When University of South Wales (USW) graduate Ffion Williams was put on Furlough from her job as a knitwear designer, she wasn’t sure what the future might hold for her career.
But the 24-year-old from Conwy, who graduated with a 1st class honours in Fashion Design at the University of South Wales in 2019, soon came up with the idea of making cotton face masks from some leftover fabric – and is now running her own business, supplying shops all over Wales.
Initially making face masks for key workers, free of charge, Ffion shared images of her handiwork on social media, and quickly started receiving requests from people who wanted to buy the masks for themselves.
Her graduate collection – showcase at London’s Graduate Fashion Week – was inspired by Welsh heritage, and used patterns traditionally found in tapestry blankets. Ffion even had fabric generously donated by Pembrokeshire-based woollen mill, Melin Tregwynt, to use in her designs.
So once her business, Ffion Wyn Artisan, was set up, Ffion set about making printed versions of the tapestry patterns for her products.
“I thought I’d just make a few face masks at first, to see if anyone would be interested in buying them,” said Ffion, who currently lives in Cardiff and works as a knitwear designer.
“I only made about 20 masks in two different colours, and as soon as I’d posted them on my Instagram and Facebook, a Caernarfon-based gift shop called Adra got in touch and asked if I’d consider making some exclusive products for them. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity, and made them in four different colours for Adra. Then the owner asked for cotton scarves in the same fabric. From there, the orders coming in were crazy and I found myself being kept very busy!”
Living in a house share during the start of the pandemic, with local restrictions in place, meant that in the first few months of her business, Ffion was making all of her products by herself in her bedroom.
Thankfully, when restrictions started to lift in summer 2020, she was able to go back home to North Wales and see her family for the first time in months – and managed to recruit her mum for the ever-increasing orders that were coming in.
As word of her business spread in her home town, two local shops – Siop Wyn in Conwy and Siop Lewis in Llandudno – asked her to make some masks for them, as well as matching hair accessories including scrunchies and headbands.
“When I went home I took all my fabrics and sewing machine with me, and luckily my mum was able to help as I was struggling to keep up with the bigger orders,” said Ffion.
“We set up a production line and she’d help by cutting threads, pinning things together; just to help speed up the process.”
Ffion returned to her job last September, exhausted from making more than 500 masks and countless other items, but has continued to grow her business.
“I was really busy at the office but I still wanted to continue my business, and thought about how I could sell my products in a way that meant I wasn’t entirely alone in the manufacturing process,” she said.
“After discovering that the company I use to print the fabrics could also print on different items, I decided to sell items such as tea towels, aprons and blankets using my signature patterns, and sold those in the run up to Christmas.
“Since then I’ve set up my own website and I’m still receiving regular orders from the shops I’ve made products for – including dog bandanas for Siop Wyn, which is probably the quirkiest item I’ve made so far.”
Ffion has also delivered Zoom sessions in partnership with Menter Iaith Caerdydd, teaching people fashion illustration skills through the medium of Welsh. The sessions were aimed at GCSE and A Level students who have missed out on creative subjects due to home learning throughout the pandemic.
And in the next few weeks, she’s set to relocate to Manchester after accepting a new job in the city.
She said: “The pandemic made me realise how far away Cardiff is from North Wales – it’s at least a four hour drive – and after missing my family so much, I knew I needed to be closer to home. Even though I’ll be based in England, Ffion Wyn Artisan is still very much a Welsh business and I’ll continue to focus my designs on the popular tapestry patterns.
“When people first imagine traditional Welsh tapestry they may think of old fashioned blankets, but by using on-trend colours and textures, my work feels modern and fresh. Trying to create something different to all the others making the same sorts of items has really paid off for me.
“I’ll always be extremely grateful for my time at USW, for giving me so many opportunities and making me feel like part of a family. The lecturers really take time to get to know you and care about you as a person. My degree certainly set me on the path to my ideal career.”