When I think traditional Irish style I think of the traditional Irish shawl. I love the old image that it conjures up, and when I saw the Wild Cocoon creations I just fell in love. Deirdre Duffy the talent behind Wild Cocoon, has created a brand that is full of textured knits in stunning, vibrant colours and to me just shows creativity at it’s best.
What I also found amazing is that the pieces are created in Ireland in Co. Mayo and all pieces are hand woven on a foot powered floor loom ensuring that no two pieces are ever the same. In a world that sometimes feels obsessed by fast fashion, I think that it is so great that her pieces are created in a traditional fashion. It adds a narrative to a truly unique handmade product.
It is also no wonder that Wild Cocoon are a finalist in the Accessories category in the 2017 Irish Fashion Innovation Awards. I am delighted to be featuring an interview with Deirdre today on Floralesque where we learn about her inspiration, why it was important for her to create here in Ireland and so much more.
Have you always been interested in design?
Yes, as a child I was quiet easily distracted in school a bit of a day dreamer! I regularly got in a bit of trouble for living in my own world and navigating my days in that space instead paying attention to the lessons in front of me. I think this is probably a familiar theme for a lot of creatives!I don’t even remember making a conscious decision about studying Art and Design it always seemed to be a given for me. I actually discussed it recently with my parents and was surprised to find out that I never discussed it with them either. I guess I am very lucky that they trusted some instinct in me to find the right path in life.
I think I’m still working through my life like this I was diagnosed with mild dyslexia is primary school, I always saw the patterns and rivers between the words instead of the words they looked like maps to me. I was given the tools at the time to deal with this when needs be, but now I have kind of embraced it.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I absolutely love colour, it starts and ends there really. I don’t sit down and make a conscious decision with mood boards and yarns selections and pairing. What I do is compile imagery that has energy and a colour range that is exciting to me and I start to make connections. I love putting colour together that shouldn’t work but if you find the right balance and tone it just sings. I suppose living in Co Mayo there is always the chance you can get too caught up in the environment and the colours you see every day. To combat this and to add uniqueness to what I do I like to imagine what is missing rather than what is there.
There is one range this year that is called shoreline and it is very related to the coast this happened because I couldn’t get to the coast as I was so busy making, so when people say to me it just screams the Irish coast you must have spent a lot of time there I can take that as a compliment but it’s not right it is just something that was on my mind a lot as I couldn’t get to live so I made it instead.
In creating the pattern that I use in my weaving there is nothing particularly groundbreaking in the structure it is a combination of three commonly used elements to create something that is new yet very familiar. This was a decision I made in order to be able to push my colour combinations I wanted something that would create a feeling of nostalgia and comfort in the pattern for the wearer.
I admire greatly that you make your pieces in Ireland. Is it important that you make in Ireland and not abroad?
Yes, I think once you decide on a business model that is going to be Irish then every effort should be made to have everything to do with this in Ireland. For me this means that I am making all the scarves, cowls and Blankets myself at the moment. My swing tags are made in Dublin my stationary is printed in Knock.
However, when it comes to the wool I use it is not so simple. I use a combination of Irish wool and Scottish wool mostly for the variety of colour that is available across the board. At the end of the day, the wool from sheep in Ireland is not suitable for use on the body it is more suited to carpeting, rugs and utilitarian items. Most of the wool sold by any companies in Europe comes from New Zealand and Australia anyway.
There is a completely Irish wool available from Donegal Yarns I have used it in a project with Cooper’s hand Made Furniture for Showcase 2017 I paired it with linen and cashmere and it worked beautifully the bench we produced won the Design Island Award for best product collaboration. That was exciting and it opened up some avenues for using genuine Irish wool again in the future.
What is your favourite part of the design process?
My favourite part is the making, when I am designing a new range I just sit with the yarns all over the place and try and see the combination build on the loom. When I start making new pieces there is no real plan I just start. The finished pieces can be just as much of a surprise to me as to an independent onlooker. To date, I haven’t disregarded any of the finished items so it’s working so far. I think!
I am aware that you studied in NCAD. Do you think it is important for aspiring designers to study formally before trying to ‘be a designer’?
That’s a tough question to answer as everyone is so different in their approach. Personally, I think that some training is required. Someone can have an innate ability for design but this has to be challenged, built on and educated. The mantra I always live by is that I don’t know what I don’t know, so I grab every opportunity to learn or experience something new now. (Within reason)
I think if you don’t go to college or do a PLC you are relying your own internal systems to tell you what’s good or relevant and certainly at a young age this is difficult. You can waste a lot of time at this, when in a formal environment you can learn from the masters that went before and make new mistakes that progress, rather than repeating the same old ones that someone else has already learned from.
