The future of Irish knitwear

Crafting long wearing, classic knitwear has always been in the Irish DNA, something local business woman Anne Behan, head of McConnell knitwear, knows plenty about.

 

Anne grew up in West Limerick where there was a strong family tradition of knitting, family members would produce Aran sweaters without the need for patterns or designs. This craft has been passed down the generations and Anne herself has taken that skill and developed it to produce contemporary knitwear based on the hand finished craftsmanship associated with Ireland.

Anne specialised in knitwear for her degree and postgrad in fashion design at the Limerick School of Art and Design. ­­Following her tenure at fashion and knitwear companies Carraig Donn and Ireland’s Eye Knitwear, she formed Áine Knitwear in 2000 with the support of the Local Enterprise Office Clare and LEADER.

The international knitwear company relocated the manufacturing facility to the lovely village of Killaloe in County Clare in the Spring of 2019, where the firm plans to invest over €400,000 and create 10 new jobs over the next three years.

Opening of new factory

Opening of new factory

Her factory and shop are based in Killaloe and have already brought 10 jobs to the locality. Anne stresses the importance to her of providing employment in rural Ireland. “It’s important that businesses set up in rural areas and it’s great for people to be able to work where they want to live.”

McConnell Shop

Opening of new factory

Anne sees herself staying in Killaloe and developing her brand from her base here by expanding into retail – ‘McConnell On The Lake’, which had a soft launch in July of this year. She will continue to expand her production into export markets, mainly Japan, U.S. and Germany, where she will continue to highlight the tradition and heritage of Irish knitwear.

Two Mile Gate

Anne told us how she has “always been inspired by the rugged, earthy nature of the west of Ireland and borrows her colours and textures from our landscape.”

Her creations are made with natural yarns and locally sourced produce, she states “My designs look Irish, but I describe them as ‘modern Irish’. While my customers’ parents may have worn Aran jumpers, they are buying my brand when they want an ‘Irish sweater’.  We use the tradition of Irish knitwear but the products are not overtly traditional.”

Aoife Collection

Photo caption Aoife: Inspired by the Irish landscape, the knitwear fuses contemporary culture with Irish heritage producing unique patterns and textures and distinctive pieces.

Her recent collection takes its inspiration from the hauntingly beautiful classic Irish myth the Children of Lir. According to the tale, the four much loved children of the Irish King Lir took the form of swans which sang enchanting melodies from various lakes of Ireland. The tale evokes the beauty of the four majestic and elegant swans, the enduring youth of the children and the durability and timelessness of their surroundings.

Lone swan on Lough DergA true asset to any local social and business community, Anne actively encourages cross pollination of businesses through social enterprise by way of linking McConnell knitwear to many community corporate social responsibility events. She is also a strong advocate for supporting the Chernobyl Children’s charity to help build the future for the next generation affected by the disaster.

McConnell is only available in selected partner outlets nationwide in Ireland and around the world and at in their own shop on the Killaloe Bridge.

Lynn Kenny at work

Lynn Kenny tells us how ten minutes in the car around beautiful Lough Derg beats sitting in traffic on the M50!

From learning her craft in inner city Dublin to honing it amongst the forests and lakes of rural Co Clare, artist Lynn Kenny feels the west of Ireland is the perfect fit for her, her business and her family.

Lynn grew up in Dublin and loved the buzz and creativity of the city. But when she hit her 30s, she had an urge to leave her teaching job and the night life behind for a gentler pace of life. “I worked mainly as a facilitator in adult education across Dublin and always had an art studio in city centre communal studios. Teaching was my main income as I built up my profile as artist/designer.

Lynn Kenny - JugsI realised I wanted to get out of the city for a slower pace of life, settle down and move with my then boyfriend, now husband to the West. I used to love visiting my grandmother and relatives in the midlands and always fantasised about ‘returning to my roots’ – I always thought it would suit me.”

They made the move 13 years ago and settled in the pretty Clare village of Killaloe, near enough to Limerick for her husband’s work, and rural enough to deliver a real change to their lifestyle. 

This move meant Lynn was able to focus her energies on her art, producing quirky, playful products and artworks for the giftware market: “I started to focus on my own creative work so that my business began to really take off. I supplied several outlets nationwide, including the Kilkenny shops and Carraig Donn, and started to become a recognisable brand. This gave me greater brand awareness and, when I had kids, I pulled away from producing volumes for retail and started selling directly to my customers online.” 

