styleisle file January 2011 – Sinead Doyle

This month I chat with Irish designer, Sinead Doyle about life in fashion and what it takes to set up your own label!

Tell us about your journey in fashion and how you set up your label.

I studied fashion at Limerick School of Art and Design. Originally I wanted to get into costume design and then found I had a knack for menswear which is what I specialised in when I did my Masters degree in London.

I won a few awards along the way (RTE/Taispeantas, Shannon Development Award, Noisefestival- as one of the best UK designers under 25) which is always a nice boost and then worked in a few different areas in Dublin, London and Venice before deciding to start my own label.

Why set up my own label? I couldn’t afford to do any more full time unpaid work with the big companies I really wanted to work with in Europe and all the paid jobs I was offered were uncreative supplier  positions where you’re often making cheap copies of designer or high street clothing and they didn’t interest me. Besides I always assumed I’d be self-employed so it seemed like the natural thing to do.

When I moved back to Ireland in 2008 with the notion of starting a label, I was very naïve. I worked in Ciarán Sweeney’s studio for a little while to get an idea of the industry here and set about writing a business plan. One thing I quickly realised is how much is about who you know in Ireland (which was, and still is, a massive problem for someone who left Dublin eight years previously with no contacts!) but I persevered, made mistakes, bumbled on and gradually I’m producing more interesting work, finding stockists, building a customer base and getting my work out there. I’m learning as I go along and things are changing each season so in my mind it’s not even fully ‘set up’ yet. I have ambitions and plans as to what the label will be but I’m holding my cards close to my chest for now…

Tell us about your typical day when designing a collection.

There is no typical day. I try to slot out my time and say ‘this week I’ll devote to research and design’ but I work very three dimensionally and I’ll start cutting patterns and working on the stand when I’m halfway through a sketch and because I’m self employed I never have the luxury of devoting uninterrupted time to design. There’s always sales, marketing, press, fittings, accounts and so much general business stuff that gets in the way!

Where do you look to for inspiration!

History, costume, fabrics, literature, art, cinema, exhibitions. I always have about five different themes on hold that I want to use for inspiration for a collection someday and I constantly gather up interesting images either on-line or from magazines so I have a huge stock of quick inspiration to hand.

Have you ever been asked to design a one off piece for someone?

I have done a few one off pieces but not for any big names. I’ve been avoiding it recently as I wanted to concentrate on wholesale and ready-to-wear but interestingly, a review of the past year has shown that most of my profit has come from made-to-measure versions of my clothing or private customers so I’m moving the business more in that direction over the next two seasons.

If you could choose, who would be your muse?

The stunning Grace Connell (represented by @1st Option in Dublin) has modelled for my A/W10 and S/S11 collections and is the closest person to a muse I have. There’s even a dress named after her in my SS11 collection. (see attached photo)

She makes everything look fantastic anyway so it’s not difficult to imagine her in anything I design!

But if I get a fantasy muse… right now, I’m putting together a collection for A/W 2011 with lots of tailoring and corsetry going on (my two real passions) and Helena Bonham-Carter or Daphne Guinness are in my mind as I’m working. I’d love to dress either of those in these pieces.

My upcoming S/S 2011 collection on the other hand is much more youthful. I’d love to see Saoirse Ronan in my Eve dress.     

Have you got a favourite piece?

I wear my own collection all the time and I feel a bit guilty for naming just one. It’s like picking a favourite child! I did wear the A/W10 Veronika Dress on Christmas day though.
Do you find yourself checking out the competition from time to time?

On a local scale, the thing about the Irish fashion industry is that it’s very small so most of my “competition” are people who have become friends or nodding acquaintances at least and I’m always bumping into people I went to college with at events or find our garments being styled together in editorials. As a result I check out their work because I’m genuinely interested in how they’re doing. If a lot of young designers in one area are producing interesting work they get more attention than a single designer so I try to make my pieces different enough that I’m not in direct competition with too many people and we can work together to promote design instead.   

On a larger scale, I’m always on checking out the big name collections to keep up to date with the industry and on international style blogs and e-zines to see what’s happening with other young designers around the world. I’m a fashion blog addict, I check about 20 before breakfast alone.
Do you feel that now women have become more cost conscious than ever before that the world of design has suffered?

Yes and no. If you look through 20th century history, periods of austerity have often generated a lot of creativity and interesting design and smaller designers are at an advantage in not having to maintain a 50million Euro business with 200 employees! Although launching in autumn 2008 with the S/S09 collection just as the recession started was probably one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever made, had I started three years earlier I would probably have levels of debt and investment that would be destroying me this year.

That said, I’ve felt under a lot of pressure to manufacture abroad, simplify designs, and use cheaper fabrics in order to sell to more boutiques in the last two seasons. Boutiques are under a lot of pressure at the moment to compete with always-on-sale high street stores, the ridiculous Irish retail rents and the reduced wealth of their customers and I completely understand that. However I’ve looked at this as an opportunity to think about where I want to go and, perversely, have put more time and effort into complex, hand finished, Irish made pieces and focused on my private customer base and direct sales and, as a result, my upcoming collections are much more creative and interesting than ever before. I think people are coming back to caring about quality and design more than brand names too which is fantastic. Come back to me in a year and I’ll let you know if it’s working out!  

Tell us about a special project you have underway!

A little personal one is that I was given a present of a Kodak handheld digital video camera at Christmas so I’ve been taking short videos of the work going on in my studio for the A/W11 collection and hope it edit it down into some 30sec-1min long frantic look at putting a collection together to pop up on the website so that’s one to look out for.

To see Sinead’s full collection of work log onto