Friday 15 December 2017

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Unusual decor: April and the Bear is an online enterprise, but owner Siobhan likes to combine that with an occasional physical presence in the form of pop-ups
Unusual decor: April and the Bear is an online enterprise, but owner Siobhan likes to combine that with an occasional physical presence in the form of pop-ups
April and The Bear is filled with unusual decor pieces
Siobhan Lam: sources stock for April and the Bear in a number of ways
Bold not beige: Lisa Marconi and her business partner Sarah Drumm wanted to encourage people to inject a little humour into their interiors, and their shop Dust is geared towards helping shoppers do just that
Some of the items in stock at Dust
Home comforts: Lily Ramirez-Foran wants Irish people to see how healthy Mexican food can be
Some of the Mexican items on sale in Picado

Emily Westbrooks

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so the saying goes, and in the case of five entrepreneurial women in Dublin, necessity was just the push they needed to open their own online, pop-up and bricks-and-mortar shops around the city.

April and the Bear

After Siobhan Lam, 31, and her husband Jamie bought their first home together, she found it hard to source unusual decor pieces that she liked here in Ireland. Now she runs a popular online shop, April & the Bear, that is filled with just such pieces, and keeps customers engaged with regular pop-up shops.

"When I first decided to set up the shop, I was struggling with what to call it and a friend suggested combining things that are important to me, things that I love. So I did! The Bear part refers to my lovely, hairy fiancé Jamie, whom I call 'Bear', and we were both born in the month of April.

"I've worked in retail for the longest time so running my business has always been a dream. I first started to think about opening an interiors store when Jamie and I bought our first home together, and started to look for interesting and affordable home-wares. I found it incredibly hard to source pieces that I liked in Ireland. I kept noticing, on work trips away, that cities like Berlin and London had much more choice in terms of home-wares and lighting, and, at that point, I started to collect brand names and suppliers that I loved, with the hope of opening my own store.

"I source stock for April and the Bear in a number of ways. I travel to trade shows like Maison & Objet and Top Drawer to find new brands and look for new talent. At the same time, I'm always looking for new finds online, and I religiously read interior magazines and blogs like Living Etc, Image Interiors and Elle Decor for inspiration.

"We have also just introduced an interiors consulting service, which is growing and growing. Customers kept asking for advice on their homes, which turned into interior-consulting requests. Our service is very flexible and affordable and fast, and I think that's why it's been a success.

"April and the Bear is an online entity and I don't see that changing, but I think combining our online presence with occasional physical stores is the right path for us. It keeps our customers interested and engaged, and for us it's incredibly exciting. It was fantastic to meet all the wonderful customers that I had built up online relationships with and it became obvious that my customers really enjoyed the experience. I held a one-day pop-up shop last year and it went incredibly well, so since then, I've been trying to source a suitable location for another pop up shop and we found it!"

April and the Bear has a pop-up shop opening today at 5 Dame Lane, Dublin 2,


Lisa Marconi and Sarah Drumm, both 36, use their interior-design backgrounds and curatorial eye to fill their new interiors shop, Dust, with colourful artwork, unusual decor pieces and silk flowers. Both live in Portobello, making their Camden Market shop a short commute.

Lisa: "When I renovated our house in Portobello, I realised that all the more unusual bits I wanted, I was buying online from outside Ireland. I got chatting to Sarah and we both agreed there wasn't anywhere in Dublin selling the kind of interiors products that we loved, so we thought, let's go for it and open our own shop! When you're setting up a new business it is such a steep learning curve, you have to get your head around so many new things. The pop-ups let us dip our toes in gently and at a nice pace, so we were able to make lots of mistakes before things got too serious!

"The shop has such a feel of being in someone's home that we decided to embrace this. We wanted people to come into the shop and be able to visualise the items fitting into their own home. We are both very into breaking away from beige and injecting some humour into interiors, and we want to encourage everyone to do the same. So we decorated the shop very much in our own style and felt it would be a great calling card to showcase our interior design service.

"We're working hard at the moment to source artists and photographers to display on our walls and sell. We have two fantastic Irish photographers about to go on display and also a really cool Hungarian artist, but we're always on the look out for more."

Sarah: "I worked as an interior designer in London before moving back to Dublin in 2013. I was looking for a new challenge and that's when Lisa and I started chatting. We liked the idea that we were going to try and find things that were a bit different or hard to find, a bit like gold dust, but we loved the simplicity of the word dust and thought it would be quite cool to brand it gold.