Lynn Kenny - Cups The digital set up in the village and the local government support meant Lynn was not alone and her business was able to expand. She said: “There are many resources and a lot of help for SMEs in the West that can be tapped into. I received an online trading voucher from my local Enterprise Board and had an online web shop www.lynnkenny.com built, which has meant that for the past few years, I have been able to sell mainly directly through my online shop. I still have time to develop new products – just this month, I launched 40 new products on my website shop in time for the Christmas period. Living in the West has given me the space to develop my business and make it work for me and I’m not tied down to a 9-5 job to pay the bills.”

And it’s not just about the business. Lynn says the local community is one of the best things about living rurally: “It has definitely enriched our lives as a family and I find I have a fantastic local customer base – they are so supportive.”

Lynn Kenny - PaintingWhat living in the West also gives Lynn is the time and space for family life: “We have busy lives like most families but because I work from home and my husband only has to travel 10 minutes to the local village, we all spend less time in the car stuck in traffic, giving us more time and meaning less stress. Ten minutes in the car around beautiful Lough Derg beats sitting in traffic on the M50!

Being self employed means having flexibility so I’m there for my kids most afternoons if needed. Living rurally doesn’t mean we have less activities for the kids either. We are really spoilt for choice on sports activities, we get our cultural stuff locally in festivals and go to Limerick for shows and gigs.

The weekends are the time to wind down, there’s the usual sports that you get with having two young boys, but we spend time catching up with friends, working on our land, going for nice walks, visiting the local market and whiling away afternoons in great local cafes.”

Lynn Kenny with her products in the woods
The family have recently gone that bit more rural and have set up home ten minutes outside Killlaloe where Lynn finds the views and sounds of the country around her both relaxing and inspiring. The land means she has studio space to hold creative workshops which provides another revenue stream and a space to hold stock.

And she has plenty of plans for the future “We’ve got two acres and are thinking about how we can grow our own food and plant a native Irish broad leaf forest. We want to get more animals too to add to the dog and cat – hens, maybe a Llama, donkeys, sheep, pig – we’re currently working through pros and cons!”

 

You can find out more about Lynn’s work at www.lynnkenny.com.

Secret Life of Plastic

Creative Entrepreneur: Oonagh Herbert, Secret Life of Plastic

The Secret Life of Plastic is a small Upcycling/Recycling enterprise in County Clare which Oonagh Herbert set-up in 2015.  

The Secret Life of Plastic offers an engaging, curious and tactile view of our plastic waste problem. She creates a range of sculptures that explore the issues of plastic in our oceans now, and also futuristic possibilities of where we are heading if this addiction to single-use disposable plastic continues.

Through these pieces, Oonagh hopes to offer people the chance to place a new value on this waste, to understand its origin and the long journey this material takes before it ends up as a disposable cup or fork or straw.

Read more

Maire McKeogh

Maire McKeogh – Sealed with Irish Love

Co Clare-based Máire McKeogh is owner of ‘Sealed with Irish Love’ a homeware and gift products website for people looking for a flavour of Ireland in their homes.

Máire traces her passion for all things Irish back to growing up in the West of Ireland where every inch of surroundings within a six mile radius was explored.

Tell us About Your Business

Sealed with Irish Love

While working abroad for a number of years, I realised that something as basic as receiving a card from Ireland or an Irish gift can pull at your heartstrings and make you feel very much at home.

Upon my return to County Clare in 2013, this nostalgia for my Irish surroundings combined with a background in interior design inspired me to design and create a range of homeware and gifts called ‘Sealed with Irish Love’. The products such as mugs, tea towels, coasters, notebooks and cards are mainly printed in Ireland. With a mixture of hand-drawn traditional Irish imagery combined with contemporary bold, geometric patterns; the designs provoke a reminder of Ireland past and present.

The products are sold online (www.sealedwithirishlove.com) and can be seen in approximately 30 Irish shops such as The National Gallery of Ireland, House of Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher gift shop. This year, Sealed with Irish Love also took part in the Taste of Dublin Festival and are currently taking part in the Dublin Christmas Market on St. Stephen’s Green.

Why are you located in the West of Ireland?

