Sunday 25 September 2016

Designers face tough choices in cracking complex market

Published 27/07/2015 | 02:30

Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney now design for Dunnes Stores
Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney now design for Dunnes Stores
A design by Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney

If Irish shoppers were taken by surprise at the weekend's news that 'the pair off the telly', Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney, are taking their brand exclusively to Dunnes Stores, fashion industry professionals here were not.

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It's a tough business landscape in the world of independent fashion brands here and Sonya and Brendan came to understand those 'head tilts' they got from designers when the TV style commentators announced three years ago that they were launching their own label.

"Really? Are you sure you want to do this?," was their response.

Five seasons on, Lennon Courtney's clothes have been on the backs of celebrities, endless magazine covers and their AW15 order book was up an impressive 26pc.

Speaking frankly about the "huge financial pressures" associated with building an independent fashion brand, Sonya said: "Brendan and I built up Lennon Courtney without any external investment and genuinely had not seen any financial return from it in three years.

"You invest to grow a brand which is exactly what we did and as any business will tell you, it takes a minimum of two years to see a return.

"We had choices and had a light-bulb moment after meeting the Dunnes Stores' team. Now we are very excited to be part of their stable of designers, they're kind of an un-ignorable force," said Sonya, confirming that increased production in collaboration with Dunnes means their clothes won't cost as much to buy.

Production is the one word that haunts designers and the pressures of financing independent labels is immense. You have to pay manufacturers up front before they will handle the fabric and again before the garments leave the factory.

Eddie Shanahan who founded the Council of Irish Fashion Designers advises many fledging and established brands on how to respond to the changing market place. There are the subtleties of online versus the brick-and-mortar retailers, and he says designers coming out of college have "little or no business training".

With only a handful of manufacturing services available in Ireland, fashion designers have to "answer that challenge by going abroad," explained Eddie.

Irish Independent

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