I went to the GTI in Galway before the NCAD. This is where my eyes were really opened to seeing things and listening. It is also where I met the most amazing people who I was lucky enough to progress throughout the NCAD with also and who are a very important part of my life now. Design can be a lonely process, its solitary, if you haven’t had the opportunity to meet your peers and gain professional contacts then you have no sounding boards when things get tough. Your family and friends outside the industry can only do so much. A college education opens up the world for you. I think the benefit cannot be underestimated.
Do you have any favourite designers or designers that you find inspiration?
I love Scandinavian design (who doesn’t?) but I always want to mess it up a bit. I am really and inspired by the Irish Painter Anne Madden and her husband the painter Louis le Brocquy. Anne’s painting as just amazing the colour is so intense and just full of energy. I went to see the Tain tapestry series by Le Brocquy in Collins barracks a few years ago and it has always stayed with me. I think they both see things in a really interesting way. Their work has real personality and I think they give something of themselves over in it. I try to do this on my pieces.
I am also completely in love with Japanese ink drawing and kimono weaving but that could take ages to write about. I once watched a Youtube video of from Dovecot tapestry studios in Scotland of a tapestry that was made for the opera Madame butterfly and it made me cry – it is so amazing – the craftsmanship, the colour, the image, it’s just exquisite.
As regards designers, I’m a massive fan of Vivienne Westwood, not just her clothes but her whole approach to life and design in general. She is not scared to do what she wants and never has been.
More than anything I am inspired by my friends in the industry, this sounds very soppy, but we have all come through this process together, some at different times and in different ways. All with very different products and processes but I am so inspired by the bravery of just getting into the work and doing it.
The support for Irish Design in Ireland seems to be growing with events like the Fashion Innovation Awards and CREATE with Brown Thomas. As an Irish Designer did you feel that you had support when you were starting out?
I think the industry is really starting to sit up and take notice of what’s happening in studios across the country. I feel I had enough support when I was starting out, there is a certain amount you have to do by yourself. If you get too much funding options or opinions in the beginning I think you can take them for granted and when it stops at some point you’re on your own and unprepared for the next step. I was lucky enough to be selected for Create at Brown Thomas last year and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I hope to involved again but that remains to be seen. Fingers crossed.
The Irish Fashion Innovation Awards are fantastic, what makes them great the word Innovation it means helps to keep the industry moving forward having that word associated with Irish Design even if you’re not part of it, you are thinking ok am I innovating in my field. It shows that its innovation isn’t all about tech or medical devices in Ireland it can be in fashion and everyday design just making things better, more beautiful, more relevant, more conscious, more daring and exciting.
I also got great support from Southwest Mayo Development Company in the beginning that basically allowed me to buy my loom without this my business would not be doing anything yet.
I am sure that it is hard to choose, but what has been your proudest moment to date?
Believe it or not it’s not a difficult choice. My proudest moment was stepping into showcase in 2016 as part of Creative Island and Launching Wild Cocoon. I had worked for three years at that point to get there. I have sacrificed so much is other parts of my life and as a result my partner has also made sacrifices, so to walk in and set up the stand and to get such a great reaction to year one was absolutely exhilarating and terrifying and very emotional. (I cried a lot). There were a lot of people involved in getting Wild Cocoon to that point and after that it was up to me to not let them down. It’s still up it me so exciting.
Your business has been going from strength to strength and you are even stocked in international stockists! Is there something that you wish you were told before your started this journey?
You can’t do everything! When you have your own business in any field, you have to be CEO, Designer, Maker, Admin, Book Keeper (), Marketer, PR, Photographer, Web Builder, and so much more. If I was starting again I would invest in a good accountant from the start no matter what the personal financial cost. It haunted me for years until I did it. You can afford to learn on the job with everything else not with the costings and tax. If you get that wrong you’re a busy fool.
What does the future hold for Wild Cocoon?
Oh, who knows for sure? I have plans in motion for something that I’m excited about right now but its top secret. I’d need a self-destructing piece of paper to write it down. Lol 🙂
I hope to continue to grow my stockist list and grow my online sales through the Wild Cocoon website while also working on scaling up the business in time. I have a new stockist in the autumn that I am very happy about but that will be announced later in the year.
I just want to grow the business in a sustainable way and I mean that in terms of both work life balance and environmentally. I think both of these things are very important going into the future with Wild Cocoon. At the moment I am enjoying everything about the business (except bookkeeping)! It’s fantastic to be able to be in charge of your own destiny!
A massive thank you to Deirdre for doing the interview, I am a massive fan of Wild Cocoon and the beautiful creations that they make. One of their blankets would make the most stunning housewarming gift or as I may be doing… hinting for a cowl from my other half 🙂 You can check out their online store here and I would highly recommend checking out their website. You can also follow along with them on their journey on Facebook and Instagram. I am really looking forward to seeing her work on the catwalk!
Images kindly provided by Deirdre for use.