DRESSMAKER Kay Lavender, 55, owns Lavande Designer Wear, a handmade dress store specialising in weddings and proms.

The self-taught Cwmbran designer opened the store’s doors in 1991, and since, the window has become a Malpas Road staple.

“I was brought up with mum sewing. I can remember seeing clothes all over the living room as a child and I was already helping to sew them,” Ms Lavender told the Argus.

“When I was seven I had an action girl, not a Cindy. Action girl was great, I’d make her all sorts of outfits. She had lots of little t-shirts and dresses. I guess they are the first things I’d made on my own.

“And then I made clothes for me and my friends. Things to go out clubbing in that just you couldn’t get in the shops.

“By the time I was 17, I made two wedding dresses.

“The first lady had heard that I make clothes and came to me. She was desperate. In those days, you couldn’t get anything in the shop over a size 18 but this lady was quite large.

“Imagine how desperate and in despair she must have been that she couldn’t find anything for her big day.

“That was a real test for me. You couldn’t get the clothes or the patterns for the clothes.

“So I had to enlarge one myself. It was a lot of responsibility but I did it. I took on the challenge and she couldn’t have thanked me enough afterwards.

“I also did my best friend Carol’s wedding, the whole process is really intimate. She can strip off in front of me but fitting her for a wedding dress is entirely different levels of vulnerability - so imagine what the first woman would have felt.

“The second woman couldn’t have been more opposite. She was tiny - doll like! She just knocked on my door and said, ‘I heard you make wedding dresses’.

“It was at this point that I realised I could do it as a business, if I really tried. But my father didn’t want me to go to university and get training. We needed money coming in so I became a civil servant.

“I still made dresses on the side but one day I just thought, I have to get serious. People were constantly knocking on the house and my living room was covered in materials.

“I worked out of the house for a long time, and that’s just sort of how I got here.

“Mum helped my a lot when she was still around - sewing on buttons and little bits.

“Being a single mum was difficult sometimes too. Mum would help me with my son James when he was little but we would all be here in the shop together.

“James has such a creative flare now that you can tell I’m his mum, just like my mum got me into sewing.

“You have to keep going if you want a career like this, really persist.

“After working as a designer for most of my life, I decided to go to university.

“It was the University of Wales then, but now the University of South Wales. I went straight onto a masters, purely based on experience. That was in 2012, making me a 49-year-old student.

“I ended up helping teach on the course too - there was a project with the technology and dresses which completely shocked me.

“Imagine, I thought it would be easy helping the students. But I didn’t have the first clue about technology.

“We [Kay and her students] put lights in dresses and they were actually so successful that one of the judges for the final presentation actually bought one straight off the mannequin.

“I’m not really sure how I’ve gotten where I am. Just all little things and hard work.

“After Abbey Hirst, the beautiful actress, wore one of my designs at the Welsh Baftas, business picked steadily.

“She only gave me three days to make that dress. It was challenge, just like the first dress I’d made, and I did it. How could I turn down an opportunity like that?

“The gorgeous actress CJ Gutteridge also wore one of mine at the Star Wars premiere at the Royal Albert Hall last December.

“The high-profile dress are great but I think my favourite is when clients have no idea what they want. That normally means I can have free reign on the design and cut.

“I definitely produce my best work when I’m allowed to be creative.

“Mother of the Bride is always a really great person to dress too - they don’t get enough credit. Older ladies think just because they are the mother that they can’t get something really special.

“That’s the thing about handmade dresses, to the spec of the person. It’s a completely different and unique experience to just walking in a shop and trying on dresses.

“And my clients walk out with different and unique dresses that they know someone else will never be wearing.

“No one is standard.”