I grew up in the West of Ireland and my inspiration for the designs comes from that time. The Irish designs such as the windswept hawthorn tree; old Irish bicycle; village water pump and bird feathers can be seen on the product range. The designs provoke a certain nostalgia and fond memories of time spent with friends and family which I think many people can associate with. I love living in the West of Ireland and particularly Clare as it is such a scenic and traditional county. My friends and family also live around this area.

When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

I started working on my business in January 2013 and launched it in November 2013.

While living and working as a town planning consultant in London, I became aware that a range of eclectic and distinctive designs and brands of homeware products were on sale both in shops and on-line. It was during this time that I tried to source an Irish gift for an Australian friend who was returning back to Australia. I wanted to give her a gift which had a modern, quirky feel and which would remind her of the Irish traditions which we had encountered during two weekend trips we had made to Ireland. However, many of the products at the time were novelty products which depicted Ireland in a stereotypical and old fashioned way. I wanted to create an up-to-date take on these products.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

I received a feasibility grant from the Clare Local Enterprise Office which was very helpful during the market research stage of my business. I worked on the feasibility study for almost twelve months before launching the business. This involved product design and development and undertaking primary and secondary market research. As part of the primary market research, I spoke to many retailers and people in my target market and also tested the products directly at a market in Galway.
The business was also funded by personal savings and family loans. More recently, I have received a stocking loan from Bank of Ireland.

Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?

There are three main target markets for the brand. They are Irish people buying the products for themselves or as gifts for others; visitors to Ireland who purchase souvenirs and also the Irish diaspora. There is also a huge opportunity to sell to the Irish diaspora in the US market which I am currently working on.

How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?

It took approximately 12 months from my initial idea to launch of the business.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?

SWIL-0200My first degree was in Corporate Law which gave me a good grounding in business. However, the most valuable experience I gained was while working as a town planning consultant in London where I project managed the submission of large planning applications. I had to deal with numerous stakeholders under time and budget constraints.

Following this, I have taken part in numerous courses, many of which were provided by the Clare Local Enterprise Office. These included a Start Your Own Business Course, Web Marketing Bootcamp, PR workshop, Marketing Development Programme as well as a Profession Web Design Course. I am currently improving my graphic design and photography skills but I am constantly upskilling.

How do you promote your business?

As with most small business’s now, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are a great way of promoting my business to my target audience.

I use a professional photographer to take photos of my products and put a lot of work in to the styling of these images and website. As a result, my business has been featured in a number of Irish newspaper and magazine publications. I consider that the best form of increasing brand awareness for my business is to combine an on-line and in-store presence. I recently attended the Autumn Home and Gift Fair tradeshow which was useful for meeting buyers and gaining new stockists. I will also be attending Showcase which is the national trade show for craft workers.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

Sealed with Irish Love is a relatively new business and I am constantly learning and working on ways of improving and growing my business. Mainly, I would have sought more advice on how much it would cost to set up the business as it did end up costing more than I had anticipated.

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

Fusing creativity with business is one of the most challenging aspects of my work. While I love the design aspect, this work will have been in vain if the financials and marketing or sales strategy is not coordinated. Finding the right balance as your own boss is essential. Initially, I spent a lot of time on my own in front of my laptop which I was not used to coming from a busy office environment. I found this difficult to start with but I am now interacting with people on a much more regular basis.

What should happen in the West of Ireland to encourage further entrepreneurship?

The following would be welcomed – the roll out of broadband to the Western seaboard; maximise the potential of the Wild Atlantic Way as an initiative to grow and develop tourism related businesses in the region; low interest finance for small businesses and group marketing initiatives particularly focusing on overseas trade shows such as Birmingham, London and New York.

What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West of Ireland

I like the pace of life in the West of Ireland and the bigger cities feel like no distance if I need to get away for a weekend or visit stockists. I feel that I can have a better standard of living without the costs of living or buying a house in other cities such as Dublin.

More at sealedwithirishlove.com

Clarevirtually

upstart-clarevirtually-01

Eoin O’Hagan with Bobby Kerr of Insomnia and Dragons’ Den fame and Pat Hayes the Mayor of Clare at the launch of www.clarevirtually.ie at The Open Fair in Ennis.

The next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Eoin O’Hagan founder and creator of www.clarevirtually.ie, which promotes Co. Clare’s tourism products in a different, innovative and entertaining way. Utilising High Definition Digital Video www.clarevirtually.ie offers visitors a unique perspective through virtual tours.

