Irish leading designers head for Showcase show

Carol O’Callaghan discovers top Irish designers ahead of Showcase.  

New products from all over the world flood our shops each year — offering exposure to international trends and designs. However, we have an ever-growing number of wonderful products designed and made here in Ireland — on a par with anything imported.

A large number, up to 450 in total, of designer-makers will gather at Showcase, this January 24-27 to launch the latest home-grown goods to an estimated audience of over 5,000 buyers from 26 countries.

Now in its 40th year, included in the attractions is the construction of a notional house filled with homewares and gifts.

“It means buyers can take away a visual of how the products will look in the home,” says Alanna Gallagher, Showcase’s curator for home and gifts.

But while she highlights the value of Irish-made products for their function and aesthetic, she’s keen to emphasise that the event is also about retail and business. “We’ve come through a horrific period for retail,” she says, “but it’s allowed us to look at our own design and how to promote it.”

And it seems to be paying off as this year’s show is expected to generate over €22m in sales. Helping this process is a programme that manifests as Creative Island, a particular section of Showcase allocated to a limited number of designers and makers by a jury.

“We had 176 applications for 90 spaces,” says Emma McGrath, Trade Development Manager for the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland, one of the partner organisations putting Showcase together. “Those selected participate in 10 months of mentoring which includes everything from product design to making sales pitches.”

It’s a useful if not necessary programme for pitching to seasoned buyers coming from as far away as the United States, Australia, Japan and China. The attraction of Irish products, it seems, has an increasingly far reach.

“Figures for sales of Irish products in Japan have doubled in recent years,” Emma explains. “I recently learned that three Irish-focused shops have opened in Japan, run by Japanese.”

But for those of us at home, hankering for something new or a special gift, Emma reassures us we won’t have to wait long. “There’s a quick turnaround from Showcase. You can expect to see new products in the shops in six to eight weeks.”

These include Whackpack Furniture which transforms the dreaded self-assembly product into something fun for anyone who has been driven nuts by nuts and bolts and Allen key screws.

Along with the product pieces which make up things like the Little Lampie and the Creepie three-legged stool, contained in the latter’s packaging are a mallet and a wedge. It just takes a satisfying whack and in one minute Whackpack promises your item is constructed. Later you can reuse the mallet for DIY or even in the kitchen as a meat tenderiser.

Proof that clouds really can have silver linings is provided by a group of glass blowers who were faced with redundancy following the closure of Waterford Crystal’s factory. Apprenticed there since the age of 15 — like their fathers before them— and having developed into master craftsmen, they’ve now established Irish Handmade Glass in Waterford City where they hand-blow and hand-craft contemporary pieces using colour, traditional Irish emblems and flora and fauna as decoration on vases, bowls, candleholders and tableware.

Something similar happened to Fán Regan giving her the opportunity to establish a range of print-based products. Her previously under-utilised fine arts degree enabled her to go into business when she lost her job. Using the phonetic spelling of her own name as a trading name, Fawn Prints now has a product range that includes, mugs, tea towels and framed prints based on simple drawings filled with gentle colour.

And a must-have, especially for eco and recycling fiends, is the product range of Slated which has repurposed traditional slate to turn this beautiful, natural material into tableware, including cheeseboards, platters, cake stands and platforms for tea-lights.

Arran Street East is a ceramic studio set up by Laura Magahy late of Temple Bar Properties, MCO Project Management and latterly, a potter. The studio brand gets its name from the area around Dublin’s Smithfield fruit and vegetable market and uses the location as inspiration for the simple, handmade but functional objects. Its first range called ‘The Pots’ is a series of hand-thrown vessels including mugs, espresso cups, beakers and jugs glazed in the colours of pomegranate, cabbage, lemon, parsnip, pink grapefruit and potato. Who would have thought to name a colour after the humble spud? But it’s beautiful and bound to create a conversation. Magahy has great plans for the brand and intends moving into homeware and textiles in the future, so look out for her latest re-invention at the show.

Next week: We meet new interiors brand Superfolk.


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