Sonya Lennon: Covid-19 left us with one option, rip everything up and start again

‘Get knocked down 10 times, get up 11’ became Sonya Lennon’s mantra as she tried to manoeuvre a pandemic world that no longer looked for fashion. Here, she writes about making Lennon Courtney’s collections relevant again
Sonya Lennon: Covid-19 left us with one option, rip everything up and start again

The new collection is called Doyenne, the definition of which is ‘the most inspiring and charismatic woman in her field’. Our world is full of these women.

As we surfaced needs that we didn’t know we had, over the last couple of years certain products and services have become surprise winners. Virtual meetings became a way of life (Zoom). We turned our gardens into outdoor rooms (BBQs, gazebos, and pizza stones).

We took up activities that made our souls sing, we took to the sea (fleece robes), with dogs (dogs) on paddleboards (paddleboards), and we rediscovered our parklands (trainers, picnic blankets) and cycleways (bicycles). We got comfortable in our own homes (hooded blankets, fleeces, pyjamas, candles). Oh, by the way, thank you Dunnes Stores for making Hygge, the Danish marriage of comfort and contentment, an accessible option on our shores.

What we didn’t do was meet up, dress up, make-up, and party with giddy abandon.

So, no fashion then. Imagine what it feels like to have your relevance destroyed overnight, perhaps you can, perhaps yours was. That’s what it felt like when we were sucked into the eye of the tornado.

Business life is full of external challenges, I once met a world-class consultant and board director of multinationals whose speciality is ‘Controlling the Uncontrollable’ — I’d say she’s been out the door.

Entrepreneurs are a pretty weather-worn bunch, the nature of the game is get knocked down 10 times, get up 11. But, as Winston Churchill said, never waste a good crisis and so the question was, how can we maximise the opportunity of an enforced pause?

There was only one option, rip everything up and start again. We wanted to dig deeper into our own purpose, Lennon Courtney’s reason for being.

Since the beginning of our working relationship, Brendan Courtney and I have been clear about what we stand for. We want equality, confidence, and empowerment to be baked into everything that we do. We want to be part of making people feel better about who they are and why they’re relevant, regardless of any characteristic that could provoke discrimination.

That was not some brain dump workshop output, it was what authentically informed the choices we made with our own precious time.

Brendan, for as long as I have known him, has advocated on behalf of our elders and the disadvantaged. He fronted campaigns for Alone and Focus Ireland and advanced the national discussion around elder care with his two searingly personal documentaries — We Need to Talk About Dad and We Need to Talk About Mam — and probed the plight of young adults trying to enter the housing market with This Crowded House, all for RTÉ.

Brendan was invited to become an advisory member of the fractious Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council and continued his work advocating for a just system for home care for the elderly. Brendan believes in justice and fairness and wants to be part of creating a better Ireland for all of us.

I get it. So do I. In 2011, I brought the international charity, Dress for Success, to Ireland. Its mission: to support women to economic independence by helping them to be successful at job interviews. The organisation has supported more than 3,000 women back to the workforce by giving them clothes and styling advice and by assisting them with messaging their value effectively at interviews.

About five years ago, I realised that helping the woman alone was not enough, the problem wasn’t a broken woman, it was a broken system. The Work Equal campaign was born to highlight issues of inequity in our businesses and society. We have seen the changes over those five years — a dramatic change in rhetoric and legislation. A lot done; more to do.

Three years ago, my good friend Joanne Hession asked me to join her in founding LIFT Ireland — a national programme to raise the level of leadership across all sectors in Ireland, from the kitchen table to the clubhouse, the classroom to the boardroom. Because our lives and our impact are defined by how we lead ourselves and others, and we are all leaders, big ‘L’ or little ‘l’.

Together, Brendan and I have leveraged our voices and profiles to make Ireland a better place and that belongs in the DNA of Lennon Courtney. We began to message our passions and projects through Lennon Courtney media channels, but more than that, it informed our philosophy and our designs. We used confidence as our own armour. We knew that our woman, in all her fabulousness, wanted nothing more than to throw off the loungewear and put on clothes that made her feel powerful and energised and ready to present herself to the world again.

It’s not that all those good intentions, honourable actions, and rallying calls aren’t the right things to do, but on their own, they do not a business proposition make. Globally, the market has played it safe, camouflaging themselves in an undergrowth of hybrid offering, not quite loungewear, not quite outerwear — a sea of unchallenging neutrals.

That, to us, was not an exciting proposition.

At Lennon Courtney, our priority became making sure that we were serving our woman, trusting in her desire to look and feel amazing. Believing that she wanted beautiful, confident clothes to wear. Recently, we’ve seen Lennon Courtney popping up in inspiring places, including on a member of the Irish contingent of the UN Security Council, on UK newscasters and international motivational speakers.

Equally, we’ve seen women picking up kids from school, jumping into the sea, and sipping cocktails, all wearing Lennon Courtney.

The women who wear our clothes wear them because they make them feel confident.

But here’s the thing — the women who wear our clothes also give us the confidence to get knocked down 10 times and get back up 11. They are the reason we do what we do, why we design, podcast, broadcast, dress up, make-up, and meet up with the wonderful women we are honoured to know.

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