Wednesday 17 January 2018

Working my way back to you

Sisters Cliona and Laragh Standun have grown closer since they took over the family retail business in Spiddal

Synchronicity: Laragh, left and Cliona Standun run a business together. Photo: Tony Gavin
Synchronicity: Laragh, left and Cliona Standun run a business together. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sometimes you have to go away to find yourself and work out what you really want from life. For sisters Cliona and Laragh Standun, moving from Spiddal to work in businesses in Dublin and London gave them invaluable experience. This stood to them when they returned home to Galway and took over the family retail store, Standun.

Standun has a very interesting history, as it was founded in 1946 by the sisters' grandparents, May and Mairtin Standun, who met while both were imprisoned in the 1930s for being viewed as sympathetic to the cause of a united Ireland. Mairtin was interned in the Curragh with Mary's brother, while she was in Mountjoy Prison with his sisters. On release from prison, they went on a cycling holiday in Connemara, and came across a small drapery shop in Spiddal. They purchased it and expanded it to a country shop that sold everything from petrol, to ice cream, to Wellington boots.

Then, when the sisters' parents took over, they got rid of the grocery side and concentrated on the tourist trade. They became the first business in Ireland to export the Aran sweater to the US, and at one stage, had over 700 women knitting pieces of Aran sweaters that were then assembled in the store. When Cliona, 31, took over, the recession had caused a huge decline in tourism, so she decided to add a men and women's fashion section, which has become very popular, as have the cafe and online store.

Cliona says that it was always assumed within the family that she would take over the business eventually, because she's the eldest. After completing a business degree at UCC, she went to London and worked at Harvey Nichols, and then became a web developer at L'Oreal. She came home at 26 to take over the family business as her dad, Donal, was retiring.

"I found it really hard being home initially and felt so much pressure in the new position," she says, adding that the store was revamped a couple of months later, which added to the stress. "I turned to Laragh for support, and she was really there for me."

Laragh, 28, joined the business two years ago, having worked in Dublin in the buying offices of both Dunnes Stores and Lifestyle Sports. Prior to that, she completed a degree in anthropology and music at NUI Maynooth, and did a post-grad in fashion buying and management at DIT. "Laragh joining the business wasn't something anyone had thought about before," says Cliona. "Once she started working in retail, my dad brought it up, and I was delighted to have her support and help as it's quite a big business to run alone."

The sisters weren't that close growing up, even though they only had each other as siblings. Cliona had to bring her younger sister with her when she went out, which she felt ruined her street cred, plus Laragh wasn't averse to "borrowing" her things. "I remember us tearing the hair out of each other, but we got closer when I went to UCC. I was a people pleaser growing up and always wanted to do the right thing, which puts so much pressure on you. Laragh has always been as free as a breeze, which I think is great. She has a much better work life/balance than I have, because I get so consumed with the business," laughs Cliona.

Cliona lives near Salthill with her boyfriend, Frankie, and Laragh lives close by with her guy, Tom. They ultimately plan to build homes in Spiddal next to each other, but say that won't be for a while. Another interesting aspect is that their mother, Raymonde, was a secondary school French teacher, and speaks to them in French. She is Irish, despite the exotic name. They speak to their dad in Irish and to each other in English. Laragh says that while Cliona was a bit of a "bossy boots" growing up, she has always admired her for being a high achiever. "I was more of a wild child," she confesses. "In hindsight, I wish I had been a bit more like Cliona in college. Once she turned 18, I befriended her so I could use her ID. Cliona is my go-to girl now."

Standun has won many awards, including 'Best Aran Sweater' by The Wall Street Journal. Laragh buys the tourist stock and menswear, and Cliona buys ladieswear and giftware. While Cliona does more of the marketing, the sisters are evolving towards being more equal in that respect. "Laragh has brought in a fresh perspective," says Cliona. "She shook things up and saw things that she wanted to change when she came in. She is much more artistic than I am, so she's good at things like tweaking displays. It actually wasn't that hard to share the responsibility with her, but it took me a while to remember to let her know what was going on, as I was so used to making the decisions by myself. We are pleasantly surprised at how well we work together, although we can be very blunt and we bicker occasionally. It is forgotten two minutes later though, which I think is an advantage because we aren't offended by each other."

The sisters plan to expand and develop the business, so there are plenty of challenges ahead, and they also want to have families in the next few years. "We would both like to take a few months off to travel, but it hasn't really happened yet," says Cliona.

Standun, Spiddal, Galway

Tel: 091 553 115,

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