Meet the Cork designer with a grá for meaningful jewellery

Designer Sabine Lenz, of Enibas, and Marian O’Gorman, Kilkenny CEO. Picture: Darragh Kane

My husband and I were married two years ago, and the day was rooted in where we live. 

We celebrated in our local pub, and designers in our hometown of Kinsale made my wedding dress. 

I wanted to wear jewellery that would remind me of our love and of our children and of our beloved Cork, and when I found the Croí álainn stacking rings, created by Sabine Lenz, of Enibas, I knew I had found the ones for me.

Stories like mine are at the heart of Enibas, a brand that started in a workshop behind German-born Sabine’s house, in Schull, twenty-five years ago. 

A love of the Irish language inspired the designer to create her much-loved collections, like Croí álainn and Las mo shlí; beautifully delicate pieces charged with a sentimentality that makes Lenz’s work so popular.

I relate my story to Sabine and Marian O’Gorman, CEO of Kilkenny Group, when we meet in the café of Cork’s Crawford Gallery to talk about ANAM, a special collection that will be launched on May 8 at Kilkenny Shops nationwide.

The collection marks twenty-one years of collaboration between Enibas and Kilkenny, and is Sabine’s most ambitious collection yet: a selection of lettered, silver or nine-carat gold discs accompanied by a smaller disc inscribed with the word ‘grá’.

It was the right time to release a collection like this, says Lenz, and it feels good to do so with the backing of Kilkenny stores. 

To celebrate the launch, Enibas commissioned a number of short films, which tell customer stories, and the result is a collection that is meant to tug at your heartstrings. 

“We asked people to send in their stories connected with Enibas and we expected one or two, but we got over 120, and some of them were so filled with love and so emotional,” says Lenz. 

“People who buy our jewellery become so emotionally invested in the piece and it absolutely blew me away.”

Kilkenny stores have long been the greatest champions of Irish craftspeople; and the relationship goes two ways, says Marian O’Gorman. 

“It’s not just about the product for us, it’s about the people behind it. The reason why Sabine is so successful is because she comes to our shops and makes sure that everyone knows her story, so that our staff can pass it on to our customers.”

Sabine and Marian have been working together for 21 years, and they’ve had successes and they’ve had failures. 

It is in the failures that you learn the most, says Marian.

“I always say ‘try it’! What’s the worst that can happen?” she says. “We are in the most wonderful position, that if we put a product in and it doesn’t sell, it won’t break us. 

Saol chain costs €255

"If you don’t try new things, then you can’t improve. One product might do really well in one shop, and not at all in another, and it’s all a learning curve.” 

It’s this attitude and brand-backing that makes Kilkenny a welcome home for Irish craftspeople, says Lenz.

“I think, what makes Kilkenny stand out is that they really work with you to make the best of your brand.

"With ANAM, for example, Kilkenny are putting a sample in every store, so that customers can see it, and we can make the orders up without backlogging a lot of stock.”

When creating the new collection, Sabine wanted pieces that could mark milestones in our lives. 

She agonised over the Celtic font used on the pendants, and she rejected sample after sample, until she found the perfect one.

The name, Anam, was a happy accident. 

“I thought we were calling it ‘name’ in Irish, but when I found out that anam actually meant ‘soul’, it felt absolutely perfect. 

Your name is a bit like your soul, I think. The collection is about loving yourself, loving your family, loving your life; that’s why we included the tiny disc that says ‘grá’ on every piece.

Being able to provide Irish craftspeople with a platform that is renowned worldwide gives Marian O’Gorman a sense of great pride. 

What would she say to people who are starting out today? 

“We encourage people to ask for advice. Our designers are extremely important to us. 

"For me, during my life, the greatest thing I have learned is the importance of respecting people. Be genuine; if you say you are going to do something, just do it.”

O’Gorman sees huge strength in women, and says that recognising their collective power is key to success. 

“I found that when I was a young woman, starting out, I was dealing with an awful lot of men and, at the time, it seemed to me that there was a lot of talk and no action,” she says. 

“When I started dealing with designers directly, in a way that was genuine and straight-forward, it was so much easier. 

"I work with a lot of women, and, let’s face it, none of us are oozing with confidence, but we know how to get on and get the work done.”

'L' chain costs €139

Twenty-five years after Sabine moved to West Cork and started to make jewellery of the area, for the area, she says that without the support of Kilkenny Group, so many crucial members of the Irish craft industry would have failed to thrive. 

“I don’t say this lightly: if we did not have Kilkenny, many of us would not be able to make our businesses work.” 

For Sabine Lenz, Marian and Kilkenny have acted as mentor and collaborator: offering advice as she opened her first and then second jewellery boutiques, and also advising on stock and staffing. 

“I have learned so much from the team at Kilkenny,” says Sabine.

“I have had wonderful advice over the years that has informed my shops and the way we do business, for sure. 

"Marian taught me that in business, it’s ok to make a mistake, and I think that’s something that new business owners are scared to realise. Really, it’s one of the most important lessons.”

How does she hope Anam will be received? 

“With love. It’s about love, so I hope that people choose it to celebrate those special times in their lives.”

Anam launches on May 8. Prices start from €79 for a single, silver initial on a silver chain. A diamond can also be added, for €40. Available from Kilkenny stores nationwide, or from enibas.com.

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