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THIS WORKING LIFE: 'Word of mouth is powerful, as important as Instagram'

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Dress for success: Sorcha Gillett is keen to offer customers an enjoyable and interactive experience

Dress for success: Sorcha Gillett is keen to offer customers an enjoyable and interactive experience

Dress for success: Sorcha Gillett is keen to offer customers an enjoyable and interactive experience

Sorcha Gilett, founder and owner of the White and Gold Bridal Shop in conversation with Mary McCarthy.

Made to measure

When I set up my bridal business in Kinsale last year, it felt like all my experience had come together. After studying fashion and printed textile design at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, I worked as a handbag designer and a fashion designer in France. And when I returned to Ireland, I set up an online vintage business with pop-up shops.

I met my husband Paddy at a wedding in Italy. He is a big surfer and was living in Kinsale, and so I decided to do the Ballymaloe cookery course as this was my second passion. Kinsale is such a foodie town and my plan was to open a modern cafe, so I started looking for a location.

However, an idea crept into my head when we got married and I had difficulty finding a fun, contemporary wedding dress. There were many stuffy, traditional frocks but I wanted laid-back and stylish. After a lot of hassle, I bought one and made alterations. When my sister got married, she also struggled and had one made from scratch.

I started to mull this gap in the market - especially outside Dublin - and I remember the night I decided that I was going to go for it and open my own shop. I was sitting on the couch breastfeeding my two-month-old baby and on a whim booked flights to New York to visit a bridal show and to sell myself to the designers I admired.


Time to thrive

It may have seemed a crazy time to start a new business with such a young baby, and my boy Benny was aged two, but I knew for certain it was only a matter of time before someone opened something similar.

I brought Summer with me to NYC, which proved a big success as the designers later remembered me as the 'Irish lady with the baby'.

It was a huge leap of faith for them to trust an unknown setting up shop in another country. But they did. It is so important to meet people face-to-face. Also, my dresses are very expensive and I cannot stock one that I have not tried on, seen and touched, as photos can mislead.

I came home from NYC buzzing and when the kids were asleep, it was all systems go.

I have always been an extrovert and had found it quite lonely working from home when I had my vintage online shop.

But in my shop, I was in my absolute element with so much social interaction.


Jaw-dropping silhouettes... and price tags

My customers can bring three style advisers - too many voices can get confusing - and we always have the craic.

It is such a joyful time in someone's life. I'll pop open a bottle of bubbly, put some music on and the dresses come out.

Even though there are cheaper options, many women are prepared to splurge.

My dresses are made to order. There is a lot of workmanship and expensive fabric involved, and they range from mid €2,000 to €4,000. There are pricier options in Ireland - a shop recently opened in Dublin doing a roaring trade with dresses for around €8,000. It's not just the day. The process is most of the fun - the organisation, the dress, the hen and the celebration of friends and family.

Some customers end up having their hen in Kinsale.

It is so welcoming, and I am getting lots of thank-you emails from hotels and restaurants I have recommended.


Customers the real salespeople

Some brides know exactly what they want at the start and nothing is swaying them.

I take the view that while not every bride that makes an appointment may find their dress, they will enjoy themselves.

They may buy accessories, or nothing at all. But it is never a lost sale if they have a good time.

I give tips anyway; I can't help myself. I even buy my dad's clothes for him. I have a good eye and love to give style advice.

I have been amazed at how this goodwill comes back, with people making appointments saying their cousin/friend/colleague was in. I learned early in my career, word of mouth is so powerful; as important as Instagram.

I had my second same-sex couple in last week picking out each other's dresses.

The first couple had been in separately and one girl had picked out the dress her fiancee would end up choosing.

They are definitely up there with my favourite appointments. I meet the coolest women and have ended up going out with some of them after their fittings.


Organisational whirlwind

Having your own business is a lot of work so if you are passionate about it, that makes it enjoyable rather than a strain. I open the shop Thursday to Sunday; that is when people are free for appointments.

We have a minder who comes a couple of days and Paddy manages the rest. When I am at home with the children, I am completely immersed with them and it's all about lots of outdoor play, art and baking. Once they are in bed, the computer comes out. Home life is hectic and I adore going into my pristine shop with everything exactly as I left it.

When I was studying at Ballymaloe under Darina Allen, she told us if we wanted to do something we must start it today - if we had something to offer, that we thought people would want, then we must get off our asses and not second-guess ourselves. She really was a huge influence on me.

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