My Career: Boutique is dream come true for Cork woman

Ann O’Driscoll, Personal Stylist and Owner of L’Atelier Stylist & Boutique in Midleton features in our My Career
My Career: Boutique is dream come true for Cork woman

Ann O'Driscoll of L'Atelier Stylist and Boutique i Midleton. Picture: Darragh Kane

Name: Ann O’ Driscoll

Age: 57

Lives: Carrigtwohill, Co Cork

Job title: Personal stylist and owner, L’Atelier Stylist & Boutique, Midleton

Salary: I don’t draw a salary from the business at present as I am reinvesting any profits made back into L’Atelier to ensure its future growth and success.

Education background: Life experience has been my real education.

Hobbies: Walking, cycling and fashion.

Describe your job in five words: Fulfilling and extremely satisfying.

Describe yourself in five words: Creative, fun, strong-willed, brave… and hopefully, stylish.

Personality needed for this kind of work? Outgoing, warm and friendly with good communication skills and a passion for fashion.

How long are you doing this job? I opened L’Atelier is February, 2022, but have approximately seven years’ retail experience and as a personal stylist.

How did you get this job? My interest, passion and flair for fashion can be traced back to my early childhood. My mum has always been, and even in her nineties, still is an extremely stylish woman. 

She loved designing and making beautiful clothes for my sister and I - we were always admired at the school gates.

As a teenager, my love of fashion increased, and I was forever altering garments and amending outfits to create different looks. Shopping trips with my friends would not proceed unless I was present to advise and style them - I seemed to have an innate talent for knowing exactly what would suit their shapes, personalities and lifestyles.

Ann O'Driscoll of L'Atelier Stylist and Boutique i Midleton. Picture: Darragh Kane
Ann O'Driscoll of L'Atelier Stylist and Boutique i Midleton. Picture: Darragh Kane

When my own children were small, I decided to build on my passion and expand my knowledge in a more formal way, so I undertook and successfully completed a course in Style, Shape, Colour and Make-up. I converted a room at home into a studio where I invited clients for colour, style and make-up consultations. 

I also worked as a Personal Shopper, and wardrobe editing was another service on my books. 

Women travelled from all over for my help and advice and I had a very successful business for about seven years until the recession hit in 2007/8.

Owning my own boutique was always in the back of my mind but my young family was my priority. When my children became teenagers and more independent, I secured a position with Ballyseedy Home & Gardens where I was quickly promoted to Buyer of gift, homewares, seasonal decorations and fashion accessories. This experience proved invaluable and during this time I learned so much, gaining great knowledge about many of the aspects involved in running a retail business.

So, the right time arrived for my family - we were all in the right head space for me to venture into a new business. 

My three children are now young adults forging their own ways in the world so I have time to focus on the boutique.

Midleton is a wonderful market town with a cluster of lovely boutiques and independently owned shops so I was thrilled to be able to source a retail space property in Coach Horse Square - a beautiful little square in the heart of the town. Planning began early in 2020 and then Covid hit and unfortunately we couldn’t travel or trade due to lockdowns.

The global pandemic put my dreams on hold but it also provided me with time to enjoy exploring, researching and preparing the premises. My friend and colleague Roz Spencer, who is a Visual Merchandiser and Buyer, provided additional support and began the journey with me, and with Patrick’s contacts the works began.

Finally, during the summer of 2021, we were able to travel to Dublin and Europe for trade shows to source apparel and accessories to fill the boutique. We sourced stylish casual and classic clothing items that are comfortable to wear and above all great quality fabrics.

The Danish brand InWear ticks all the boxes and is now our anchor brand, closely followed by other known and lesser-known brands.

I was approached at this time by many women who were aware of my up-coming venture, urging me to consider stocking a stylish range of clothes for the fuller figure. We now also sell a beautiful range of plus size garments sourced in Copenhagen.

We finally opened our doors on February 17, 2022 - which was very exciting and much awaited - and now stock seasonal collections of women’s clothing and accessories.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? A good eye for style, colour and an understanding of what suits different body shapes is essential. I think confidence is everything too in this role and being good with people. I don’t think any particular qualification is needed but experience in retail and sourcing and buying is vital.

Describe a day at work: I arrive at L’Atelier in the Square in Midleton at around 9.30am to prepare it for opening at 10am. One of the first things I do is to stroll across The Square to The Granary for a takeaway latté to kick-start my day. Then Roz and I switch on the lights and ensure that the shop is tidy and welcoming as first impressions count. My day is spent supporting customers. That can mean I can be on the till or, as I offer a complementary 15-minute style consultation to all customers without any obligation, I spend a lot of my time on the shop floor with customers, helping them to chose garments or accessories.

