22nd September 2022

The future is hats

Born in Spain, Sylvia arrived in the Greater Region in 2007. Having worked in a bank for 21 years, she decided to make a living from her passion, which is the creation of ready-to-wear and couture hats. In this article, Sylvia tells us about her entrepreneurial journey. Happy reading!

Meet Sylvia

My name is Sylvia Martinez and I am a Spaniard from Madrid. My father was a tailor and my aunt was a dressmaker, so I grew up around needles, thread and fabric, and, even as a little girl, I loved making things with my hands.

I earned a master’s degree in economics/actuarial science and then spent 21 years working at a bank in Madrid. But I was unhappy with this intellectual work because I needed to bring my artistic and creative side to life. So I experimented with dance, furniture restoration and jewellery-making.

In 2006, I took a three-day course on hat-making, which was when I learned about this profession and fell in love with this accessory and its possibilities.

Hats help us show our personality and stand out from the crowd at an event or in everyday life. A hat can tell us a lot about a person because it really catches the eye.

So I switched careers and became a milliner designer, and this has been my passion for 13 years. My goal is to share this story of love and passion through my hats, headpieces and hair ornaments.

The idea of creating my business

In August 2007, I moved to France, not far from the Luxembourg border. It took me a while to adjust to my new country and take care of my three young children while also thinking about what I wanted out of life. I certainly knew I didn’t want to go back into finance.

So I started training to become a milliner. At first, it wasn’t easy to find specialised training for this career, but I managed to find some trainings to learn how to work with the materials. Although I had a talent for design, I still had to learn and practice the techniques.

Making hats in the 21st century is a challenging business. Since there are no companies located in our region, the only way to do the job is to become an entrepreneur.Making hats in the 21st century is a challenging business. Since there are no companies located in our region, the only way to do the job is to become an entrepreneur.


The stages of business creation

1. The success of my first designs

Since I live in France, I contacted my region’s Chamber of Trades and Crafts. I explained my handcrafted millinery project and they signed me up for a one-year business incubator programme. This allowed me to test-drive my business and take advantage of support in key areas related to business creation.

I started attending craft shows to present my work (a wide variety of colourful and imaginative designs) and had my first successes. I gained some experience and after a year in the incubator I launched my own company, “Les Folie’s Bibis”, out of my home. But things get more difficult once you’re on your own!

2. The first steps towards entrepreneurship

The hardest thing is that everything needs to be built from scratch. It’s not enough just to be good at your craft, you have to work on the business as a whole. This means asking yourself the right questions, studying the competition, conducting market research, finding the right suppliers and the right places to show, and so on – so many things to consider.

In 2010 due to personal reasons, I started working in tourism. During this time, I continued to make hats for my shows on weekends.

These years allowed me to gain experience in creating and testing where my work was best received.  I became more and more skilled with my hands. I continued to train and evolve, which is why I had some major successes:

I am very proud to have created several hats for the Hereditary Grand Duchess of Luxembourg. She wore them on various official occasions, including three years in a row to the Te Deum on Luxembourg’s National Day.

In 2018, I won the award for best concept at the Rencontres Internationales des Arts du Chapeau in Chazelle sur Lyon – France.

Making a living from my passion.
Sylvia Martinez

During this entire time, I continued to make my unique pieces but neglected the entrepreneurial aspects of the work. At the end of 2018, after the company I was working closed, I decided to give my own company my all.

It wasn’t an easy decision, as I was on my own and facing an uncertain future. But I decided to follow my heart and ignore my head. I wanted to give my passion a chance and not give up on my dream!

3. The opportunities of the FIT4 Entrepreneurship programme

I learned that there’s a programme called FIT4 Entrepreneurship in Luxembourg, run by the House of Training, and I decided to apply. I wanted to explore the possibility of creating my company in Luxembourg.

I began this step of my journey in January 2019 and realised I had a lot of work to do on the business side. The programme gave me a general understanding of the requirements and needs of a business and an entrepreneur. This helped me ask myself the right questions and figure out where I needed to put my focus.

Once I had analysed my project in detail, I had to admit that transferring my company to Luxembourg, would not have been profitable: renting a commercial space there would have been more expensive than in France.

So I stayed in France in my private workshop and did what I had never really done before: I focused on the business side.

The programme gave me a general understanding of the requirements and needs of a business and an entrepreneur.

4. Position yourself better through personal development

With the help of a Luxembourg-based coach who works with craftswomen, I took a hard look at my business and myself.

A full year of development work:
A full year of development work:
It was an intense year that paid off, as it gave me a better understanding of myself and helped me align my project with who I am as a person.

I decided to change my brand name and brand image, and “SYLVIA MARTINEZ COUTURE HATS” was born. This brand is more in line with my high-end work and my personal development at this time: prêt-à-porter (casual and cocktail) and custom-made designs as well as bridal ornaments.

I created a new website, SYLVIA MARTINEZ COUTURE HATS, and I advertised mainly through social media.

Recently, in March 2022, I opened an online store to be able to sell my designs to a wider market.

5. Post-pandemic reinvention

The COVID-19 crisis years, when I couldn’t attend any shows, gave me some time to look inward and reflect on my career and my business.

The last two years were a time of reinvention and I am working on a major online training project with three levels of difficulty: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. The idea is to add another string to my bow. The beginner level is already available and the others are in the works. 

The satisfaction of embellishing yourself with a handcrafted headpiece or a hat skilfully made by hand and created with love, is a real gift.

I would like to use these training sessions to share what I have learned on my own over many hours of work: you have to practice the same thing over and over, and sometimes undo and redo your work.

All my experience can help my students to save frustration and time. They will have access to all my shortcuts, good practices, tips and recommendations.

My courses will also spark my students’ (sometimes dormant) creativity, let their instincts take flight, and allow their emotions to emerge in the work they do with their hands. This is also a way for them to develop self-confidence and be proud of what they can make with their own hands.

My intention is to create safe spaces to escape and relax in order to refocus in the moment and connect with the immense value of making something by hand.

I love creating, imagining, working with my hands, transmitting and sharing my knowledge. I consider that they have to flow to develop and help make a more beautiful and caring world.

Sylvia's advice to future entrepreneurs

It’s all well and good to have an idea, but to bring that idea to fruition you have to ask yourself the right questions. You have to look for the answers deep inside yourself. You have to know what you really want, go into as much detail as possible, create your roadmap, and make sure you have the resources to put everything in place. 

It’s not always easy to be the one to manage everything, because you wear all the hats, but I think that feeling of freedom, of being able to manage your time and the way things are done, is a big advantage.

Resilience, perseverance and joy: for me, these are the key words to keep in mind when you become an entrepreneur and are working to achieve your goals.

When we are filled with passion, we have to at least summon the courage to dive right in, so we won’t regret we never tried…
Sylvia Martinez

Nyuko has signed a partnership with Spuerkeess, in order to foster entrepreneurial spirit and strengthening the bank's position with company founders from the start of their businesses. More info in our article: https://www.spuerkeess.lu/en/blog/experts-corner/nyuko-fostering-entrepreneurial-spirit/.