Monday 23 April 2018

New gig for seamless sisters

Catherine Tobin and Carrie McKeown have just opened a boutique together, but what the frock does it do?

Catherine Tobin and Carrie McKeown
Catherine Tobin and Carrie McKeown
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

With only a year between them, beautiful sisters Catherine Tobin and Carrie McKeown had a very close relationship growing up in Douglas in Cork. Mind you, there was that one time when Catherine cut Carrie's tongue vertically in half, while their babysitter brother Eoin was on the phone, nervously asking a girl to his graduation (she said yes!) "We were about three and four, and were eating strings of liquorice," Carrie recalls. "Catherine decided they were too long, so she grabbed a scissors to make them smaller and cut mine up while it was still in my mouth. I had to have stitches, but luckily my tongue was restored to its former glory. I still have to get my own back."

Catherine, 32, and Carrie, 31, are the youngest of Edward and Carmela McKeown's eight children. They're very close to older sister Debbie, who's their other best friend, and brothers Alan, Eoin, Brendan, Brian, and Kieran. "We socialise together a lot and see each other on a frequent basis," says Carrie. "We were raised to look out for each other and to be great friends, so we have our parents to thank for giving us such a solid and loving foundation. They'll be 50 years married next year, so we're planning a big celebration to mark that."

The sisters have drawn on their close bond to set up a brand new fashion boutique and online shop called What The Frock?' which opened its doors in Cork city three days ago. While Catherine loves fashion, she confesses to being a tomboy as a child. Carrie's fashion credentials were established from an early age, as their mum says she changed her clothes at least three times daily from the age of three. She was also deputy editor of a women's magazine for three years, and has been writing a fashion and beauty column for The Southern Star newspaper for the past four years.

"Carrie and I did everything together growing up, and came as a package deal - two for the price of one," says Catherine. "We were always best buds, although we fought like cats and dogs too, of course. Carrie is so loyal and trustworthy, and would do anything for you. She's bubbly, loving, caring and hilariously funny, and she does the best impressions ever. As we've gotten older, the sisterly squabbles over clothes and things have melted away, and although our relationship is now more mature, we still love to have a laugh over stupid things."

Carrie is also passionate about singing, and after completing a degree in English, she did a master's in film studies and a higher national diploma in music. "Seven years!" she chuckles. "I couldn't get enough of college life." She has been singing professionally for the past decade at weddings, pubs and hotels, and describes it as a really fun sideline. Her boyfriend of six years, Finn Sedas, is a musician with acclaimed band Noir|Noir, and she loves that he's extremely creative, talented and driven. "She is too," says proud sister Catherine. "Her voice is amazing."

Catherine studied advertising and PR, business management and web design, and has also completed a dressmaking course - she'd love to ultimately design her own clothes. She has been working in the accounts department of Goulding Chemicals for 10 years, and feels lucky to have such supportive colleagues. "Catherine is energetic, caring and extremely loving towards her family and friends," says Carrie. "I admire her drive, ambition and willpower, as if she sets her mind to do something, she'll ensure it's done in the best possible way. She's also amazing with children. All of our nieces and nephews adore her and she's a wonderful mother."

Catherine married her graphic designer and musician husband Alan Tobin, in Dingle in October 2013. Their baby daughter, Ada Rose, is five months old, and is Edward and Carmela's youngest grandchild - there are eight more, the eldest of whom is 26. "She's already a right little character, and her smiles would melt your heart," she says. "Alan has been so supportive of me, and has given me the confidence to pursue my lifelong dream of opening a boutique. With a full-time job and family commitments, I didn't think it would be feasible, but when Carrie returned from a brief stint living in the UK recently in search of a new challenge, we decided to join forces as the time just felt right."

What The Frock? stocks a wide range of gorgeous new vintage-inspired dresses, in a range of styles and sizes to suit a wide variety of tastes and shapes. It also stocks pre-loved dresses, and offers customers a consignment and trade service so they can rehome their own pieces or pick up a pre-loved piece at a very pocket-pleasing price. Catherine came up with this idea, as she was sick of having dresses in her wardrobe that still had tags on, or had only been worn once, and wished that there was somewhere fashion-focused to sell them on. She is maintaining the administration and online presence, while Carrie is managing the store day-to-day.

Given that times are still tough, the warm and friendly sisters were slightly nervous about setting up a new business, but by giving people the opportunity to make some money by recycling their clothes, and offering an online shop, they hope their business will resonate well with customers with varying budgets.

When asked what drives them mad about one another, sleep-deprived new mum Catherine says (a tad bitterly) that Carrie's ability to catnap at will is seriously enviable. "Sometimes, on a long drive, I look at her in the passenger seat snoring her head off, and I want to punch her in the face," she jokes.

"For me, it's Catherine's unbelievable figure," says Carrie. "She's always been fabulously toned and svelte, and no matter how glammed up I would feel on a night out, she'd rock up in a figure-hugging dress and blow all the rest of us out of the water. So annoying, but I love her anyway."

What the Frock? boutique,

2 Market Parade, 51-54 Patrick Street, Cork.

Sunday Independent

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