Saturday 10 December 2016

What Pippa O'Connor did next - how the model has launched her own denim brand

Pippa O'Connor owns dozens of pairs of jeans, so why did the model-turned-lifestyle blogger decide to design her own range of denims? Uncomfortable maternity jeans were the catalyst and her POCO brand was born

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Pippa poses with models wearing her POCO jeans, which launch online November 14. Left to right: Sarah, ‘Off Duty’, €90; Claire, ‘Saturday Night’, €110; Pippa, ‘Slimmer’, €110; Thalia, ‘Slimmer’, €110; Karen, ‘Mama To Be’, €85; Ella, ‘Leather Look’, €110
Pippa poses with models wearing her POCO jeans, which launch online November 14. Left to right: Sarah, ‘Off Duty’, €90; Claire, ‘Saturday Night’, €110; Pippa, ‘Slimmer’, €110; Thalia, ‘Slimmer’, €110; Karen, ‘Mama To Be’, €85; Ella, ‘Leather Look’, €110
The 'Slimmers' have a darker wash denim with mid to high rise backside and 25pc elastane
The band in the maternity jeans sits under, rather than over, the baby bump for comfort. Pippa earmarked special attention on the stitching
Pippa admits that most research and sampling went into achieving her 'Leather Look' jeans to makes sure the coated style is soft and moves well
Pippa opted for a dark grey frayed wash over a jet black for her 'Saturday Night' jeans, which feature 'invisible' pockets which are quite small with dark stitching to be as flattering as possible

When model Pippa O'Connor opted to get her teeth straightened in 2009 and lose her trademark gap-toothed smile, I thought she was mad.

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The trademark gap tooth didn't do iconic American supermodel Lauren Hutton any harm, and I thought it gave Pippa a distinctive point of difference on the cut throat Irish modelling scene where Pippa was the queen of the photocalls. Now, I will confess, I was so wrong on that call.

Although her smile was her fortune back then, the Co Kildare lass has proved emphatically that she is not defined by a megawatt smile and laughing eyes. In the last seven years, Pippa O'Connor has built on her girl-next-door credentials and has successfully become a household name around Ireland, chalking up considerable commercial success.

This month Pippa launched a style book with Penguin Ireland and a TV advert with Connacht Gold butter. Next month comes the biggie, her first ever fashion product with a jeans range of five different styles - the 'Slimmer', the 'Off Duty', the 'Leather Look', the 'Saturday Night' and the 'Mama-To Be', all sold under her own brand POCO, which spells out Pippa's full initials now that she's married to TV presenter, Brian Ormond.

The 32-year-old mum-of two has every reason to be confident about going it alone and putting her hard earned money into the project. It's not that she wasn't approached to do collaborations, she was. In fact, there were waves of offers to attach her name to products in the market place, from childrenswear to food products, but Pippa decided to carve out her own destiny in denim. Is she mad?

Quite the contrary. You can begin to grasp where the business confidence comes from when you look at the sales of her 'Pippa make-up palette'. She describes the venture as "a great confidence builder" and, pardon the pun, the sales figures are eye watering. A total of 150,000 palettes costing €34.99 were sold. Produced in Canada, they were a collaboration with Irish online beauty firm, Blank Canvas Cosmetics from Donegal.

In Britain, they have 'the Pippa factor', where clothes worn by Pippa Middleton, the most famous royal bridesmaid in years, sell out the moment she is glimpsed in them. I had a front row seat on observing Ireland's own 'Pippa factor' 14 months ago when I judged the Dundrum Town Centre Ladies Day at the RDS. There were just the two of us judging, myself and PipsyPie (her twitter handle), and out of the traffic of 600 women-plus who crossed the stage that day, over half asked for a selfie with her. The majority also assured Pippa that they were her biggest fan, many asserting that her lifestyle blog was the last thing they read at night. It was hard to ignore the love coming from a huge demographic of ages, from teens to women in their 60s, and from all over the country. I logged the reaction and watched her figures climb. This week they sat at 210K friends on Facebook, 90K views a day on Snapchat, 182K followers on Instagram and 62K on Twitter.

