I was born into fashion and retail and it has always been a strong part of my identity. My parents owned a drapery store in a small town in Ireland so I grew up immersed in the industry during the 70’s. Fashion has always fascinated me and it was during my teenage years that I began to expand my creative horizons. Throughout the 80’s there was a lot of developing fashion brands and during my university years at Trinity College Dublin I focused on how to add value to growing fashion businesses.
During this period, there were a lot of growing brands and I began contacting stores in the U.K. as they became big names. Fashion remained a key part of my life but I always felt frustrated as if I needed to evolve. My natural curiosity and addictive nature led me to expand my parents drapery store in Tramore into four boutiques around southern Ireland: the first of its kind in Ireland (let alone my small home town) and within a decade I became a buying director in one of Ireland’s leading department stores Brown Thomas and its sister company A-Wear.
I started in Brown Thomas during the 80’s, however these were difficult times to be apart of the fashion industry in Ireland. Economically, the 80’s were one of the countries bleakest times and people did not have the luxury to spend on fashion items. The future of Brown Thomas was up in the air as it was difficult to maintain an upmarket department store during that period.
This lead to the launch of A-Wear. This was one of the first high street stores in Ireland before we had the influx of stores from abroad during later years such as Oasis, Zara and Kookai.
It was here that I was given my `access all areas’ role.
I had the freedom to work with different teams, explore the international markets and share information back to the board. I was excited to be working with the team on turning around the businesses for both the upmarket and high street sectors.
I found myself working at a fast pace from buying Dolce & Gabbana in Milan to negotiating factory terms in India. We decided it was best to have one board overseeing the operations. I was still making the same decisions, the amount of companies involved did not matter.
I quickly learned to multitask and as a team
- solve problems at at all price levels
- communicate the problems and solutions to the board
- plan and enact agreed strategies
Even though my job kept me travelling the globe I made sure that every Saturday in Ireland I would walk the stores floors, talking to shoppers and watch what they were buying.
My unique quality was my freedom of thinking. I made sure to keep my finger on the pulse of the fashion trends so that we were always relevant.
I was one of the key leaders on Brown Thomas merger with Switzer’s and the re-branding of Cashs, Moon’s and Todd’s to Brown Thomas. For the launch of new Brown Thomas store I brought in high profile social clients such as Joan Collins and Britt Ekland.
It was when I felt the trajectory of Brown Thomas plateau that I decided to leave by mutual consent.
I wanted new challenges and this is when I linked up with Karen Millen, Kevin Stanford, Sandy Goldsburg and Sarah Capp.
I first noticed the Karen Millen shop in ’94 it really resonated with me as it reminded me of the amazing Versace ’92 show that I attended.
(Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington walk the Versace runway in Milan)
(Karen Millen and Kevin Stanford really understood fashion)
I was delighted to join them in the ’00’s and from there I went on to be a franchisee, a chairman, a director and when the company was sold in ’04 to Mosaic Fashions (now Aurora Fashions) I remained the Irish chairman.
Currently, I am a member of Business of Fashion and Retail Excellence Ireland
But most importantly I am still `Thinking’
(Versache image from REX)