Young Irish designers seeking success overseas

London, New York, Milan and Paris – four cities that play host to fashion week at least twice a year. Dublin doesn’t feature in that list, but Irish fashion designers are among the hundreds of designers displaying their collections each season.

For many, September means back to college and another summer over. In the fashion industry, September is fashion week month worldwide. Designers from every corner of the earth prepare their seasonal collections to debut at a week of runways in the major ‘fashion cities’, like London.

At London Fashion Week last month, six Irish designers displayed their autumn/winter collections to buyers, press and industry professionals alike. Simone Rocha, following in the footsteps of her renowned father John, debuted on the LFW scene back in 2010. The NCAD graduate completed her masters in fashion at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College in London months before.

Similarly, Northern Irish designer Jonathan Anderson pursued a degree across the pond at Central Saint Martins before establishing his brand JW Anderson in 2008. While all these designers are making waves on the fashion scene abroad, it brings the question of why so many of Ireland’s homegrown talent are seeking careers outside the country.

For some, it’s the difficulty in creating a self-titled brand in a small industry. Bríd McDonald, part of the design team for Paul Costelloe at Dunnes Stores, says that graduating with a fashion degree is not as glamorous as it sounds. “After graduation you are thrown into the big bad world where ‘fashion jobs’ in Ireland are like gold dust. Starting out on your own in Ireland is extremely tough. There are very few Irish designers that really make it big and the majority of well known Irish designers are in London as there is a greater platform and more support for them there,” McDonald says.

After graduating, McDonald sold her graduate collection in Om Diva, a boutique in Dublin’s creative quarter that stocks upcoming designers. “There are very few shops that have been extremely supportive to young designers. Ruth, the owner of Om Diva, couldn’t be any more supportive, she is just full of positivity. It really gives you an insight into the Irish market place and if you think you’re ready to go out on your own and make it big.”

The future of Irish design isn’t all that bleak, with various events emerging to give designers a platform for success on Irish soil. Dublin Fashion Festival, an event from the team at Dublin Town, is a yearly weekend event that showcases some of the best fashion in the city. One of the events is the Young Designer of the Year, with Naomi Ajetunmobi crowned the 2017 winner.

A student of the Grafton Academy of Design, Naomi made it to the finals last year before emerging as this year’s winner. Her winning design was chosen by a judging panel made up of some of the leading experts in the industry, including Bairbre Power, fashion editor of the Irish Independent, and fashion photographer Barry McCall. “I believe that with hard work, patience and a never give up attitude, we Irish young designers will succeed,” said Ajetunmobi when asked for her thoughts on the presence of fashion designers in Ireland.

A similar student-run project occurs in DCU every year. As part of DCU Style Society’s annual fashion show, Project Young Designer is a competition for design students nationwide to participate in. Last year’s finalists were from colleges all over the country, including the Limerick School of Art and Design, NCAD and Griffith College Dublin.

Design courses in Ireland are still in demand, with CAO points increasing in Limerick School of Art and Design over the past two years. LSAD, part of Limerick Institute of Technology, is one of the leading colleges for art and design at the moment. In Dublin’s NCAD, students must study one year of general art studies before specialising, with both fashion design and textiles offered as further options.

John Mangru, a fashion design student in NCAD, says he is still “really excited” to be studying there, and doesn’t think the Irish design landscape is all that bleak. “I do believe there are opportunities in Ireland- even if it’s starting out as interning for existing designers or doing a further qualification,” Mangru says.

However, to develop further skills and improve as a designer, Mangru does agree that going overseas can be beneficial for new ideas. “To gain a broader experience it’s good to travel abroad to see what’s going on in the world,” said Mangru.

While experienced designers appear to go abroad to take the next step in the career, it seems that younger graduates and students are content with the industry here. It’s a smaller market, but one that both veteran and new designers are proud of all the same.


Rachel Farrell

Image Credit: Rachel Farrell