Thursday 22 March 2018

No needle for sisters-in-law who have things all stitched up

Kate Knox and Laura Byrne always got on well, but they're even closer now they're working in the family knitwear business

Kate Knox and Laura Byrne. Photo: Mark Condren
Kate Knox and Laura Byrne. Photo: Mark Condren
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Stories abound about how tricky dealing with the in-laws can be, but Kate Knox definitely doesn't have any complaints about her husband Paul's family. She gets on so well with the Byrnes, she has gone to work with them in the family sweater business, and counts sister-in-law Laura as a great friend.

Laura was 16 when her older brother began dating Kate, and she was impressed at his choice of girlfriend. "I thought Kate was so nice," she says. "She got a great job working as events team leader with Coca-Cola and used to drive the Coke jeep, so she was really cool."

Kate, 34, is from Rathfarnham and is the eldest of Sean and Roisin Knox's three children. Her brother Graham is bass player with The Coronas, and will shortly marry his fiance Aoife. Youngest brother Jack just left his role as assistant producer on TV3's Midday programme to move to New York. Kate's mum worked in Aer Lingus and her dad was a music teacher, and they own Metro Music and The Gift Box, which have been stalwarts of Rathfarnham Shopping Centre for many years. They also enjoy spending time at their other home in Dingle.

After school at Loreto Beaufort, Kate completed a degree in economics and sociology at UCD, followed by a post-grad in business studies at UCD Smurfit School. She met her husband Paul there, and they went to London for five years. Then they came home and were married at Dromquinna Manor in Kenmare in May 2015 with Laura as bridesmaid.

"Laura worked on the Coca-Cola events team for a time, but I was her boss," Kate recalls. "We have become closer in recent years because the six-year age gap between us doesn't matter as much. We go away every year as a family and socialise together, and Paul and I also hang out with Laura and her boyfriend Barry."

Laura, 28, also grew up in Rathfarnham and went to Loreto Beaufort. Her parents are Joan, a former civil servant, and Dom, who founded The Sweater Shop. She has two older brothers - Paul, Kate's husband who works in banking, and David, an auctioneer, who is married to Eileen-Louise." David and Eileen-Louise had their first baby Juliana last week," she says. "It's both Kate and my first time to be aunties, so we're super excited."

Laura studied business management at DIT, and worked on the marketing team of American bank, State Street, for three years. Her dad Dom founded The Sweater Shop 30 years ago, and worked for Gaeltarra Eireann before that, and he planted the seed about the super-glam sisters-in-law joining the business.

"Dom kept saying that we would be great in retail and he would love to see us get involved," says Kate. "While I was in London, Laura and I decided to work together on a fashion show to promote The Sweater Shop. It was great, and we were always talking about different ideas we had for the business around marketing."

Laura joined the business two years ago and Kate came on board a year ago. There are five outlets, two in Dublin, two in Galway and one in Kilkenny. Laura manages The Sweater Shop on Nassau Street while Kate manages Trinity Woollen Mills, two doors away, which hugely appeals to tourists and sells scarves, caps, ponchos, throws, wool and homeware. Dom's sister Breege and niece Alva are also involved.

"Kate and I are based in the same office and when one of us is away, the other looks after both shops," says Laura. "Apart from that, we try to keep it separate, but we look after the website together and never argue. Kate is really organised and I'm not, so she organises us all in a way that we need. She is also very good financially. The shops have been very successful without our help for the last 30 years, so we saw the website as a new challenge and something fresh that we could bring to the business."

Kate says that Laura is very strong on the digital and online side of things, and really brings modernity to the business. She thinks she's similar to Paul as they are both very relaxed, fun-loving, easy-going people. There is the occasional tricky moment when the young women have a different perspective to Dom on how things should progress, but they all have a great mutual respect and are positive and calm.

As the shops are famous for their chunky knitwear and Aran sweaters that greatly appeal to tourists, one of the enhancements Kate and Laura have introduced is a range of fine high-quality cashmere and merino wool sweaters, cardigans and ponchos aimed at modern Irish women.

"We're trying to make the stores more youthful through the designs," says Laura. "We're also adding a touch of cashmere to all of our traditional sweaters so that they are much softer. We are definitely moving with the times and Dad is following us. It's great having Kate working with us now, but we have to be careful not to keep talking about the business when we're socialising. My boyfriend Barry hates all the work talk, and jokes that he doesn't want to hear another word about sweaters when we're all out!"

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