WHEN she was a fashion-mad teenager, Pauline Mullan used to save her money for months before going to Glasgow’s Italian Centre, where she would carefully choose a designer item to wear to “the dancing”.

“I’ve always loved high-end clothes,” smiles the designer and dressmaker as she thinks back. “And going to shops like Versace really switched me on to garments that were well-made and used high-quality fabrics.”

After working as a seamstress and studying first soft furnishings, then fashion, at Glasgow Clyde College in her late twenties, the 39-year-old was offered a place on the renowned textiles degree course at Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels, but was unable to take it up due to family commitments.

Loading article content

Rather than see this as a blow, however, Ms Mullan used the experience as a platform from which to launch her own business, and more than five years later Madamegabrielle.com is going from strength to strength, offering a bespoke dress-making service.

“I absolutely loved my time at college,” says Ms Mullan, who is based at a home studio in Glasgow’s south side. “Learning to cut patterns was something of a dream come true for me. I was really proud to be one of only a few people on our course to be offered a place at university.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take it up, but it really gave me confidence and spurred me on to go out and make things happen. I feel I’ve done that, and I really enjoy working one-to-one with clients.”

The service offered by Ms Mullan focuses on occasionwear, including dresses for weddings, Christenings and other big life events.

Understanding client need is fundamental to the process, she explains.

“I spend a lot of time talking to the client about the style, feel and look of the garment,” says Ms Mullan. “Then I take the measurements, create the pattern and do a mock-up, then fittings, before even starting on the final dress.

“It’s a very personal service and you really get to know the person you’re working with. I love it when they send me pictures of them wearing the dress on their special day – I get a real sense of satisfaction.”

Social media such as Facebook has proved an important marketing tool for the mother-of-one, though she notes that old fashioned word of mouth has also brought her many clients.

Ms Mullan has just diversified into soft furnishings after going back to college to study upholstery, and hopes to expand into a number of new markets in future, not least those that have a social benefit.

“I’d like to pursue my brand to include a full bridalwear range,” she explains. “The next logical step would then be to design a tartan and move into kilts.

“But I’m also really keen to set up a social enterprise where I can offer training to young people, sharing all the skills and experience I’ve learned over the years.

“I’m going to start by going into schools once a week and see where it goes from there. I think the best strategy is to have a few balls in the air at the same time.”

One thing Ms Mullan doesn’t envisage any time soon, however, is going back to being a paid employee.

“I’m quite the boss lady now,” she laughs. “I love the freedom and creativity of working for myself, even though it’s not always easy.”

Indeed the hardest thing of all, she argues, is establishing your business.

“I think it just takes time and you have to be patient,” Ms Mullen adds. “I do work for a company that has been established for more than 40 years, and in a way that reminds me to put things into perspective.

“At the end of the day you have to be resourceful and just get out there and make it happen. Look for opportunities and take them when they come along. And don’t be afraid to speak up and be proud of your achievements.

“If you’re passionate, it keeps you going through good times and bad.”

Got some good advice to pass on to other entrepreneurs? If you'd like to be featured, email entrepreneur@heraldandtimes.co.uk