Next month marks the third anniversary of launching her lifestyle blog, Pippa.ie, with staunch encouragement from her husband, Brian. The former singer and You're A Star presenter narrowly missed out on being in the Popstars band, Six, and was singled out by music guru Simon Cowell after appearing on Pop Idol in the UK. Brian, the groom in RTÉ's Reality Bites documentary about their June 2011 wedding, put up a spirited fight to spending €2,500 on a floral arch for over the door in the church. He was proved wrong (just like I was about Pippa's gap smile). The flowers were a huge hit and were later distributed to local hospitals and hospices, underlining the power of Pippa's gut instinct.

Granddaughter of the Irish and Lions rugby hero, consultant gynaecologist, Dr Karl Mullen, and sister to bronze medal Olympian, rider Cian O'Connor, Pippa grew up in Johnstown, Co Kildare. Two years ago, she lost her dear mum, Louise, and two weeks later, she went ahead with her first ever Fashion Factory. "I thought, 'Am I mental doing this?', but the tickets were sold and it was such a horrible time. I thought two weeks, two months, when is the right time to do this? Looking back now, I got such good feedback from people at that horrible time, it really helped me deal with my mum passing away. With the book and now POCO, I think Mum would be in her element, telling anyone who would listen to her."

In the last 23 months, Pippa has done about 40 Fashion Factories. That's a lot of girl pals and mothers and daughters spending their weekends paying to hear Pippa talk lifestyle, but the interaction gave her confidence to plough her resources into the jeans range which launches on pocobypippa.com on November 14.

The 'Slimmers' have a darker wash denim with mid to high rise backside and 25pc elastane
The 'Slimmers' have a darker wash denim with mid to high rise backside and 25pc elastane

Going through the five looks, it is clear she has drilled down to the finer details in devising the initial ranges in sizes 6-16. Made in Turkey, the range features soft denim, four styles with elastane. Whittling down her choice to three potential manufacturers, she did extensive product testing and explains, "Brian actually did the leg work for me in Turkey because I had Ollie and was pregnant with Louie at the time so I didn't want to travel."

Years of wearing denims - her wardrobe contains at least 30 pairs, mostly from the high street - informed her decisions.

"I was really thinking about 'what do I want' for my everyday wardrobe and what styles are going to work hardest for my lifestyle. Sometimes you can really over-think things and I just brought it back to basics," explained Pippa. "I had been approached to do collaborations with other things and always held off on jeans because I had it at the back of my mind that this was something I wanted to do for myself. The range is very understated. They are all pared back and the emphasis is all about comfort and fit. I've had my 16-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe, and a family friend who is in her 60s try them on, and they both loved them."

As to the secret of her success to date, Pippa says, "It's weird saying things about yourself, but I think people find me relatable and approachable. From mums with kids to young girls who look to me for fashion and beauty, I'm hitting off different groups of women. I didn't set out to do that, it just happened organically and I'm blown away by the reaction. I'd love to say that I sat down and strategically made a plan, but I didn't, it just happened really naturally. I suppose once I saw how much traction everything was getting, I thought OK, it's time to step it up now and turn this into a brand and a business. I'm very creative and I know jeans inside out, but if it wasn't for Brian, I'd be putting things on the long finger. But he has the phone call made and an appointment set up. I know it's my name on them but it's really a joint venture with him. We work really well that way."

Pippa concedes that doing POCO jeans has been "nerve-wracking but exciting. If you don't take a leap, you're never going to know what potential you are going to reach. We've been very strategic and careful with this and I'm very confident that it's going to be a success, but when you are doing something with your own money, it's scary. I know there is a market for me to do loads but I don't want to willy nilly put my name to things. I want to be taken seriously in my own right as a business woman."

All POCO jeans will be available to buy from pocobypippa.com

The band in the maternity jeans sits under, rather than over, the baby bump for comfort. Pippa earmarked special attention on the stitching
The band in the maternity jeans sits under, rather than over, the baby bump for comfort. Pippa earmarked special attention on the stitching

Photography: Lili Forberg

Models: Sarah McGovern @ Andrea Roche Models,

Karen Fitzpatrick @ Assets, Ella Killen and Thalia Heffernan @ Morgan, and Clare McDougald @ 1st Options

Styling: Niamh Doherty, assisted by

Laura Warren & Susanna O'Connor

Hair: David Cashman

Make-up: Sarah Keary

Shot on location: The Chocolate Factory

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