Living in Scariff, Co. Clare on the western shores of Lough Derg with his wife and three children Eoin previously worked as a Lighting Engineer for TV and Film but it was his love of the outdoors that inspired him to start up his business

What were you doing (careerwise) when you decided to create your own business?

I have worked in the film industry both in Ireland and abroad for the last 18 years as a lighting electrician. For the last 10 I have been working as a lighting gaffer on TV commercials and documentaries. This has given me the skill set and experience required to start the website and make it work.

When did you start the business and what inspired you to do this?

I launched www.clarevirtually.ie on 28th August 2011. The website went live that morning and I first showed the world my new idea at “The Open Fair” in Ennis. This was an event for both new and small established businesses. The fair was opened by Bobby Kerr (of Insomnia and Dragons’ Den) and he was impressed by my idea and the possibilities for it.
The inspiration for clarevirtually.ie came from my love of the outdoors and flyfishing, especially on Lough Derg. I also volunteer my time on the organising committee of The Scariff Harbour Festival, as well as East Clare Tourism and The Clare Tourism Forum and, it was while at a forum meeting in Ennis that the idea came to me:I could use my skills to promote the tourism products in a different way.

What were your startup costs ? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

The initial startup costs were for the website design and domain name purchase which I funded from my own resources. I was confident that the website would work and become a viable business so the week before the launch I also purchased the domain names of the other 25 counties in the Republic for example mayovirtually.ie or sligovirtually.ie as well as irelandvirtually.ie. Earlier this year I also purchased the domain names for the six counties in the north eg; derryvirtually.ie as well as virtually.ie. My website designer is Rasmus Noeske Jr. from cybergate.ie and I can honestly say that he gives a service second to none. His father Rasmus Sr. of Mountshannon Design and Print has done all the stationary printing for me as well as the website domain purchase and registry. www.clarevirtually.ie is a template for the rest of the country and I have worked hard with both Rasmus Sr. and Jr. to make sure that we can expand into the other counties easily. This hasn’t been as expensive as I imagined, therefore my startup costs have been under €5000.

What was your biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacle was and has been broadband speeds. I knew the idea for www.clarevirtually.ie would work because more and more people in Ireland and abroad have high speed broadband. Unfortunately here in East Clare we are struggling with slow speed and congestion on the broadband network. This doesn’t really affect people watching the virtual tours as 3MB is fast enough as a download speed, but when there is only a tiny fraction of bandwidth for upload it can get very frustrating watching a 60 second video take an hour to upload. I want to stay in East Clare and eventually employ high skilled IT and Social Media people to work on the website and help it grow. Maybe we can get a High speed Fibre link from Ennis to Scariff and bring the town into the 21st century.

Who supported you?

My biggest supporter has been my wife Ruth. She believes in me and www.clarevirtually.ie and is very patient with me as the home office moved onto the kitchen table because the wifi wouldn’t work in the office. Ruth and I have many discussions about my editing style and she has helped me look at the videos in a different way. I have also recently brought on board Martina Minogue from Scariff as a project manager and mentor. Martina has helped me with my business plan which will be utilised as I move out into other counties and eventually become a nationwide business. I have also been advised by many of my colleagues in the TV Commercials business and they have helped me to create a filming style that is formulaic and more cost and time effective. My clients have all been very supportive because they see the results of my work in their bank accounts. There has been an increase in tourism throughout Co. Clare and I would like to think that clarevirtually.ie is playing a part in attracting these visitors.

How long did it take you to get your business off the ground?

It took me approximately 6 weeks from the time I decided to go ahead before the launch of www.clarevirtually.ie I did a lot of research during this period and this helped me decide on the format and design of both the virtual tours and the website itself. I had filmed some B&Bs and a Self Catering Cottage and these are the tours I launched with. Whilst this was small to begin with, I believe in baby steps and the website is growing from strength to strength. It is important to take the time to design a site that you can use easily as people on the internet click away from your site if it is awkward or complicated to navigate. The hook for the website is “Look then Book” and this was the most important part of the design. In 3 clicks you can move from the map of the site to booking the tourism product through the link to the providers own website.

