Claire Power is bringing style, comfort and durability to farming wardrobes throughout Ireland and the UK with her new business based in Tinryland, Carlow.
The Australian moved to Ireland a decade ago after meeting her husband Damien on home turf.
"Damien was working on my family bull stud farm when we met. I followed him back to Carlow five years later and we've been living and working on his family farm since," she says.
The 240-acre family farm has undergone major change in recent years, with Claire and Damien switching from beef and tillage to dairy in 2018. And now there's Claire's new enterprise, Ballybar clothing.
"We made the transition from beef to milk a couple of years ago because the farm was simply unable to support two families," Claire explains.
"My parents-in-law plus myself, Damien and our son Hugh had to live off the farm. We did our research and it was clear that the profit margin you could make from dairy wasn't comparable to what we'd been making from beef and tillage."
Claire became aware that there was a lack of good-quality, accessible farm work-wear, particularly for women.
"In Australia there is so much selection when it comes to farm lifestyle clothing but here there isn't," she says.
"Wearing overalls all year round isn't practical or comfortable for everyone so I knew that there was a niche in the market for a new range of products."
Just over a year ago, Claire began the journey to creating her new business. She started by conducting some market research. She found Instagram particularly useful. Through the social media platform she contacted a large number of farmers, both male and female, to determine if there was an interest in her concept and a market for her product.
"I got great feedback from everyone I contacted, which was really encouraging," says Claire.
Claire wanted her farm work-wear to meet a few criteria: it had to be made from natural fibres; it had to be practical; and it had to be aesthetically pleasing.
She started her range by creating workshirts for both men and women.
"I chose cotton as my material as it's natural, breathable and durable," she says. "I also wanted a finish which was easily washed and wouldn't easily stain.
"The products had to be super-practical so I went for double stitching and double pockets.
"I wanted to promote the fact that female farmers in particular are not forgotten about, that there are comfortable, stylish and still practical options out there for them."
She also wanted her shirts to provide factor 50 sun protection.
"Ireland has the highest mortality rate in Europe for melanoma (skin cancer) and when I was conducting my market research, a lot of farmers said that they regularly get burned in the summer months because of the lack of protection their clothes provide," she says.
"It seems to be a particularly relevant problem for those who show cattle - they often wear crisp white shirts but they provide very little protection when it comes to the sun."
Claire then put out a tender to a few manufacturers, telling them how she wanted her shirts to look and feel.
"It was a long process with getting the cut, style and material I wanted. The manufacturers sent me different samples and I was really happy with what I got back."
After deciding on the manufacturer, Claire made a bulk order and converted one of the stables on the farm into a stock room to store her products. She set up her website, through which she now retails throughout Ireland and the UK.
Between working full time on the farm and launching her new business, it's been a busy few weeks.
"We milk 103 cows at the moment and we still have 50 acres of barley. I just launched my farm wear business a few weeks ago so it's been a busy time but I've had a fantastic response so far," she says.
She hopes to broaden her range in the near future, expanding into jackets and making more colours available in her work shirts.
Farm diversification: Claire Power
What level of start-up costs did you incur in setting up the business?
I needed money for cash-flow predominantly so I went to the bank and they suggested an overdraft of €15,000, so that’s what I went for and it’s worked out perfectly so far.
Was financing readily available from the banks for this type of business?
Yes, I could have applied for a small business loan but the overdraft suited me better. To get the overdraft I had to submit a three-year cash-flow plan and a business plan.
Was planning permission required and if so, was it difficult to get?
No, as I didn’t build anything new. I just renovated one of the stables to store my stock.
Did you need a licence or permission from any other government body?
I had to register my business name with the CRO (Companies Registration Office).
Are you required to pay rates or any other charges?
No I don’t have to pay rates.
What grant aid or other assistance was available?
I’m in the process of applying for an Online Trading Voucher (TVO) from Leader. It goes towards setting up your website. Seeing as mine is an e-commerce business, a TVO will be particularly helpful.
What supports bodies/agencies were able to help?
Leader was my main source of help when starting up. It’s been very helpful with financing and sourcing questions and when drawing up my business plan.
Was insurance required?
Yes, I’ve got product insurance and public liability insurance.
How did the business affect your tax dealings?
As I’ve just recently launched the business it hasn’t affected my tax dealings yet. It will, once I reach a certain threshold, however.
How much time was needed to get your business off the ground?
It took about 12 months to get from concept to first retail.
Did you encounter any unexpected pitfalls or challenges?
So far I’ve been lucky and I haven’t had any pitfalls as such. Just like most businesses though, Covid-19 is bringing some challenges, marketing and brand awareness-wise.
I had been hoping to attend the Dublin Horse Show and the Ploughing this year to get my business name out there and generate some extra sales but that won’t be happening now.