"Dust is very much a collaborative effort between the two of us. We often find independent designers through magazines and blogs. We also go to the trade shows like Maison & Objet twice a year and London Design Week in September. We have just received a new shipment of Missoni and we are both obsessed with the colourful zig zags! We also have more of Abigail Ahern's first own-label range due in, which we are very excited about."

Dust, 44 Camden Market, Grantham Street, Dublin 8,

Photographs by Joanne Murphy.


Wendy Crawford, 35, dreamed of owning a shop during her college days at NCAD, and now fills her Essex Street location with 'scouted' pieces from around the world. When small business pressures leave her feeling stressed, her drummer husband James keeps her grounded. The two will welcome their first child in September.

"When I was in college in NCAD I used to walk past Smock (incidentally, in the very unit I am in now) on Essex Street and press my nose up against the windows to admire the beautiful pieces and the oh-so-stylish ladies who ran it. I thought, that's definitely something I'd like to do!

My previous shop, Bow, started with the need for more space and it was the perfect opportunity to grow in a safe environment at the very start of the recession. It was a collaborative endeavour [with jewellery designer Margaret O'Rourke], which was very appealing and we could learn and make mistakes together without too great a risk! Bow taught me how to run a store on a collaborative basis and the important factors of running a boutique; like excellent service, communication with colleagues and listening to your customers - the most important dialogue to listen to.

Scout is quite different to Bow. It's much more utilitarian, everyday and so much more like me. The name Scout comes from what I've been doing for so many years in the constant search for beautiful items. It started by scouting for vintage pieces in Paris flea markets and has developed into scouting for great brands that sit well together in our store. I go on twice-yearly buying trips to trade shows and suppliers' studios in various cities, and I also spend hours skipping across Instagram for inspiration.

I'm here in store most days, although I do have part time staff which is a great help. Day-to-day it's not that glam. Lots of hoovering, polishing, steaming clothes, answering emails and packing internet orders. My favourite part has to be merchandising the store. I love ripping it apart and swapping it all around, and making it all seem fresh and new.

Quiet periods are very challenging as you have time to think, and you think immediately you are doing something wrong. It has surprised me how easily I can find myself in a knot of worry. But then you have a great day or an hour with a regular customer who puts you back at ease. My husband, James, is always amazing when I go through a quiet spell. He's so pragmatic. That's just retail, he says, ups and downs, round and round! And he's right of course."

Scout, 5 Essex Street West, Dublin 8,

Picado Mexican

Lily Ramirez-Foran, 40, is the owner of Picado Mexican, a Dublin shop stocked with Mexican recipe staples and kitchen tools. Ramirez-Foran is a native of Mexico and moved to Ireland 16 years ago. She opened Picado one year ago to continue her mission to bring real Mexican flavours to Irish palettes.

"If I don't have it in my kitchen cupboard, you won't find it at Picado. My mission in life is to show Irish people how wonderfully healthy and delicious real Mexican food is. The joy I feel watching the faces of people in a workshop who just had their first taste of proper Mole Poblano is hard to describe. I want Irish people to understand how complex, sophisticated and sexy Mexican food really is. I want people to see beyond burritos, nachos and fajitas, so I source the products for the shop based on what I like to eat and cook, and trust people would like similar food.

I was writing the blog for a few years so when the idea for the online shop came about, it was a natural progression. I wanted to keep cooking and writing about Mexican food, so I needed to source ingredients. I felt sourcing for me and sourcing for Ireland wasn't going to be hugely different. Picado, the brick and mortar home for the online shop, was another natural progression.

Alan, my partner in life and business, and I share the workload for the business. We both do front of house on different days of the week. I do all the admin and accounts, social media, trade accounts and all the sourcing as most of it is in Spanish. He does the technical end of things, all the heavy lifting and stock control.

We juggle busy schedules as we both have paid jobs on top of the business and we have no employees yet. I was surprised to find out how little support there is for small enterprises in Ireland. When you really look into it, unless you have loads of export potential or have immediate plans to employ 10 people, there is little or no support available. The past year has been tough, very little socialising and a lot of hard work, but we both believe it will pay off in the end.

I love chatting with customers about Mexican food, I adore the time I spend doing workshops and demos - I feel that is where I am my happiest. I'm living my dream. You are not walking into a shop, you are walking into my pantry, which happens to have a kitchen at the end, so if I feel like showing you how to heat corn tortillas properly, I can do it right there!"

Picado Mexican, 44A South Richmond Street, D8,

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