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Hats off to award-winning UCA Rochester student

A final-year BA (Hons) Product Design student has become the first person in the 24-year history of an international hat festival to take three awards in a single night.

Matthew Eluwande, who is studying at UCA Rochester, received the trio of accolades at the festival in Caussade, France for his impressive designs, winning the star prize for his red rose piece, and second and third prize in the professional and general category for two further creations.

Inspired to combine different design disciplines in his work, including fashion, furniture and interior design, Matthew says: “My hats are very creative and always one of a kind - I love to experiment with shapes and material. Growing up, I always loved working and playing with different objects and trying to make things. I remember folding foils around my finger to form a hat shape and using other things to make bows to fix at the side of the hats as decoration. It’s such an honour to have won these awards as milliners came to the event from all over the world.”

Matthew, who was born in London before moving to Nigeria with his parents, was first recognised for his millinery talent when he was employed to run errands in a hat factory. He adds: “One day I saw a hat worn by the singer Bobby Brown and I loved it but I couldn’t afford to buy it, so I decided to make one for myself. When my then employer saw the hat, and knowing that they had not offered me any training, he asked me to join one of their departments. Before I knew it, I had been promoted to run the department and I’ve never looked back! I returned to the UK in 2007 and set up my own hat business in 2010, which I ran for several years, and then decided to study Product Design at UCA to further my design skills and learn about other design disciplines.”

In addition to his success at the festival in July this year, Matthew has also received a number of other awards for his designs. Since winning his first prize in 2012, he has gone on to win eight in total,  including first prize at the British Hat Festival in 2012, second prize at this year’s Irish HatWalk, and first prize in the felt category at last year’s Caussade Hat Festival.

The time spent creating each hat is dependent on the style and material used in the design. Some hats and fascinators can take Matthew as little as three or four hours to make, while more complicated designs can take around two days.

After graduating next summer, Matthew, who is 44, is hoping to set up a design studio which combines his passion for cross-disciplinary work, using a combination of fashion, furniture and interior design to inspire and inform his creations. “The ultimate dream is to have hat shops in every major UK city,” he adds.