Thursday 23 March 2017

Sian Jacobs: A ray of light in tough times

Sian Jacobs is one of a breed of creative young entrepreneurs who are beating the odds, says Constance Harris

Taupe drape jumper, €280, from Emporium Kalu, Maven and Passenger. Boots, Haider Ackermann, €655, from Havana
Taupe drape jumper, €280, from Emporium Kalu, Maven and Passenger. Boots, Haider Ackermann, €655, from Havana
Bluebottle sequin cashmere cardi, €249, from Emporium Kalu and Maven. Black cashmere/wool skirt, €180, from Maven and Passenger
Sapphire cashmere sweater, €250 from Maven, Passenger, and Emporium Kalu. Black cashmere/wool skirt, €180, from Maven and Passenger
Open-work bare cashmere/wool cardi, €279, from Emporium Kalu. Steel grey/nude cashmere scarf, €279, from Emporium Kalu and Havana
Ink 40s-style cashmere cardi, €290, from Maven and Passenger. Ink cashmere/silk leggings, €135, from Passenger
Bubblegum-pink cutwork cashmere cardi, €260, from Maven. Shorts, stylist's own
Coral cashmere cardi, €198, from Havana. Black cashmere/wool skirt, €180, from Maven and Passenger
Cashmere waistcoat, €298, from Emporium Kalu and Passenger. Drapeneck top, €250, from Passenger, Maven and Emporium Kalu. Legwarmers, €79, from Passenger. Boots, Haider Ackermann, €655, from Havana

The Irish have always been at their best when their backs are against the wall. Currently, this is being proved by the fact that I am hearing more success stories than I am disaster ones.

Creativity is truly on the rise again, with well-known Irish brands such as Avoca, Kartel and FeeG doing really well abroad, while young entrepreneurial souls such as Counter Propaganda (see today's LIFE fashion) and The Loft continue to grow good business at home.

And the reason for their continued existence? All tell me that Irish consumers supporting their own, and loving that Irish producers respond directly to their needs, is everything.

So well done, all of you, for putting your valuable cash back into Irish creativity and livelihoods.

On today's pages we celebrate Sian Jacobs. She started her luxurious yet low-key cashmere separates label in 2008 when the proverbial was hitting the fan. Since then, her business has been growing at phenomenal speed. She is stocked only in Ireland's most exclusive stores: Havana, Kalu, Maven, Passenger in Clifden all carry her clothing, while Brown Thomas nationwide carry her scarves. She is now expanding into the UK.

"I think because I have been a buyer as well, I know what works," Sian told me. "I think a lot about the fact that people are spending a lot of money and need to get wear out of their purchases. They really wonder how many days a week they can wear high-fashion colours like hot pink, or sapphire, when buying. So while they are loved, really it is the more neutral colours that I find are more popular."

Sian Jacobs' label is about wearable knits with a subtle, but unarguable, high-fashion feel. Though she does pure cashmere pieces, she prefers using blends of cashmere with silk or wool yarns because she finds it is more durable.

Her collection features lots of gorgeous cardigans in either skinny weaves with subtle design detail and embellishment, or chunky, cosy cover-ups.

There is a lovely 1940s feel about the collection.

Contemporary-minded fashion mavens love her sexy 'sloppy Joe' sweater-dresses and her fine-knit, scoop-neck sweaters and miniskirts. With prices from €140 to €398, she is not in the outrageous price end of the designer market. And if you only want a touch of luxe, consider her adorable, embellished scarves and pashminas. I see them being objects of love for years to come.

Sian, like me, grew up in the rag trade. So though a relatively young woman, she has seen several decades of fashion come and go as part of her family livelihood, thus she is grounded in reality and thinks realistically. This is a huge part, I think, of her ability and success as a designer.

"My grandfather came from London and opened a factory in Dublin in the 1930s." Sian told me. "The whole of my father's side of the family worked in the business either in design or manufacturing. There were great aunts who owned boutiques."

Sian recently found a newspaper cutting featuring the mayor of Dublin photographed with her grandfather celebrating the opening of the factory in 1932 as it created many jobs when things were bleak in the new republic. Michael Jacobs, a big designer in the 1970s, is her uncle.

"My father was a textile agent and did some manufacturing. We were in the rag trade and I was in and out of factories from an early age. You grow up seeing equipment around, people making and steaming clothes, so it has always been there. And it has always been inspiring to me."

Sian is largely self-taught. She spent several years in a textile agency in London and with Laura Bradshaw of Aura in Sandymount, assisting with management and buying, while also becoming an agent for several northern European fashion brands in Ireland. One of these asked her to do some designing for them and out of this she discovered a new ability.

Also during this time, Sian became very interested in ethical fashion.

"A friend of mine was working as editor on The Source magazine in 1999 and she asked me to do some fashion styling and they wanted it on ethical fashion. I found it really inspiring. Cha Cha Seigne modelled for us. It was a great thing to do."

Sian's own collection is largely produced in Nepal, the centre of cashmere production, which makes her knowledge of ethical fashion and production much more pertinent.

"Yes, definitely all the knowledge I gained is impacting on me as a designer and my manufacturing. I use azo-free dyes. I check up on what my factories are doing. The workers who make my garments are women and I know that they work until 5pm and then go home to their families. That it is empowering to these women to be part of the workforce. Often their husbands are away working in China so they are left behind, alone, to bring up their families."

Sian also gives a percentage of her sales profits to Nicky Deasy in Foundation Nepal -- "giving a hand up, not a hand out" (see www.foundation-nepal.org).

"Nepal is an extremely poor country. It can feel like it is back in the 15th century. People give their children to orphanages because they think they would have a better life there. Nicky is an inspiring person and she runs the foundation as a business, with full transparency. I am delighted to be supporting it."

Though all our attention can be dominated by fearsome front-page headlines, there are plenty of rays of sunshine and hope out there and lots to celebrate. Sian Jacobs is one such ray of light.

Photography: Sarah Doyle at Morgan The Agency, www.sarahdoylephotography.com Model: Sorcha Tunney Make-up: Naomh Kirwan www.naomhkirwan.com, tel: 086 600 4692, assisted by Orla Maher Hair: Jacqui Fay for Kazumi, Molesworth Street, D2.

All clothing and scarves featured are by Sian Jacobs from Havana, Anglesea House, Donnybrook, Dublin 4. Maven, 64 Aungier Street, Dublin 2. Passenger, Market Square, Clifden, Co Galway, Scarves only: Brown Thomas, Dublin 2, Cork and Limerick. For further information see: www.sianjacobs.com

Sunday Independent

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