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Turning a passion into a business

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Find your passion: Lara, Cindy and Alexa Patterson are shown with some of Cindy's designs (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Pregnant, Cindy Patterson bought a sewing machine. Her idea was to make underpants for her daughter Alexa, then a slender three-year-old with a tiny waist.

She never expected it would lead to a business, LaraLo Sew Fab.

Her handcrafted mermaids, pirates and all manner of custom items have become popular through word-of-mouth and Facebook; she has a physical presence at Harbour Nights and in the Designer & Vintage Market in the old Complete Office store, 17 Reid Street.

“My mum will tell you it didn’t come from her, though she taught me the basics,” Mrs Patterson said. “As a kid I remember doing pillows and making a teddy bear for my sister, but it wasn’t until I was pregnant with Lara that I finally bought a sewing machine.

“My eldest daughter has a really petite waist and I couldn’t find any underwear that would fit her, so I found a PDF online and bought it and made some for her. They fit perfectly.

“I believe my very first project with the sewing machine was a felt Christmas tree complete with ornaments and all the accessories needed to decorate the tree over and over again. [Alexa] loved it and we still use it every Christmas.”

A set of bunny rabbits she made for the girls gave her the confidence to make pirates, mermaids and other stuffed dolls as birthday party gifts.

“People loved them,” she said. “My friends started asking me to make them and that’s how the business started.

“[Four years ago] I opened a private Facebook group and invited select friends and family to see. The feedback was great. I got lots of positive response and started making dolls.”

She couldn’t believe it when strangers came calling with requests. A year later, pursuing LaraLo Sew Fab as a business seemed a natural step.

“I was senior zookeeper at [the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo],” she said. “It was my dream job and I was there for six years, but with my second child — I was working Sundays and public holidays and at Christmas — I made the decision to take a year off.

“I wanted to spend time with the kids, so I said I’d take a year off and, in that year, that’s when this started developing.

“It was a beautiful accident and I found my passion. I started a creative outlet that was very therapeutic.”

Customers were thrilled with the “lovies” she created out of their babies’ onesies.

Many suggested she should sell at Harbour Nights.

“I submitted an application and [the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce] loved it; I then had to start sewing like crazy,” she laughed. “I’ve just finished my second fantastic season and can’t wait untill next year.”

She has a loyal following of repeat customers here and abroad.

Tourists love that she will ship items internationally.

What she’s most appreciative of, however, is the help she’s received from her husband Sean and their children, Alexa, 9, Lara, 5 and Taylor, 2.

“They’re all so supportive,” she said. “They’re all my cheerleaders.”

Because she is at home with her son every day, she has learnt to be efficient with her time.

“I work at nap time,” she said. “He goes down for two hours and I hit it hard then, and in the evenings.

“My husband just installed LED lights in my sewing area, which is a corner of the living room, so I can do finishing touches.

“Before, there was poor lighting so I couldn’t do anything at night.”

Cindy Patterson’s custom and ready-made designs cost between $20 and $45. Look for LaraLo Sew Fab on Facebook, at Harbour Nights and in the Designer & Vintage Market on Reid Street, between 10am and 5pm Monday through Saturday

Family affair: Cindy Patterson’s handcrafted mermaids have proven popular (Photograph by Akil Simmons)