Championing Irish designs with hashtag #WearingIrish is born out of passion, not pennies, for Margaret Molloy, writes Ruth O’Connor.
While Irish designers can spend a lot of time and money each season promoting their new season collections, one unlikely source of free PR is gaining momentum as March offers a high point in the calendar for the founder of the #WearingIrish campaign Margaret Molloy.
Margaret left Ireland more than 20 years ago for Manhattan but still retains close ties to her homeland.
As chief marketing officer of Siegel + Gale, Margaret’s strong point is branding and, as one of Forbes Magazine’s most influential CMOs on Twitter with more than 30,000 followers, she is well placed to make some significant noise around the talents of our fashion designers.
For quite a number of years, Margaret had been wearing green in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day, but last year she decided to change tack and to really put the ‘green’ into Irish design by spending her dollars on Irish designer clothing, by promoting her outfits on social media with the hashtag #WearingIrish, and by inviting others to do the same.
Check out Margaret’s social media channels and you’re likely to see pictures of her at events or on the streets of Manhattan wearing designs by Jennifer Rothwell, Manley, or Lennon Courtney with jewellery by Melissa Curry, Mary Enright, or Elaine de Roíste.
Showcasing these designs with the hashtag #WearingIrish is born out of passion, not pennies, and she is not sponsored to promote these brands. She has purchased the vast majority of the clothes she wears but also says that some designers have gifted her items or provided discounts.
“I’ve purchased the majority of the pieces,” she says. “Various designers have provided discounts or donated pieces, which has been a great way for me to discover new brands. Often when I experience a brand via a gift, I end up buying multiple other items from that collection.”
While many of us in Ireland are aware of the talent of our fashion, accessory, and jewellery designers, one wonders what consumers in the US and further afield know about Irish design and whether their perception is that it is all coarse tweed and Aran jumpers.
“To those people I’d say ‘look again’,” says Margaret. “There is something for every taste and budget, from traditional textiles and heraldic jewellery to couture dresses, contemporary jewellery, sumptuous scarves and bags for men and women. What’s more, some of the traditional designs now have a very modern twist.”
As an Irishwoman living in America, I ask Margaret whether she feels the year-long campaign highlighting Irish design, ID2015, went far enough in promoting Irish design in the US.
“ID2015 put a focus on Irish design and that’s a powerful starting point,” says Margaret. “There is plenty to be done to build and sustain a contemporary narrative around Irish design in the USA. I believe that grassroots initiatives like #WearingIrish can complement programs like ID2015.”
Margaret has been away from Ireland for many years, yet she still retains a close connection with her home soil. The eldest of six children, she grew up on a farm in Co Offaly and left for New York in 1994 having graduated with a first class honours degree in business and Spanish from the University of Ulster.
“Ireland has real charisma,” she says. “I’m attracted to Irish design, in particular, because it visually represents Irish creativity. Your outfit is the first image in your personal story. When I wear Irish design it’s more than a fashion statement, it’s an embrace of my Irish heritage.”
As a specialist in marketing and a very active participant in social media, Margaret’s posts on Twitter and Instagram not only serve to highlight her personal interest in design but also provide a taste of her life in the city of New York and of the Irish American events she frequently attends.
“While I typically share posts about branding, design and marketing, I also provide updates on Irish affairs from a New York perspective,” she says. “I’ve built an engaged following on social media. Using my social media platform to promote #WearingIrish is a natural extension of that and my followers have been very responsive.”
In her posts, Margaret can be seen wearing a multitude of Irish designers and not just during the month of March, her wardrobe is brimful of Irish contemporary design. She says asking her to pick a favourite is like asking a parent to choose which of their children is their favourite.
“I wear pieces that I treasure from dozens of Irish designers,” she says. “As a marketer, I appreciate designs that cater to everyday needs like Canopi sleeves and Holden Leathergoods as well as brands that tell great stories like BYOS by Melissa Curry.”
One wonders if Margaret has noticed a common thread running through Irish design. Is there something distinct that sets it apart as Irish among all the other products on the market?
“I think that Irish design draws inspiration from nature and the Irish landscape as reflected in the abundance of vibrant colours and motifs. Sometimes there’s a subtle nod to heritage and legends in flourishes of fancy. However, what strikes me is that the commitment of the designers is omnipresent it’s clear they take personal pride in every creation.”
It’s also abundantly clear that Margaret’s passion for Irish design goes far beyond her own wardrobe.
“My ambition is to create a movement around #WearingIrish. That men and women around the world will choose to buy at least one item of Irish design to wear every March. Ultimately, it’s about building Ireland’s reputation as a design haven.”
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