Creating noise about fashion

Ahead of Network Cork's fashion-focused event next month at the Everyman EMMA CONNOLLY talks to some of those taking part
Creating noise about fashion
Fashion designer Jennifer Rothwell fixes one of her dresses on model. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

“The Business of Fashion” is the title of Network Cork’s event next month taking place in the iconic venue of the Everyman Theatre.

The organisation’s president Ciara Wilson was inspired to organise it after seeing the closing show of last year’s Cork Fashion Week and wanted to ‘create some noise’ about the local fashion industry and the entrepreneurial role so many women play in it.

One brainstorming session later with the CFW power house of Emer O’Mahony and Vivienne McCarthy and we have next month’s event to look forward to in the landmark theatre which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year.

Emer herself is MCing the evening, on March 1, 

6pm to 8pm and the audience will hear from a panel that features fashion writer and stylist Annmarie O’Connor along with designer Jennifer Rothwell.

The evening will have something to inspire all women, says Ciara – and here’s a preview of what the audience can expect….

Model/pr agency director/blogger - Emer’s story:

“I set up Lockdown with Viv 11 years ago and we now have over 80 part-time models on our books ranging from high end models such as Aoibhinn Lane living in London (about to walk in LFW) and commuting between Milan, London and Barcelona, to commercial models who do photographic work for online and print campaigns.

“And this October will mark the 10th Cork Fashion Week which we set up to provide a platform for local and Irish design talent as well as to promote local independent boutiques, makeup artists, photographers, hair stylists, fashion stylists, anyone working in the fashion industry locally.

“After Fashion TV flew in from Paris and filmed our Triskel show back in 2009 and broadcast the show to 126 countries, Mercedes-Benz came on board as anchor sponsors, meaning our week of events annually in Cork now gets the same nod in the fashion world as Paris, New York and Milan. We have some incredible skills coming out of design and fashion courses in our colleges in Cork so it is imperative for us to ensure the week of events continues and grows from year to year to show the country and fashion world further afield, the amazing talent coming out of our city and county.” Having said all that Emer admits their journey has been challenging.

“In school 20 years ago, our career guidance counsellors sat us down and told us "maybe a job as a teacher, nurse or job in the bank would be best for you";. Nobody ever put fashion on the table as a credible career option. The creative fields were not promoted but there are so many different channels and avenues to fashion now that it is a very feasible career path, offering many different opportunities from designing to photography, styling to makeup artistry, hairdressing to fashion PR. Take Opera Lane for example, one street in our city centre that employs over 500 people full and part-time.

“There are so many inspiring people working in fashion from Cork abroad that we have met through the years. But many more on our own doorstep. So we look forward to hearing their stories at the Everyman Place on March.” 

The designer - Jennifer’s story:

Renowned for her striking colourful prints award winning designer Jennifer is currently the only designer who digitally prints and manufactures all her designs in Ireland.

She sells her designs in her flagship boutique in Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin city centre and worldwide online at As her garments are printed and manufactured in close radius to the studio the carbon footprint of the garments is greatly reduced.

Jennifer designs for the sophisticated woman, that doesn’t follow trends necessarily and says her ideal customer is a woman who knows what she wants, appreciates high quality and buys her garments as investment buys, timeless fashion that will always look great year after year. Enya is one of her many high profile clients.

Her advice to any young designer with aspirations is to go abroad.

“That way you’ll get a real strong foundation and learn the ‘a to z’ of the industry before starting their own label. I would tell them to follow their dreams but to be realistic because it’s a very hard industry. They have to see the full picture, not expect immediate success and to be extremely passionate and dedicated!” 

The fashion writer/ stylist - Annmarie’s story:

I started freelancing as a fashion journalist in the late 90s while I lived in Ireland.

My first paid gig was for Elle magazine. Shortly afterwards, I moved to London in the hopes of finding a full-time fashion journalism role. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped. I did manage to find freelance work while I worked full-time in radio sales but not enough to pay the rent. When I moved home to Ireland, I made the decision to pursue a freelance fashion work full-time. I started a blog (I Blog Fashion) in 2008 while I worked towards building my contacts and finding work. I was relentless in my output - both on my blog and in reaching out to editors. I wrote 24/7 and the dividends paid off. My blog did wonders for my profile. Blogs were still a relative anomaly at that stage, so I became a soundbyte for journalists and researchers writing pieces on the new digital democracy. I also got headhunted for a lot of work including editing the Louis Vuitton City Guide for Dublin and TV styling. In addition to writing, styling and media work, I've also written two books: The Happy Closet and The Happy Medium. I am currently fashion editor at the Irish Examiner which is the mainstay of most of my work. I am also starting work on my third book.” 

From a freelancer's perspective, her advice is simple - have back-up.

“If you are planning on a fashion career, don't expect to make bank overnight. Creating momentum and building contacts takes time. Sometimes the stars will align and you'll get a lucky break. Sometimes, business will be quiet and you'll break into a sweat wondering if it was all just luck. Fashion is fickle by nature and the rapid pace of change means you can't be asleep at the wheel if you plan on making a successful journey. “ 

She also advises: Be prepared to work long, irregular hours and for little pay (if any) at the start. Even when you do establish yourself, hours remain unsociable so expect plans to be cancelled and weekends to be interrupted.

Think of how you can be of service. Those who make it in the industry understand how they can contribute as opposed to simply how they can benefit. If you have no industry experience, figure out what skills you have that will help an editor or a stylist. Be eager and be prepared to get stuck in.

Be a subject matter expert (in training)! If you are looking, for example, to break into fashion writing, be an avid reader. Familiarise yourself with as many publications as possible. Who writes for them?

What is their style? What do you like about them?

Hone your craft. Write for your college newspaper, start a blog, have something that will demonstrate your ability, your understanding and your tenacity. Understand that, although there are fewer traditional opportunities in a small country such as Ireland, the Internet has all but levelled the playing field. We live in an age of fewer excuses and more opportunities. Where one door closes, find a window.

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