My training and experience as a stylist is proving invaluable - so many women appreciate the experience of getting a full outfit that is suiting their shapes, styles, colouring and lifestyles. I’m passionate about dressing women; it’s the aspect of the business I enjoy the most, knowing what will work for them and seeing the delight and gratitude when they have the end result. 

I am always honest and I think they appreciate this direct approach.

Some women often get very disillusioned and feel they are difficult to dress. I cannot emphasise enough that there are beautiful outfits for every shape, size, style and personality.

I love getting to know my customers helping them learn what works for them, and showing them how clothes can boost confidence and make them feel so good about themselves.

When not assisting customers, I am managing stock, staff and administration and keeping an eye on our social media channels.

Roz and I also travel to Europe regularly to trade and fashion shows to buy new season’s collections as we feel that it is important that we hand-pick our collections.

How many hours do you work a week? At least 45 hours - even when it’s my day off, I often go into the shop.

What do you wear to work? I tend to mostly wear garments from our collections at L’Atelier because we source the clothes for comfort, as well as for style and price. This also really helps customers to visualise how we put a look together. That’s important and Roz and I take it as a great compliment when customers ask to try something we are wearing.

Is your industry male or female dominated? As Fashion Trade Shows and appointments with Fashion Agencies are now the norm for my business, I was very surprised to discover that men are the major players in this industry.

Does this affect you in any particular way? It has made me think about why this is. I thought women would know and be brilliant at sourcing fashion for women of all ages, shapes and sizes and would excel at such a challenge.

I can only assume these major roles are not available to women due to our duties and obligations to family life. The role entails a lot of travel and trade and as a wife and mother I can actually understand why a woman would not take on the role. Am I being sexist, yes, I probably am, and even though I have a very supportive husband and wonderful father to our children, for me, I feel a natural pull on me as a woman, to mother, protect and mould our family. Can we help ourselves? Men are actually wonderful now and very involved in family life, and yes, they have more freedom to explore more challenging careers which can involve travel but also means being away from home a lot. Personally, it would not be for me.

I totally enjoyed exploring my interests and career around family life, but should a women decide to take on such a challenging role, I feel it can be achieved as we are strong and so very capable and the reason the percentage is small is because a lot of women choose a career that will work around family life. 

For me, starting my own business at this stage is another stage of my life; it’s not because I feel, as a mother, my job is done (which will never happen, I hope) but it works for us all and we are all enjoying the experience of it and in a place and time where I can give it my full attention.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: Not at all!

Do you work with others or on your own? I have Roz Spencer, my friend and colleague, at my side. Roz is a visual merchandiser so she has helped me to realise my vision for the shop. She is incredibly creative and has helped to create an authentic and welcoming space with vintage furniture, recycled lights, foliage and other touches that make L’Atelier such an attractive retail experience.

‘L’Atelier’ is the French word for an artist’s or designer’s studio or workroom so the décor and ambience reflect this. I also have part-time staff and my daughter occasionally steps in to help when needed. My husband Patrick and all my children give me tremendous support and are a constant source of encouragement; it just wouldn’t be possible without their support.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? I can’t imagine ever retiring. I think when you are passionate about something, age is just a number and as long as I am still loving the business, I will go on as long as possible, all going well.

Best bits: The joy of meeting and engaging with customers and the feedback they give.

Worst bits: Waiting for lockdowns to end so that I could finally realise my vision.

Advice to those who want your job? Try to get relevant retail experience. This often means starting out as a sales assistant on the shop floor but retail has great career progression opportunities. Learn from those around you and never be afraid to ask questions.

Sometimes, you have to take a risk too when setting up in business independently, but that risk has to be balanced by careful research and knowledge of the marketplace.

Any other comments? Women today lead very busy lives and it’s often hard to keep on top of things, but I think when a woman looks good and feels good, her confidence is high, and she is better equipped to take on any challenge.

Women are strong, powerful and emotional; we are multi-taskers and at times we need to be reminded that we are wonderful. We all need a confidence boost from time to time and I believe that fashion and style are such a big influence in how we feel in our lives.

If you would like to feature in our My Career section of our Women on Wednesday (WoW!) email elaine.duggan@theecho.ie

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