Saturday 23 September 2017

Teddies made from clothes of loved ones rekindle memories

Back to life: Caroline Barron with one of her creations at her base in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Back to life: Caroline Barron with one of her creations at her base in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The smell of a boyfriend's T-shirt or a baby's jumpsuit can stir up memories and evoke powerful emotions.

And now a new Irish business set up in that spirit has been inundated with requests by people who are trying to capture the smell of loved ones forever.

Caroline Barron, owner of Hamilton Bears, has seen her tiny company based in Dublin's Grand Canal go from strength to strength since she came up with an idea to make teddy bears from the clothes of lovers, friends, family - and even those of the deceased.

She told the Sunday Independent: "Fifty per cent of our business is now made up of 'remembrance bears' from people bringing in clothes from loved ones who have passed away."

But in the countdown to Valentine's Day, Caroline's business has been taken over by enamoured couples.

"Our Valentine's requests are mainly coming from women, but men have a great and surprising reaction to bears made from the clothes of their children too."

The idea for her unique business began when the 31-year-old design and textiles graduate made a teddy for her nephew when her sister moved house and left some of his old clothes behind.

"I started studying bears and pulling them apart and the first prototype was born," she recalls. "It's amazing how, as I cut through the fibres, memories come flooding back of holding him as a little baby as the smells are released. It got such a great response when I gave the gift that I decided to put all my effort into it and the requests came flooding in."

Caroline says working on the unique gifts has taught her never to take anything for granted. "I've been very humbled by hearing the stories. From newborn babies to grandparents, I've covered all ages. Some times they would talk about their loss, others wouldn't and I respect that. I like to get a feel for the person and I think about their stories as I go about my work. It can't not upset you."

A lot of the tragic stories she hears have come about from cancer-related deaths.

"Cancer is behind a lot of it, and then I've had people who would ask me to make a bear because they lost someone close. I would be in the middle of making it or I would have just sent it back and I would hear from them again and they have suffered another sudden death. It has made me understand that we really need to appreciate the people we have around us."

Tweed caps, silk scarves, cotton, denim and hoodies are among the items of clothing dropped off to her loft.

"Most people like to hand them in personally. You have to remember that these items are so precious, people are placing their trust in you. I treat all the clothes with respect and I have a policy that if the teddy is for a child who has passed away, I will make the bear the same day I receive the clothes and get it back straight away. Their pain is enough and it's my job to ease that and to bring comfort where possible."

Her company is based on the 'Proustian phenomenon', which explains how distinctive smells have more power than any other sense to help us recall distant memories. The theory is named after the French writer Marcel Proust, who in his novel A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit. In 2012, researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands proved that the strange vibe an individual can sense when they walk into a room can be down to the nose noticing someone's emotions before even their sense of sight.

Caroline says the rise in emigration has also benefited her business. "Grandparents may want to make their grandchild a gift to remember them by if they have moved to the other side of the world. I can sow messages on to the paws of the bear too. People usually ask for names, dates, song lyrics or their own special words. The finished product is always one of a kind."

Sunday Independent

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