Sat behind a display of blooms, plumes and brilliant colour, Katrina Horstead and Jo Stent chat excitedly about their business plans.
Katrina is proud of her striking hat and fascinator designs, currently forming eye-catching centrepieces on the dining room table.
And both women are looking forward to opening their Chichester showroom, which will display the feathered and floral creations of The Fabulous Hat Company.
The mums set up the business a few months ago after years of receiving compliments for their headwear at meetings like Goodwood, Ascot and Fontwell Park.
They would have gone into business sooner but, while the odds of selling their unusual, bespoke designs were good, there was a big problem.
A few years ago Katrina was diagnosed with Crohn’s – an inflammatory bowel disease that is distressing and debilitating.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, anaemia and fatigue.
Since 2010, Katrina has been in hospital three times and has suffered periods of exhaustion.
‘The fatigue is the worst thing I think. But I try not to miss out on anything because I don’t want Crohn’s to take over my life,’ says the 35-year-old mum-of-two.
Jo, 31, is in no doubt that she has a dynamic, determined business partner.
‘She’s telling you about it now because you’re asking, but she hardly ever complains,’ says Jo, who has known Katrina for about 10 years.
‘She works really hard, even when she’s really poorly.’
They laugh when they recall the time Katrina was in hospital and managed to find the perfect family home using her iPad
‘Nothing will stop me from house-hunting,’ she says. ‘When I went into hospital after that, Matt, my husband, said “don’t pack the iPad”.’
But the eventual move also highlights the debilitating nature of the illness.
Katrina, a natural go-getter who loves to be involved and in charge, could only lay down and let all the organisation and activity go on around her.
It was a particularly bad period in the cycle of her condition, which typically affects people for prolonged periods (known as flare-ups).
Since 2011, Katrina has had only one two-month period of remission, although she is taking medication to reduce symptoms.
But because health professionals still aren’t sure of the cause, and symptoms vary in severity and type from patient to patient, finding a solution can be a difficult process.
Katrina’s symptoms started three years ago when her youngest son Raife was just six months old and her eldest, Ashton, was three.
She says: ‘The fatigue was the biggest thing. But I thought “I’ve got two young kids, I’m supposed to be tired”.’
Then Katrina thought she had food poisoning.
She finally went to the doctor after noticing blood when she went to the loo.
‘I had stomach cramps and just felt like I wanted to lay down all the time,’ she says.
‘It’s a bit like having food poisoning, but you can’t think that you’ll be all right in a week or so.’
The Chichester mum is trying medication to improve the situation – and diet is important too.
Katrina has also tried natural health remedies. ‘I think I’ve been through Holland & Barrett’s entire stock,’ she jokes.
The businesswoman was determined to access the best treatment and referred herself to a specialist hospital in London. She’s extremely glad she spoke to her GP about this.
But it also means keeping regular appointments in London. ‘I remember having one appointment on Christmas Eve and the traffic was awful.
‘It was during the bad weather and there were loads of road blocks. I was really worried thinking “where do I go to the loo” You’re always worrying about things like that.’
But she tries not to miss out on anything and made it to Ashton’s first day at school – even though she was feeling unwell beforehand.
Crohn’s has hit the headlines in recent months after The Only Way Is Essex star Sam Faiers was diagnosed.
Katrina is pleased that high prof-
ile names are raising awareness and funds.
Now The Fabulous Hat Company
is organising a fundraising event of
its own to help boost the coffers of charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK (see panels).
And Sam and Jo are moving into the busy season of weddings and races.
The pair, who have enjoyed dressing for the races since they were youngsters, say that these days it’s all about the hat.
‘It’s become more important than the dress. Often people think about what they’re wearing on their head first,’ says mum-of-two Jo.
The company sells and hires several designers’ products but likes to focus on Katrina’s creations.
The racing fan decided on DIY headwear about 10 years ago at Ascot and the look was such a success, she started creating hats for friends and family.
After training in London with milliner Katherine Elizabeth, she now has her own signature look of scrunched heavy felts and feathers.
Business is healthy and as Katrina continues to battle Crohn’s and find a long-term solution, she’s determined to feel fabulous too.
Crohn’s disease is a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system and is one of the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The other is ulcerative colitis.
Experts are still unsure of the cause. However, over the past few years, major advances have been made.
Researchers now believe the condition could be caused by a combination of factors – the genes a person has inherited and an abnormal reaction of the immune system to certain bacteria, probably triggered by an environmental factor.
Symptoms vary from person to person. They can include abdominal pain and diarrhoea, fatigue, fever and anaemia.
Charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK offers advice and support. Visit crohnsandcolitis.org.uk or call (0845) 130 2233.
The Fabulous Hat Company is giving people the opportunity to place a few bets and plan their racing outfit at Marco restaurant in Chichester on May 11.
The event, featuring a fashion show organised by local retailers, canapes supplied by the restaurant and recorded races from Fontwell Park, will raise funds for Crohn’s and Colitis UK.
Businesses involved include Dartagnan Menswear, Toucan Beauty, Creations Hair and Beauty and Pushka boutique.
The evening runs from 4.30pm until 8pm.
Tickets are £5 and can be purchased from the companies involved, including The Fabulous Hat Company.
Or call (07717) 824730 or (07795) 660677.
For information about Jo and Katrina’s
business visit thefabuloushatcompany.co.uk.