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'Living the dream' - I quit my job in finance, moved to the countryside and set up my own children's clothing company


Maria Ryan and Andrew O’Gorman did everything by the rule book on their first child, but have relaxed now by child number three. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Maria Ryan and Andrew O’Gorman did everything by the rule book on their first child, but have relaxed now by child number three. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Maria Ryan and Andrew O’Gorman did everything by the rule book on their first child, but have relaxed now by child number three. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Moving to the countryside, leaving the corporate world behind and setting up some sort of creative or artistic endeavour is a daydream for many people, but Maria Ryan, who founded her own children's clothing and soft-furnishing business, has been fortunate enough to have been able to make it happen.

Maria, 38, is originally from Knocklyon in Dublin, and she met her chef husband Andrew O'Gorman in 1994. When they got chatting to one another at Mimes nightclub in Carlow, she thought that he was very handsome and a bit of a rebel, while he thought she was out of his league. They met up every couple of weekends, and the relationship got more serious when both were living and working in Dublin.

At the time, Maria, the younger of Maura and the late Edward Ryan's two daughters, was employed in the finance industry, having completed a degree in history and sociology at NUI, Maynooth. She and Andrew - who is now 40 - were married in 2002, and have three children, Aisling, 8, Cillian, 6, and Darragh, 2.

"Andrew is intelligent, funny, creative, and is always up for enjoying life," says Maria. "He's a brilliant dad, and always puts his family first, and of course, having a husband who is a talented chef is excellent. Sadly, he is not as enthusiastic about DIY, and always claims he needs a few more gadgets before the job can be done, such as our state-of-the-art laser light gadget for hanging frames."

When their daughter was born in 2006, the pair decided to move from Kilcock to a self-build house in Tullow. Maria left her career in finance behind. She was working as back office manager at FTI (Finance, Treasury, Investment) at the IFSC, and says that it was a quality of life issue, based on the realisation that they would never actually see each other as a family with the hours that she and Andrew both worked. They say that becoming parents was life-changing for them, and they weren't fully prepared for how much children totally change your life.

"With Aisling, we had no idea what to expect and she was totally raised with all the rule books," Andrew recalls. "If she as much as coughed, the book would be out! It was a lot easier with Cillian, as we were less clueless. Now, with Darragh, we're more relaxed, and we appreciate all the little milestones even more, as we understand how quickly children grow."

The creative couple love living in Tullow, which is Andrew's hometown. He grew up there with his five siblings, and is the son of Mary and the late John, who was county registrar. Andrew was fun-loving and outgoing as a child and loved being outdoors. After school, he went to Waterford IT and DIT, Cathal Brugha Street, to study professional cooking, as he always had an interest in food and a natural flair for cooking.

Having served his apprenticeship at the Conrad Hotel, he moved on to work as a chef de partie at the Merrion Hotel, and held the role of head chef at The Clarion Hotel at the IFSC, The Morrison Hotel and Moyvalley Hotel. He now commutes daily to work as head chef at The Pines Cafe Bar in Terenure, but assures us that the journey only takes an hour.

While the best ideas are often sparked by something simple, the catalyst for Maria setting up her company was falling in love with children's clothing when her daughter Aisling was born. Wanting to make clothes that were more suitable for children than the mini versions of adult clothing in shops, she bought a sewing machine and began making adorable dresses for her little girl. It wasn't a complete deviation, as she was creative and into making things as a child. When she shared photos of finished garments on social media, she was amazed to find that people loved them and were interested in buying them.

Spurred on by the unexpected reaction, Maria decided to set up her own company, Lollipops & Daydreams, in 2012. It sells children's soft furnishings, gifts and girls' dresses, made from gorgeous fabrics sourced from around the world, some of which she has designed herself. She says she got great support from Carlow Local Enterprise Office in establishing the business, and sensibly attended a number of courses to prepare her for going into business. She is also a member of FORM, which is a wonderful collective of craftspeople living in Carlow.

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Maria knew that she was on to something when her limited edition "Sweetheart" dress was launched at the RDS National Craft Fair in December, and the response was overwhelming. She will exhibit at Showcase at the RDS, the annual exhibition for Ireland's creative industry that runs from January 18-21. There, she will be in the company of some of the country's most talented craftspeople.

"I feel that I have created my own dream job, and I absolutely love it," she says. "You have to have a lot of blind faith to keep going at the start, but it's worth it. I make the patterns, design fabrics, choose fabrics, sew the clothes, and sell them. There is only me at the moment so I am everything from book-keeper to blogger, but I hope to employ a couple of seamstresses in the coming months, which will give me more time to design. Andrew is very supportive around the business, and I am very grateful for that. He always encourages me to do the best I can, and to keep my standards as high as they are."

Andrew says that having watched the business grow from the start, he thinks Maria is very talented at what she does, and is delighted at how far she has come. He describes her as funny, warm, loving, a wonderful mother and his best friend. However, he is not as enamoured with her penchant for bringing vintage bits and pieces of household furniture and decor home.

"We have come to an agreement that it goes into her studio, unless we both love it," he says, with a laugh.


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