The winning factor - how Vanilla boutique is style driven
I doubt Vanilla boutique owner Joy Browne was alone in her frustration about the huge designer-clothing prices that emerged in Ireland over the first few years of the new millennium. People certainly used to ask me all the time, "Who can afford to buy this stuff?"
For Joy - who worked then as a buyer for Marlboro Trust, a very low-key, very successful, Irish catalogue company - the high price of fashion in Ireland was a continual frustration.
Even after she chose to leave her job, bought a van, and persuaded her sister, Kate, to quit her job as an environmental engineer in London, so that they could travel the country selling affordable, stylish clothing to boutiques, Joy got frustrated at just how many boutiques had plush interiors and big prices that she couldn't afford.
Putting her frustration to good use, Joy then had the idea that she and Kate should open their own boutique, where style would be affordable. They called it Vanilla, and opened in Fermoy, Co. Cork. That was in 2007. Today, Vanilla, which is in Fitzgerald's Place, Fermoy, has become one of Munster's destination fashion stores for point of difference, affordability and service.
"When we opened Vanilla, our ethos was very clear. We wanted to have a lovely, luxurious boutique, but not with big price tags attached.
"We are not brand driven. We are style driven. We like pieces that make noise," Joy says, laughing. "Something has to shout at me before I buy it. I am always turned on by colour. Not necessarily by pattern, but always by colour."
Vanilla is a store about living life to the full. It's about vibrancy. It's feminine and playful. It changes constantly, nearly exhaustively. Warning here, gals: some of the pieces in our shoot may already be sold out, because Joy only buys a few in each style. But you can be sure that she will have something just as good in Vanilla today.
"We are about difference - we have to be. Because we are in a small town, I have to look after them here. And there has to be a reason for people to travel to us," Joy explains. "From Tralee to Galway to Kildare, people find us."
Part of people's dedication in hunting Vanilla down is its track record in dressing winners. Last year, one customer won the Best Dressed Lady at the Galway Races; another won Most Colourful Outfit at the Dublin Horse Show.
To make it easier for those of us not living near Fermoy to get the Vanilla look, Vanilla's e-store recently went live, see vanillaboutique.com.
"It is very exciting. It is also very scary," Joy tells me. "We are so busy already, I wonder can we cope?"
With mum Kathleen now travelling to London and Paris with Joy, offering buying insights for the older woman, and a great staff of six holding the fort back in Fermoy, I feel sure that the Browne gals can do just about anything.
Photography by Miki Barlok
Styling by Sarah Corcoran
Fashion edited by Constance Harris
Sunday Indo Living