Saturday 1 October 2016

It's Ladies' Day - time to plug your business

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30

Lisa McGowan. Photo: Andrew Downes
Lisa McGowan. Photo: Andrew Downes
Carol Kennelly.
Jennifer Wrynne. Picture; GERRY MOONEY
Martha Lynn. Pic Frank Mc Grath

A day at the races is about much more than just the horses. What the attendees are wearing now draws just as much attention as anything that's going on on the track.

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Ladies' Day marks one of the highlights of the Irish style calendar, but as well as embracing the opportunity to don their finery and compete for fabulous prizes, many contestants are capitalising on their profiles to launch new careers or build businesses.

Lisa McGowan took home the prize for Best Dressed Lady at the Galway Races last week, but she made headlines when she was targeted by online trolls who criticised her outfit.

After being bombarded with viciously personal comments about her body, her smile and "tangoed" skin, the insurance broker took a stand by sharing a Facebook post in which she told her cyber bullies to "p*** off and get a life". As the post rapidly went viral, the Tullamore woman's profile continued to grow. While describing her experience of bullying, Ms McGowan was careful to mention her upcoming fashion label, Strawberry and Lime, which is set to launch later this year.

With another race meet rolling around, all eyes will be on the next Best Dressed Lady, and the winners know they have only a brief window in which to carve out their niche. Like many winners before her, McGowan possesses a talent for self-promotion sharper than the butter-wouldn't-melt pose for the cameras would suggest.

She's proven herself to be a shrewd businesswoman who hopes to make the most of her big break and extend her 15 minutes of fame into a lucrative, and lasting, career.

Speaking earlier this week, she acknowledged that the response to her anti-bullying post, along with the publicity from her Ladies' Day win, has given her a bigger platform on which to speak about her business.

"At the end of the day, I got the last laugh. I got another 5,000 followers on my Facebook page, it's gone viral, so the whole country knows about our new Irish label Strawberry and Lime, and I've had a top Irish modelling agency on to me about doing some modelling work for them," she said.

Ladies' Day isn't just a 'lovely day out' where the girls can throw on a pretty frock and a statement hat - there's a cottage industry behind the scenes, as contestants vie for a few seconds in the spotlight.

It's not a new trend - in 2008, Carol Kennelly used her winnings to attend a millinery course with the famed Westport-based Lina Stein, and managed to build a hugely successful business of her own. Likewise, Jennifer Wrynne started her millinery business in 2011, the same year she was named a finalist for Best Dressed Lady at Punchestown, and Martha Lynn said it took a win at Leopardstown Ladies' Day in 2010 to get her business off the ground.

"I didn't take it very seriously in the beginning. Winning Ladies' Day was like recognition, it gave me the boost that I needed," she said. "After that, I sat down with myself and said, 'Maybe this is a viable business option'."

The competition was sponsored by Tatler, and the five-page glossy magazine spread she landed "really, really helped" her business.

"It was incredible publicity," she said.

Fiona Rafter, another winner from last week, admitted the exposure from the races has given her millinery business a greater lift than anything else that she has done.

So it's no surprise to hear contestants endlessly plugging their businesses, although the cleverly calculated name-dropping all along the Ladies' Day circuit inevitably grows tiresome.

The same familiar faces pop up time and again. Perhaps we should be wary of the publicity, and take our Ladies' Day winners with a pinch of salt.

Irish Independent

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