making experience.

Willow is a versatile, flexible material, which lends itself to a vast array of both practical and decorative items for the home and garden.

In a one-day class, you will typically weave a bread basket or bicycle basket or perhaps a shopping basket (pictured).

I have developed a range of half-day and full-day willow weaving workshops and classes, so there is something to suit everyone.

In a one-day class, you will typically weave a bread basket or bicycle basket or perhaps a shopping basket.

In a half-day workshop, you will typically weave a willow vase or plant pot, egg basket or sweet pea obelisk for the garden.

What is it about your business that brings you joy?

I particularly enjoy that sense of pride and satisfaction that people feel as they take home their new basket at the end of a class and I am privileged that I have developed the skill set that enables me to teach this craft with patience, enthusiasm and clarity.

I regularly tell people that they will experience numerous emotions throughout a basket-making class - there are moments of excitement, hesitance, laughter and, ultimately, a sense of pride and a renewed vigour for life as your bundle of rods become transformed into a sturdy basket.

The feedback and expressions of thanks from my basket makers add a special sparkle to every day.

I continue to be excited and motivated by the learning curve and the adventure that I have undertaken in terms of turning my hobby into a career and I am enthusiastic about lifelong learning and adopting a proactive approach to meet the needs of an ever-changing life.

I also love that inherent connection with our tradition and culture that comes to the fore as we weave. Basket weaving stimulates memories, conversations and connections.

What are your hopes for 2023?

In 2023, I hope to share my craft with many more individuals and groups. I plan to establish more mutually beneficial collaborations with agencies, venues and groups.

Collaboration is key to business growth and I look forward to establishing new willow weaving projects throughout the country.

In the short term, I am launching my online school of craft and I will be developing that throughout 2023.

What advice would you give to another start-up business?

In terms of starting a new business, it is important to have a clear vision of what you want to make happen, know your product and know your target customer.

While the reality of what happens may be different to your vision, it is important to adapt and regularly revisit your goals.

Networking with other start-up businesses is time well spent, as it keeps you motivated and energised.

I was selected to participate in the Acorns programme for female entrepreneurs in 2022 and networking opportunities such as Acorns give you that vital space to work on your business and not in it.

Finally, as a sole trader, your business needs to suit your particular family situation in order to succeed and I am fortunate to have a great family team supporting Helena Golden Willow Woman.

Info: In addition to her basket-making classes, Helena sells items of willow basketry through her website, helenagoldenwillow.ie, and has developed a range of DIY willow craft kits that come with instructions and all the materials you need to try simple weaving projects at home or in school.

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