Tuesday 17 September 2019

The couple with designs on each other

Designer Fiona Heaney and Don Gormley, her husband and accidental midwife, run the fashion brand Fee G

Don Gormley and Fiona Heaney began their love story with a summer romance. Image: Steve Humphreys
Don Gormley and Fiona Heaney began their love story with a summer romance. Image: Steve Humphreys

Andrea Smith

Fiona Heaney met Don Gormley on a summer night in their hometown of Omagh in 1990. He was 20 and she pretended to be 18 as she was only 16 and shouldn't even have been out in the first place. She told him she was waiting on her A Level results, when it was actually her GCSEs, and they ended up casually dating for the rest of the summer.

"We just had a few snogs," laughs Fiona. "I just liked the look of Don and his personality and we enjoyed hanging out and having fun."

When the summer was over and Don was due to go back to continue his business management studies at the University of Ulster, he tried to finish with Fiona. "She was a very attractive girl and still is, but I tried to dump her because she was still in school in Omagh and I was in college in Belfast," he admits.

Fiona recalls feeling a bit miffed about it all, but they met a few days later and it was all back on again. Over the next few years, they went to college in different cities and would regularly break up and go off for the summer with pals. Then they'd always get back together again.

Don (48) did a post-grad in Scotland and then worked in Derry. Fiona (44) was always artistic and went to Dublin to study fashion design at NCAD. She graduated with first-class honours, and six years after they first met, Don joined her in Dublin.

Fiona comes in the middle of Evelyn and the late Eugene's three children. Don lost both of his parents at an early age. He was two when his dad Edward was shot dead in a robbery during the Troubles by guys looking to raise money for arms. This left his mum Teresa to raise six children aged from two to 12 by herself. She was very strong and taught them resilience, but died from cancer when Don was 16. He's grateful that his sisters and brother helped take care of him.

Once they moved in together in Dublin, the relationship between Don and Fiona was permanently on and they went travelling and also spent two years in Australia. Fiona was working in design there and Don got a job in IT, but in the end, they came home as they missed family. They bought a house in Dublin and were married in Omagh when Fiona was 27, and now have three children - Leo (12), Luke (10) and Hannah (six).

Hannah has a very interesting birth story because she was delivered at home by her dad. Fiona woke up in what she thought was the early stages of labour at 2.30am, and as they were waiting for their childminder to arrive to mind the boys, Hannah decided she simply couldn't wait and was born at 3.05am in their bedroom. "My waters hadn't broken and Hannah was still in the caul (amniotic membrane)," says Fiona. "She didn't make a sound but Don gave her a tap on the back and she made a cry. We were on the phone to the ambulance, and they told him to wrap her in a sheet and put her on my chest to keep her warm."

The ambulance arrived 20 minutes later and the paramedics cut the cord. As for Don, he was left reeling at the speed of the events. "It was the craziest moment of my life," he says. "Hannah is the happiest wee thing and she bounces into the room, so it's not surprising that she came jumping into the world like that. Becoming a parent was fantastic and it was a real completion of the circle for me as I didn't know my dad. We live for the kids and they're the be-all and end-all."

On the work front, Fiona was designing for other people when a shop asked her if she knew anyone who designed luxury scarves? She designed eight scarves for them, which sold almost immediately. Don suggested that she should start her own label in 2004 and said he would back her financially. "She worked so hard for other people and I could see that her skill-sets were perfect for someone owning their own business. We didn't need a third party to help us as we could do it between us."

Don and Fiona set up Fee G - Fee for Fiona and G for Gormley, and it has become a very successful commercial fashion brand, The clothes are beautiful and full of interesting details and now, coming up to their 15th birthday, they're delighted at how strong the brand has become.

They principally sell to boutiques and are also in Arnotts and Kilkenny, and have entered the German and Spanish markets and are looking to export more. There are two collections every year with 80 to 90 pieces in each one and the size range is from 8 to 18. The popular brand covers occasionwear, work wear, separates and casual day dresses.

Fiona looks after the design side of the business, Don takes care of finance and the business side and they have six fulltime staff. "Fashion is a hard business, but Fiona can bounce back and has a tough skin," says Don. "I always say she's like a marathon runner because some designers can run out of steam but she keeps going. On the personal side, she's a very loyal person and a great friend, and she's also good fun."

Outside of work, they like to go to sea swimming together at Seapoint, Don does adventure running and the whole family plays tennis. Don says that Fiona's perfectionism can spill into all aspects of their lives, while she teases that he can be too relaxed on occasion.

"Don is very charismatic, and while I have no patience and can be hot-headed, he is calmer and great at reading people," she says. "He really is my soulmate."


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