In conversation with Stella Serpente of MadeOnceCreations

Leeds Living heard about Stella when she made Rolling Stones face masks for one of our contacts, and even a Mick Jagger dress for an event last year. We asked Gemma Bridge to find out more.

Where did MadeOnceCreations begin? 

Stella’s family, who kept clothes shops, encouraged her to be creative. It was in these shops that Stella developed retail and sales experience and was a time that Stella learned some of her sewing and embroidery skills, although she picked up most of these from her Mum, ‘She is a seamstress, and so I grew up surrounded by buttons and needles.’ Stella’s love of photography, however, came from her dad, who had a ‘massive record store and was a photographer… he was my photography master,’ she reminisced. 

Stella opened her first shop with her Dad in 2000. The shop offered a t-shirt personalisation service, which she told me ‘was very popular; it exploded.’  But at 21, Stella left for university and then moved to the UK. ‘I come from Sicily and arrived in Leeds in 2008’, she said. ‘I came to visit a friend but never left. Well, I have travelled a bit but have always come back to Leeds. It is where I feel comfortable.’ I couldn’t agree more with Stella as I feel really comfortable in the City, too. Stella went on to say that although a friend had drawn her to Leeds, it was her Grandmother who was an English teacher, who inspired her passion for English and her study of foreign languages. 

Sadly, 6 years ago, Stella’s Grandma and Dad died within 6 months of each other. ‘Two columns of my life went away’, Stella said. ‘My family was in Sicily; it was tough.’ But, within a year, Stella met her current partner, who was very supportive. She started drawing greetings cards. Being creative, Stella said, was a way for her to relive and understand her experiences. She explained that she started to put all the pieces together, and ‘things started to make sense, so it was time to set up MadeOnceCreations.’

The work that she creates is an extension of her bubbly personality. ‘My work is based on my life experiences’, Stella explained. ‘I have studied art, but the biggest training has come from my family.’ Stella said that all of her work is unique. ‘Everything is a one-off piece. Everything comes with a certificate. I try and represent the individuality of ourselves in my work. We are all unique and all different.’ 

What impact has the COVID-lockdown/ post lockdown had for you and MadeOnceCreations? 

Stella told me that there has been a lot of change for her. Some of that change was positive, as her dream has always been to work from home. So, when lockdown hit in March, and she was forced to work from home, it was not a concern for her. ‘Actually, it was positive‘, she explained ‘I didn’t have to juggle my part-time job. I had all the time to myself. I had more time to focus on what I am doing [MadeOnceCreations]’. But, some of that change was negative. ‘I was so anxious in the first couple of months.’ But this negativity didn’t last long. ‘I didn’t let myself get too worried.’ So she looked to MadeOnceCreations for her solace. 

When did you decide to make the face coverings?

About six weeks ago I was inspired to make masks. Initially I was rejecting them but because I was scared to go out myself, I made them for me, to feel more protected’. Stella posted a picture on Instagram of one of her masks, and within hours she was ‘inundated with orders and support.’ The orders came in from existing customers but also from ‘people who have not bought before from me. The masks gave them a chance to try something I have made. I got great feedback.’ 

‘I make masks according to a pattern that I have made. I rework the pattern each time and I talk to the customer and I make them to order so that they are all different sizes.’ As with all of her creations, Stella said that she likes to personalise the masks and has been doing so largely with embroidery and personalised prints. She explained that ‘custom work is best; it is my main skill’, and after taking a look over the MadeOnceCreations Instagram page, I can see why so many people have been ordering the masks, as they are great.  

As with all of her creations, when making masks Stella is conscious of her impact on the environment. So, she has been buying everything in small quantities, and attempts to reuse or rework where possible. Stella explained that she buys from local businesses and uses her bicycle for transport. I really admire her passion for sustainability and know this is something more and more businesses are placing at the heart of their work. 

Plans for MadeOnceCreations 

Talk then turned to the future. Stella explained that pre-COVID she had loved exhibiting and selling her creations at pop up events. She also enjoyed collaborating with different artists and businesses. She has also started hosting a series of workshops at Terminus, which ‘went well – they were absolutely fantastic and were getting stronger’. Unfortunately, when COVID hit, the events took a pause. However, when things are safer and she feels more comfortable, Stella is keen to get back out and about because, she explained ‘I love the contact with people and artists. I have met so many amazing people. I support this world and I have had a lot of other artists supporting me.’

For now, Stella’s focussed on developing MadeOnceCreations and she’s planning to just see how it goes. She is working part-time, but ‘would like to be independent and work only on MadeOnceCreations’. One day, she would like to hire someone to help run the business, but for now, she does everything herself. Her main focus for the time being is boosting the online presence of MadeOnceCreations. Stella has created a website for the business, which is due to launch in the next few days. She knows a website will be a great way to bring in new customers, and that ‘it will be bigger and more professional’. However, she’s keen not to lose the personal connections that she’s developed with customers on Instagram. ‘I am there all the time. Instagram is where people find me and where I can connect with them.’ 

Stella is also looking to develop the artistic side of her work. ‘I want to have an exhibition based on embroidery and photography’, she explained, so she’s working on an exhibition at the moment titled ‘Excavation’. The project aims to give Stella the opportunity to explore inside herself. She explained that ‘hand embroidery is a long process, which gives me time to think about my own feelings, discover more about myself and my feelings. It is therapeutic. It is not about being quick.’ Interestingly, Stella said that she can see how her mood varies as she works on the pieces. This is something that I think is fascinating, and I am really excited to see her exhibition once it is finished. 

The Leeds Living team wishes Stella and MadeOnce Creations the very best.

Photographs provided by MadeOnceCreations.

Dr Gemma Bridge

Gemma, who works at Leeds Beckett University, has been writing for over 10 years and loves to share what's going on in and around Leeds. She is also an international athlete, artist and the creator of Leeds Food Guide. You can find her on Instagram at @GLB_racewalk or @Leeds_FoodGuide

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