Limerick’s Aoife McNamara empowers women with clothes designed to make them feel they can achieve anything. Her autumn collection is out now, says Clodagh Finn
LIMERICK designer Aoife McNamara last week unveiled her autumn-winter collection at Paris Fashion Week, in the historic Salle Wagram auditorium, near the Arc de Triomphe.
Two years ago, the 24-year-old was an intern at the prestigious event; now, she is back as an up-and-coming designer with her own label, AOIFE Ireland.
The sunscapes that inspired the pink and orange palette of her spring-summer collection, ‘She’s A Dreamer, ’ have given way to lime greens and blues for autumn, but they, too, are rooted in nature and this year’s show’s themes of calmness and rehabilitation.
Working with her sponsor, John Hanly Woollen Mills, she uses sustainable Irish wool in a range of garments, from winter coats to palazzo pants and two-piece suits, with her characteristic, over-sized shoulder pads and cinched-in waists.
“I always try and make the women feel as empowered as possible, with oversized shoulder pads and tailored waistlines: it’s really important to me that a woman feels she can achieve anything when she puts on an AOIFE design,” she says.
It’s a message that she’ll be repeating at Zeminar Munster, the youth wellness and education event at the University of Limerick on March 27. “It’s really important to share my experiences, especially as a creative. It’s important that young people see there are careers in it. This is an amazing opportunity to share what I’ve learned so far,” Aoife says.
She says that she’s still learning — and still making mistakes. Yet, Aoife is looking forward to telling the upcoming generation about the moment she knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer.
When she was in fourth year in school, she and her mother, Deirdre, went to the Limerick School of Art and Design fashion show. “I was sitting there and I was absolutely mesmerised by the clothes going down the runway. I was captivated by the idea of having a concept in your head and then translating it into a garment with your hands,” she says.
After that, she bought a sewing machine and started to learn how to use it by watching YouTube videos. She studied art in school, put together a portfolio, and went on to get a place at Limerick School of Art and Design.
Internships in the design houses of London and Paris followed. In New York, she was an intern at Marc Jacobs and came face to face with the man himself when she ran to get into a closing lift. “He was just there smoking his vaporiser. I didn’t know whether to get in or take the stairs. I just said, ‘Oh, sorry,’ and got in, but didn’t say any more, as we went up nine floors,” she says, still cringing about the awkward encounter.
While it all sounds very glamorous, she says the fashion industry, like any other industry, involves a lot of hard work. She knew very early on that she wanted to start her own business. “Being a creative and having your own vision and trying to work with other people’s vision is very hard,” she says.
Aoife McNamara was also sure about something else: she wanted to put sustainability at the heart of her work and she she wouldn’t work for brands that didn’t have an ethical process. She moved home to Mungret, in Limerick — “the best thing I ever did” — and continued to post images of her designs on Instagram.
Initially, they weren’t even for sale, but there was huge interest and soon she began working with some of the biggest names in the blogosphere, such as Suzanne Jackson and a host of other influencers, from fellow Limerick woman Louise Cooney to Roz Purcell and Vogue Williams.
It’s been a whirlwind and one that throws up many challenges, but, she says, being a woman is not one of them.
Speaking ahead of International Women’s Day, March 8, she says she couldn’t agree more with this year’s theme: an equal world is an enabled world. “I’m very fortunate, in that I don’t even have to think about gender equality. For example, I would never feel intimidated by a man when I go into a meeting. I always think I’m equal,” McNamara says.
She has always drawn a lot of inspiration from strong women in her life. Her mum, a retired dental nurse, is a huge inspiration, as is Suzanne Jackson. “My mom is quite a strong, independent woman. She is very determined. I took inspiration from her.”
Her dad, Tony, and sister, Fiona, both run their own businesses, and she takes inspiration from them, too. She now works from her studio at home and wants to use her platform to explain to others why sustainable fashion is important.
“You don’t have to change your whole wardrobe. You don’t have to never wear high-street labels again; just pick labels that are going to last. For me, it’s all about thinking before you buy,” Aoife says.
- Aoife McNamara will join Blindboy, Anna Geary, and a host of exhibitors at the Zeminar Munster youth wellbeing experience at University of Limerick on Friday, March 7. Limited tickets from firstname.lastname@example.org