During the time of the Celtic Tiger, one of the most disappointing developments of our newfound affluence was the way Irish consumers abandoned Irish-designed and produced goods.
As a young fashion stylist in the late Eighties — another recession-ravaged time — I well remember the frustration at the lack of international fashion, trends and choice in our stores. I thought most of our designers, bar two or three, were old-fashioned. And, as for sex appeal: you could forget it.
So I comprehend why newly wealthy Irish people just had to buy Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci et al, during our boom years.
Though it was tough on our indigenous producers, that unrelenting desire for international design and modernity led Irish creators to realise they had to up their game if they wished their businesses to survive and thrive.
Many did, with the result that, today, Irish-designed and produced goods are superb. Further testimony is in the fact that, despite the economic challenges of the last three years, Irish exports continue to grow massively.
Conversely, with the economic downturn, some international brands have lowered their quality in order that they could be seen to lower their prices — and increase their profits — in a price-sensitive market. Basically, they dumbed down their product. But Irish fashion designers and craftspeople didn’t. If anything, they became even better, giving more value for your euro.
Showcase, the annual, trade-only Irish crafts, gifts and fashion fair — which is on in the RDS from today until Wednesday — features a fashion show this evening at 6.30pm, which will be attended by leading Irish industry people, such as Stephen Sealy and Nigel Blow, MDs of Brown Thomas and Arnotts respectively, as well as important international buyers and press.
In 30 years, plenty has been lost. But much has been gained too. The pendulum has swung back — Irish retailers tell me Irish consumers are actively seeking to support Irish design, that buying Irish now means buying an item of quality and value, from design to execution.
The shots on our pages are vibrant evidence of that. Irish products are respected and rated abroad. Buying Irish sustains our country — our people, jobs, crafts, skills, and our environment (remember carbon footprint?). As a people, we are, at last, respecting who we are and what we contribute. Finally, we are a nation bound strongly together by a sense of self. Showcase is an important part of the vision.