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Former beauty queen Lucy Evangelista: How I've finally found my (sewing) passion

Former Miss NI and Miss UK beauty queen Lucy Evangelista has swopped her throne for a sewing table as she now runs her own small business making hand-made baby clothes and accessories. The busy mumprenuer tells Joanne Sweeney how she's happy now to stay out of the spotlight

Former Miss Northern Ireland and Miss UK Lucy Evangelista is now focused on her home-based baby clothing business Grace James

IT'S a long way off from strolling down a stage in the Miss World beauty pageant to sitting quietly at a sewing machine at home making tiny baby garments but former Miss Northern Ireland and Miss United Kingdom Lucy Evangelista says that she has finally found her passion.

Over the past two and a half years, the actress, model and blogger has become a 'mumpreneur', by making handmade baby clothes, soft toys and accessories for parents who value something a little bit different and more personal for their babies.

Her Grace James business – called after her children, five-year-old Leila and three-year-old Luke's middle names – is slowly taking off, to the point that Luke will go to a nursery three days a week in the new year to allow Lucy more time to devote to her sewing.

Voted the seventh most beautiful in the 2015 Miss World contest when she was just 19, Lucy says that it's not her biggest achievement to date, although she enjoyed her time in the spotlight.

"Winning Miss Northern Ireland and Miss United Kingdom in 2015 was great and it's many girls' dream but this is my biggest achievement to date," says the 31-year-old.

"That's being a full-time mum and building a small business from home. I rarely get time off and I work late into the night but I wouldn’t change it. The children are only young for such a short time that and it's important that I am here for them but growing a business is something I wish to continue.

"It has taken many, many late nights to get to this position and I have finally found my passion."

Originally from Ballymena and of Italian heritage, Lucy once thought of becoming a social worker and, over the years, of studying fashion but she found herself in major demand as a model in her 20s.

Aside from her beauty contest titles, she has worked for brands such as New Look, Peroni, Magnum, Mothercare, John Frieda, Diet Coke, Nokia, H&M and Very.co.uk, and has been cover girl on magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Take a Break.

Lucy lives with her husband, the former Ireland and Ulster ruby player Matt McCullough, and their family in Belfast. She says she never thought about running her own business until recently.

"Two and a half years ago, I couldn't even sew," she admits. "Luke as a baby was awful with reflux for a few months and I couldn't leave the house at all and then I got severe mummy guilt about Leila not getting enough stimulation.

"She had a small felt craft box and asked me to make her a little doll. I randomly sewed up a doll for her overnight and left it on her pillow the next morning. She was so happy about it and I put a Facebook pic of it and a lot of people said it was great and really encouraged me.

"I basically went out and bought a sewing machine a few months later and taught myself to use it from YouTube videos after my 15-year-old cousin first showed me how to thread it as I hadn't a clue.

“That was it; I was hooked. I think I had my first order three weeks later."

She is delighted that she has found something that allows her to be creative.

"I've always been quite arty and creative, using my hands and was interested in photography but when I standing in front of a camera, I thought I could never do that," says Lucy.

"When I was working and living in London, I had intended to study fashion at the London College of Fashion but I fell pregnant with Leila and ended up doing commercials and shoots as a pregnant model so I never did it."

Now Lucy and with two women who help her out by sewing and embroidering the clothes, make a range of romper-suits sets, hats, personalised blankets, bibs, cloth dolls and sensory books for infants.

She recently began to use a combination of Irish linen and Liberty cotton prints – the latter named after the London department store known for its floral prints – in her clothes, which are sent as far as Saudi Arabia, North America and Australia.

Explaining the link to the fabrics, Lucy says: "My husband's grandmother and mother grew up beside a linen mill in Kells, where I get the linen from now, and his mother was a designer and dressmaker as well. My great-grandmother also made dresses so Grace James is all based around coming from Ballymena. We lived in London for five years, so that's where the Liberty print influences comes in."

Initially Lucy wanted to do something that fitted in with her desire to be at home with her children. While she might return to do some modelling and acting once the children are older, she's committed to developing Grace James as an online business.

She says: "I wanted to be at home with the children but I'm very independent and wouldn't like to ask my husband for money to buy something that I wanted, even though that wouldn't be a problem. But I can't do that. I want to make my own money and do my own thing.

"I would love this to be a full time job by the time Luke is in school, two years from now. It also teaches my children about work and money. Leila is aware that it takes X amount of bibs for me to buy treats and extras and she loves to be involved in choosing fabrics."

:: For more information on Grace James and to follow Lucy's progress, grace_james_handmade and @lucyevangelista on Instagram and on Facebook, @gracejameshandmade

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