Showcase, now in its 41st year, takes place at the RDS from Sunday, January 22, to Wednesday, January 25, with retail buyers from the UK, US, mainland Europe, and the Far East coming to see what Irish designers and makers have to offer in homewares, jewellery, and fashion.
Organised by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and Showcase Ireland Events, it’s an ever-evolving production and one of many events the council organises to promote Irish design internationally, although Showcase is the original of the species and a stalwart of the promotional calendar.
It would be easy to think it’s simply an exhibition where exhibitors set up shop and hope for the best, but this belies the extent to which the organisers reach out across the globe to talk up the growing design sector, assisted by Enterprise Ireland.
The latter takes responsibility for promoting Showcase abroad, something that’s been helped by 2015’s designation as Year of Design.
“We took Irish designers and makers abroad and went to buyers rather than bringing people here, by taking part in exhibitions internationally, including New York,” says Brian McGee, market development director at the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. “People said to us: ‘We had no idea you guys made this stuff in Ireland’.
“There’s been a lack of visibility but Year of Design has made a vast increase in our contact list and in building early stage relationships which has assisted in bringing people to Showcase. We had a 7% increase in attendance in 2016 and a 22% increase in orders.”
To bolster interest further, previews have already taken place with assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs through Irish embassies in Paris, the Benelux countries, London, and in New York where it attracted well-known brands like Ralph Lauren Home.
In the course of the next week, the RDS will be transformed with a layout that has been planned with the buyer in mind. A section called Design Ireland will feature 90 leading contemporary Irish brands chosen by an independent jury for their creativity, innovation, and craftsmanship, with the criterion that all the products are designed and made in Ireland.
An Enterprise Zone, championing up to 100 newcomers, will occupy the balcony space in the main hall, and if it’s anything like previous years, it will give a strong flavour of ever-growing creativity, showing products ranging from art to felted craft.
Getting to participate in a show like this takes time, planning, and money, but assistance has been made available to emerging makers. “We train them up and get them ready to make the most out of it,” says McGee, “and they get backing from their local enterprise office.”
Following the success of knits last year as a special Showcase focus, textiles are being given a whole section this year, where the focus is on the development of new products.
“Our goal created collaborations and matched designers to work together or with a textile manufacturer,” explains McGee. “We found the year flies by and new things don’t get done when people are so busy, so we wanted to inspire designers to get involved with manufacturing, with us acting as a conduit to get people together and make things happen.”
Among these is scarfmaker Stable of Ireland, which has developed a bath towel and robe, and a table runner with place mat and napkin, with textile manufacturer Thomas Ferguson. Design-duo Superfolk has worked with Templemoyle Mills — which makes products for big brands like Burburry — to design and produce a room divider and a lamp shade in waxed cotton.
Mayo-based weaver Wild Cocoon has collaborated with furniture maker Cooper Handcrafted to make an oak bench upholstered with luxurious textiles.
Kathryn Davey, who learned how to work with textiles and natural dyes while living in California, has collaborated with Emblem Weavers to achieve beautiful dyes from the cone of the alder tree and has now used these in the design of a cushion cover.
Fashion and floors seem to be an unlikely pairing but is proving successful for Wexford-based Ceadogán who has made a new rug with fashion designer, Helen Steele.
Expect also to see makers who are establishing themselves, like Copper Handcrafted Furniture which makes small accent pieces like desks and stools, but there are old favourites too, like Jerpoint Glass.