One of the pandemic’s many casualties has been local businesses. With travel restrictions and non-essential retail closures in place, shopping has fallen to the wayside in the name of safety. Yet, across Ireland, many toil away in factories and on kitchen tables to deliver a variation on what many Irish people hold so dear: craftsmanship. Irish crafts are also heavily reliant on tourists.
The Showcase Ireland exhibition, now in its 45th year, is typically held in January and connects craftspeople with buyers. The January 2020 edition earned approximately €26 million over four days, illuminating the timeless appeal of Irish design. In light of the pandemic, which has reinforced an interest in supporting local, at a time when indigenous creators need it the most, this year’s instalment will still take place, albeit online.
From Monday, the four-day event will allow influential buyers from Ireland and across the globe to connect with creators through person-to-person virtual meetings. From fashion to jewellery, homewares to gifting categories, the virtual fair could reach new heights considering buyers no longer have to travel to meet the individual exhibitors. With this transaction taking place online, a promising outcome is on the cards for many Irish brands.
Here is a selection of menswear brands at Showcase Ireland to help you consider how to shop local in 2021.
Magee 1866 is as Irish as they come. As one can infer from the name, the clothing brand has been operating for more than 150 years and is often associated with the birth of Donegal tweed as we know it today. Like so many others, the pandemic tested the brand but also presented an opportunity to consolidate their smart yet casual offering, so elegantly catered to the ‘working from home’ wardrobe men demand today.
The fickle Irish weather calls for a wardrobe that responds to the challenges of facing four seasons in one day. Since the 1950s, Dublin-based Jack Murphy has known this all too well. The brand designs outdoor clothing with function, versatility, and style at heart to meet the demands of the modern man. The range includes town and country-wear — the kind of wholesome, traditional garb that places a premium on warmth and comfort. From waterproof jackets to coats and accessories, the brand successfully set about covering all bases.
The shoes are instantly recognisable, beloved by sailors and school children. Originally founded in Ballinasloe, Co. Galway and famed for their breathable leather sailing boot with waterproof GORE-TEX® certification, all leather products from Dubarry have quick-dry properties. Additionally, the brand, founded in 1937 and named after Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, delivers a complimentary country clothing collection from waxed cotton jackets and tailored tweed jackets to wardrobe essentials like shirts and trousers.
Drawing inspiration from the windswept east coast, namely the uninhabited island off the coast of Dublin from which it derives its name, Ireland’s Eye’s knitwear, using natural Merino wools and luxurious wool and cashmere yarns, is another quintessentially Irish brand. (It mobilised its factories during the height of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 to produce face masks, predominantly serving local nursing homes.)
The company philosophy is that “an Irelands Eye wool sweater should be a shield from the elements and a shelter from the mundane, be supremely comfortable and unforgettably beautiful: a perfect blend of style and function". While the company has operated for years, their output — soft and luxurious — has never been more relevant to the fashion conversation, not only as an Irish business but elevating comfort at a time when men draw from it the most.
As you might have gathered, many Irish brands riff on the plentiful, rugged coastal landscapes dotted around the country. The same can be said for Donegal-based Fisherman Out of Ireland that, since 1991, has used Donegal fleck merino wool for its knitwear, made at its factory in Kilcar with weaves spun locally, a few miles down the road by Donegal Yarns. Other styles are made from extra-fine merino wool, lambswool, merino, cashmere, and alpaca blends, ensuring a luxurious feel.
In 1957, Molly Cullen launched Aran Crafts in the village of Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. 101-years prior, her grandmother Kate O’Shea became the first craftswoman in Ireland to commercially market her hand-knitted pieces. Today, Cullen’s grandsons Niall and Barry Cullen extend the family tradition by producing affordable cable knit Aran sweaters, buttoned cardigans, and roll-neck sweaters in a broad colour palette and made from merino wool, cotton blends, and cashmere.
Another gem tucked away in the northwest: Hanna Hats, almost 100-years-old. Its origins date back to David Hanna Sr who started the business as a tailoring firm but declining suit sales necessitated a new output: the design and production of hand-crafted hats and caps. Now a third-generation family-run business, Hanna Sr's granddaughters, Amanda Jane and Eleanor Hanna, continue the family tradition of hand-woven Donegal tweed and linen hats and caps produced in Milltown, Donegal. If theimitation style craze taught us anything, hats are an essential accessory.