In 2020, ‘Handmade by Kata’ metamorphosed into ‘Cotton Caterpillars’ and introduced itself to the world. With the help of her Local Enterprise Office business owner and creator Kata O’Donovan brought her rebranded vibrant and funky organic cotton range from Clonakilty to Dublin to Showcase Ireland at the RDS. Suddenly Cotton Caterpillars had the attention of almost 3000 retailers from across the world and orders started flooding in. Kata is now expanding her business; she has her eye on a premises in Clonakilty, aims to employ up to three people to assist her in creating beautiful clothes for children and adults and in the long run anticipates opening a gallery supporting other individuals who are at the beginning of their creative journey.
“I think most importantly you have to have a vision,” says Kata of her business success. “Without that, you will just circle around and never end up anywhere!”
For Kata, her journey into self-employment started when her son was born in 2013. “I couldn’t find the colourful and comfortable outfits on the High Street that I wanted for him,” she explains. “Realising that I wasn’t the only one struggling to find vibrant and multi-coloured clothes that would allow my children to play and explore the world freely, I decided to make outfits for sale.”
With that, this caterpillar started moving and changing shape.
Designed and made in Ireland, all of Cotton Caterpillar’s products are created using quality organic and sustainable materials, with children who love exploring in mind. The ‘Grow with Baby’ collection has products for mum and baby ranging from comfortable neckwarmers to jumpers and dresses.
“As a small child in Hungary, I often wore handmade clothing sewn by my mother and grandmother,” explains Kata. “I enjoyed wearing clothes made to my measurements. Today I still love picking out patterns and playing around with different type of fabrics.”
Kata’s path to her current profession was a winding one. Unable to fulfill her dream of becoming a hairdresser because of family finances, she instead enrolled in a special highschool programme that prepared girls for joining the police academy in Hungary. When this programme ended unexpectedly, although she still had her heart set on becoming a hairdresser, Kata chose instead to go to Budapest where she trained at one of the biggest dental technician schools in the country.
“Suddenly I was a dental technician, making dentures and retainers,” she says pulling a face. “I had a good enough salary but I wasn’t happy. Doing a job that was forced on me was hard to handle…and then I had enough!”
Kata took a life-changing week’s holiday to visit Ireland. “I had a fantastic time here – the sunshine, the kindness of the people and the view all blew me away. I came back home and started to work on my escape plan!’
Kate gave up her job making dentures, packed her bag and left Hungary for Ireland on one sunny September day. “Before I crossed the border to Austria, I called my father,” she says. “He begged me to stay and even offered to drive five hours to bring me back. But I knew I had to go. I had a fire in my belly, I couldn’t turn back.”
The next day Kata boarded the ferry from France. “As the mainland grew smaller and smaller, and the ferry travelled further and further out to sea, the reality of what she had done started to dawn. “I looked around me and all I could see was water. I asked myself ‘what have I done?’
Kata drove from Rosslare to the tiny village of Timoleague in West Cork. On her own, with just enough money to last a month, she immediately began her search for work. Just a few days before her savings ran out, Kata secured employment in Clonakilty.
“My plan was to work here for a couple of years and go back to Hungary to buy a house and start a family,” she explains. “But it all changed when I met my husband Gerry…”
Now happily married and settled in Ireland and mother to two young boys, Kata still has a fire in her belly; and that steely determination and sense of adventure that brought her to Ireland has created a successful and sustainable business model.
“When my children were babies, I worked into the night to get the business off the ground,” explains Kata. “Life got easier when my youngest son started Montessori; I had a couple of hours in the mornings to do my orders. With both of my boys now in school, I have three full hours a day to drive the business. I follow a strict schedule: check and reply to all my emails first thing in the morning before 7am and from 9am, I am cutting and sewing and sorting orders until it’s time to pick my youngest son up from school.”
Life may be hectic during the week but after a health scare a few years back, Kata has learned to take time off. “It was an eye-opener for me…as the saying goes, I learned that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’.”
Although she still does some sewing at the weekends, she brings her eldest son Darragh (8) with her, teaching him the skills her grandmother and mother passed on to her.
“My grandmother really inspired me,” shares Kata. “She always had a smile on her face no matter how hard she worked, and she loved everyone. She was well-respected and always gave more than she received.”
As time moves on and her business expands, Kata hopes to follow in her grandmother’s generous footsteps and offer support to others starting out in her field. “I’d like to become a mentor to someone starting out, using my own experience and knowledge to help a small business grow,” she explains.
Wherever her business lands, Kata’s dream is to create a happy space, where beautiful clothes will be created for young and beyond…