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Eoin O’Hagan with President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina. Eoin is pictured presenting his DVD “Waiting for the President” to the first couple. It is a film of how a town became a community as it prepared for the President’s visit to Scariff, Co. Clare in June 2012.

What do you love about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

The fact that I came up with this idea for a new and innovative way to promote the tourism products is of great satisfaction to me. I can make it a success and have every intention of doing so too. Being my own boss means that I make the decisions about the direction that the website will take and can act fast if something isn’t working or doesn’t look right. Quick decisions sometimes need to be made and being in charge I get to make these every day. Utilising social media to promote www.clarevirtually.ie has enabled me to go out and tap people on the shoulder, virtually, and get their attention. Using free social media like  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,LinkedIn and Pinterest, I am able to attract visitors to the website from all over the world. Doing all of the work myself can get tiring and any entrepreneurs reading this will know that you put in long hours seven days a week to grow a business. So the only drawback is this. I know that it is working though as I see from the statistics that the visitor numbers to the website are climbing steadily.

Where do you work from and do you have employees?

At the moment I am working from our home office in Scariff. The intention is that we might find office space locally as the business grows and there is no shortage in Scariff, as like every town in Ireland, it has been affected by the recession. However this is very dependant on the Broadband Infrastructure, but I do want to keep the business in Scariff and grow it from here. I would love to be able to employ IT graduates from East Clare if possible. It would be great to see people commuting to Scariff and East Clare to work instead of in the other direction.

I employ Rasmus Jr. on a freelance basis which will eventually become a full time IT position.

I employ Martina on a freelance basis to work as my project manager and advise me on business matters.

A college student has just started doing work experience and he will build a database for me. This is part of his final year degree so it will be beneficial for both of us. He is also a computer coder so his skills will become very relevant later.

As clarevirtually grows and expands into other counties it will inevitably lead to a requirement for extra videographers and editors as well as sales and admin staff. In 3 years I hope to expand internationally and become a brand. A brand known and trusted worldwide as a source of tourist information.

Do you have entrepreneurial role models?

A great friend from Scariff, Padraig Giblin is also an entrepreneur and we spend time fishing for trout together on Lough Derg. Whilst on the boat we talk about different ideas and brainstorm a lot. He has been very supportive of my ideas for the website and I support him in his. Padraig is MD of Sportsworld Netting, with nets in Croke park and nearly every GAA club in the country.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?

Working for 18 years in the Irish film industry taught me the skills required to make the 60 second virtual tours. I have worked with camera people, producers and directors. Many Oscar winners and some amazing beginners too. The one thing required to make any kind of film, is an eye for a good frame. I believe that I have the experience and the eye that enables me to make interesting and different videos for the website and my clients. The scenery in Clare and in fact anywhere in Ireland makes my job easier. We have a very beautiful country with a varied and rich landscape; these are the key elements in all the virtual tours. Business wise, I continue to take advise from Martina (my project manager), my bank manager and my entrepreneurial colleagues and friends.

If you had to do it all again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

www.clarevirtually.ie is only up and running just over a year and a half so I am still learning and tweaking. It is a continual process and one which I take very seriously. I believe in my product and as the website grows so do my clients. So I wouldn’t do anything differently.

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Eoin O’Hagan with Michael Ring TD. Junior Minister for Tourism and Michael McNamara TD for Clare during a meeting to discuss the role of www.clarevirtually.ie in Irish Tourism Promotion.

What is your best selling Item or service?

I have only one item I am selling at the moment and that is the 60 second virtual tours of Tourism products. Of course I have ideas for the future and these will develop over the next couple of years as the website grows.

Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?

Yes I am a LookWester. Ruth and I lived in Dublin and Meath and decided in 2006 to move to Scariff, which is Ruth’s home town. I had fallen in love with the rivers and lakes in the area as I learnt to fish I helped boost the profits of all the local fishing supply stores. There are spinners and lures snagged on most trees on the riverbanks of East Clare. As I explored the area for fishing spots I fell more and more in love with the countryside locally. As a family, in Co. Clare we have a great life with great friends. www.clarevirtually.ie is the result of my grá for the countryside and lakes and spectacular scenery of the West of Ireland.

What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?

Think seriously about moving West as you will enjoy a different and better quality of life.
Have a look at www.clarevirtually.ie and you will see the spectacular scenery we have !

Don’t forget to “Look then Book”……