HAD Instagram existed a decade ago, Margaret Molloy’s #WearingIrish campaign would have struggled to capture the public imagination the way it has since she launched it just last year.
The Offaly woman, who lives in New York, decided to fly the flag for Irish fashion through the month of March, tagging her Instagram posts #WearingIrish and encouraging other women to do the same.
Follow the tag today and you’ll see women of all ages proudly modeling their Irish fashion treasures; some head-to-toe, others accessorising with a ring or a bag, all looking utterly fashionable as they showcase a new wave of contemporary Irish design.
Ten years ago, Irish fashion was in limbo. The country had lost the last of its manufacturing facilities, fast fashion was at a peak, and there was little, if any, perceived value in supporting homegrown talent.
Throw in the effects of a recession and a near total lack of government support, and you could argue the Irish fashion industry entered this decade in a very shaky state.
Today however, with celebrities like Sinead Kennedy, Kathryn Thomas and Maura Derrane championing Irish design on the national stage, and the likes of Soairse Ronan taking it to a global audience, it’s clear that Irish design is having a moment — and it’s not just Irish celebrities putting the momentum behind the movement.
Kate Middleton is a fan of Orla Kiely; Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have been dressed by Una Burke and Sorcha O’Raghallaigh; Oprah Winfrey chose a design by Kerry-born Don O’Neill for the Oscars; and of course, Galway’s Phillip Treacy has more celebrity clients than you could shake a peacock feather at.
Meanwhile, up-and-comers like Wexford’s Richard Malone are the toast of London Fashion Week, while the more established Simone Rocha made her Met Gala debut on the back of fashion force Chloë Sevigny last year, before going on to win Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Anderson went from launching his own label, J.W.Anderson, to a sell-out Topshop collaboration, to becoming creative director of Loewe in just six years.
Our capacity to produce talent is clearly not in question; however, lack of government support remains a bone of contention for many of our established and emerging designers.
It’s impossible to scale a business here without manufacturing abroad, yet doing so cuts you off from Crafts Council support. At the same time, a business needs at least 10 employees to be considered for Enterprise Ireland funding, leaving many designers with huge growth potential floundering somewhere in the middle.
What has changed radically over the last decade though is consumer attitudes to buying Irish. In a post-recessionary shift where provenance began to matter and investing in pieces that promised longevity suddenly made more sense than wasting money on disposable fashion, Irish design became a beacon for weary consumers.
Where consumer shifts happen, buyers are quick to follow, as evidenced by the growing number of outlets now proudly supporting Irish design.
Along with Kilkenny Shop, established stores like Arnotts and Dunnes are actively growing their Irish offerings, while each year Brown Thomas’ CREATE initiative shines a spotlight on the best and most innovative Irish fashion.
Last year, So Collective became the home of Irish design in Kildare Village, and Made opened in Dublin, stocking at least a dozen Irish designers. Add to that the ease with which designers can use ecommerce to become retailers, and the fact is, it’s never been easier (or more fashionable) to commit to #WearingIrish.
“We’re going through a really important change in fashion in Ireland,” says Emma Manley, founder and designer of Manley. “It’s all about supporting your own now, knowing the product, knowing where it comes from, knowing the story and being proud of owning it.
“For me, the story is a huge part of why I do what I do,” she adds. “Coming home, doing my research here, being inspired by the beautiful country that we have, then being able to give something back to the Irish customer.”
Like many of our homegrown talents, Manley initially sought work abroad. However, reflecting a growing trend amongst Irish designers, she elected to move home to start her own label, combining her skills and training with an innate understanding of the Irish customer and a cultural heritage rich in appreciation for handcrafts and textiles.
It’s this unique combination of factors that makes contemporary Irish fashion so appealing, and in every corner of the country, local designers and craftspeople are banding together to get their products to market.
So instead of donning a big, furry leprechaun hat this Friday, or waving a nasty, plastic, Made-in-China flag, consider flying a more fashionable flag for Ireland instead, with our round up of the best in local and national design talent.