YOU have to take your hat off to Kate McKenny.

Three years ago she was just beginning to piece together a new millinery business. Now the St Clears hat designer has joined the cream of the crop at the Hat Designer of the Year Awards.

Kate was just one of five competitors chosen to design and make six original hand-made hats to showcase at the UK's most prestigious international fashion event.

Although she missed out on the top prize by the smallest of threads, the innovative designer was highly commended by a top panel of judges and just four votes off the public vote.

With her hats proving popular with many of the world's top buyers at the event, Kate was upbeat about the result.

"The buyers said my hats were very saleable, so that pleased me because it's good for the business. In competition terms, perhaps my hats were not whacky enough. The collection which won was very ostentatious, but I prefer to make hats women want to wear."

The designer, who makes an exclusive range using a traditional wooden block, only got into millinery six years ago after training with designer Elizabeth Comber.

"I have always been into dressing up and fashion," said Kate.

"I love anything from nail varnish to earrings and handbags are a special favourite of mine."