Bríd McKeown is the founder of Black Mountain Baskets and is based in Belfast. We interviewed them to hear about their background, inspiration and tips to stay inspired.

What does Black Mountain Baskets do?

Black Mountain Baskets is a local business that makes hand-crafted willow baskets, run by basketmaker Bríd McKeown.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to set up Black Mountain Baskets?

I’m Bríd McKeown, I’m from Belfast, and I’m a basketmaker!

Born and raised in Belfast, Black Mountain was a part of my every day life. I moved away for university and later for work, but each time I came home, I would go for a walk in Belfast's hills to reconnect to the city that made me. 

After falling in love with basket making 6 years ago and recently moving back to Northern Ireland, I decided to share my love of the city and this craft through Black Mountain Baskets. 

Basket making is one of the oldest crafts, shared across cultures throughout the world. In Ireland, baskets were a necessity of a hard, cruel life, woven into the fabric of communities. Yet over the centuries makers developed the craft to produce astoundingly beautiful and technically challenging pieces. 

Each basket I make is hand-woven using traditional Irish techniques handed down through generations, hopefully reflecting this heritage and the enduring history of this land.  

What/who influences/motivates you?

I've always been interested in heritage craft - the importance and responsibility of carrying on a skill that has been built on passed down through generations. 

What drew me to basket making is that it cuts across both form and function - each basket can be a beautiful work of art, with natural colours, textures, and weaves, but at the same time it's still a functional tool that you can use as part of your everyday life. 

I am continually inspired by other basketmakers, how they take on the craft and put their own stamp on it. I’m particularly in awe of Joe Hogan, who spent years working with, speaking to and recording the techniques of the last generations of professional basketmakers in Ireland. He then compiled this into a book, reinvigorating interest in the craft in Ireland. Joe has been my main teacher over the years and I still go back regularly to learn from him. 

What has been your biggest hurdle and your proudest moment or accomplishment with your business so far

My biggest hurdle over the past few years was finding the space to store, soak, and work with the material, but in early 2019, I partnered with a local organic Victorian walled garden in Helen's Bay and am now growing my own willow. Too exciting!

My proudest moment was definitely teaching my first course, and see other people pride in their new skills and creations!

Could you give some advice for any young, emerging entrepreneurs?

Build up a network of people associated with your work as they will provide the most meaningful and impactful support as you begin to grow your business.