Caroline Mitchell is an amazing Irish Knitwear designer based in the heart of Limerick. She also designs and manufactures within Ireland. Her pieces are works of art and I love that knitwear can be made so unexpectedly modern through innovative patterns. Caroline graduated from Limerick School of Art & Design and has also worked with the likes of Carlo Bellini, Kellerman, and Loretta Bloom. She then went on to start own label in 1996 and her label has gone from strength to strength and she now creates bespoke pieces as well as bridal wear and ready to wear creations.
What is your first memory of fashion?
My mum worked years ago for designer Irene Gilbert in Dublin years ago so had me sewing, knitting and crocheting by the age of five – there were always fashion magazines around the house and clothes being made.
Do you remember the first piece/item that you designed?
The first piece I designed would probably have been for a doll, and later for Barbie’s… But when I was 10 I had a design printed in the ‘fashion corner’ of ‘Debbie’ comic and won a pound!!! I still have that somewhere (the picture not the pound which was probably spent on chocolate!)
Where do you get your inspiration for your pieces?
Inspiration comes from all sorts of things, at the moment I’ve been working on my spring summer inspired by old Limerick Lace patterns, and the clothes of the ladies of the period ( late 1800s, early 1900s) I the past I’ve used Celtic, Egyptian, 1920s, then I look at the trends for the season and try to merge the two.
Knitwear is one of my favourite fabrics to wear as I love that you can wear a more modern cut piece and people are surprised that it is actually knitwear! What lead you to work with this fabric?
After college I worked in London for a while but actually returned home with the intention of starting my own label. I sort of fell into a job with a knitwear company in Co. Kildare and got hooked! I love that I can create my own fabric as well as then designing the garment it goes into.
I imagine that day-to-day, your schedule differs hugely. Is there one particular element of your work or schedule that you enjoy most?
I love sitting sewing on beads – chopping a hole out of a piece and connecting it back together with some beads or crochet
I imagine it’s rather difficult to choose… but is there a moment in your career which you’re most proud of?
I’m thrilled to have been nominated for best designer in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in a couple of weeks’ time – it was a lovely surprise to be nominated so I’m really proud of that – otherwise there have been lots of moments over the years too numerous …
Since you have been in the design business since 1996, how do you think that the industry has changed?
The industry has changed hugely since I started up – Ireland used to be full of small (and larger) clothing companies manufacturing here. Gerry Ryan used to say on the radio show that we used to make our own things, but now the government gets big companies to move in and put things in boxes for them. (Something like that) A lot of clothing companies moved to Eastern Europe because the wages here got too high to be competitive. I had to downsize from having 12 employees because I just couldn’t afford to produce here. Retailers cut back on ‘made in Ireland’ as it was too expensive. I think it is changing back a little bit now after the recession and the customer appreciates that something is made here…
I think that awards like the Fashion Innovation Awards are so important for up and coming designers as well as established designers and this year you are also nominated for an award. What would winning this mean to you?
Winning would be fabulous obviously as the exposure alone has already been brilliant – I’m not generally a competitive person, but there is certainly a buzz from it and creatively it has given me a chance to be a bit more adventurous in my designs. Something like this will always give a business a boost which is even better after a tough few years of recession.
In the digital climate that we now live in, how important do you think that it is to be on social media platforms? I am sure that it can add additional pressures – so the real question is – are the ‘likes’ worth it?
I was doubtful about social media when it first became popular but now I think it’s great!!! I’ve had the business on Facebook for a few years but now have it on Instagram and Twitter and it makes it so easy for customers to find me, and easy access to new designs after fashion shows etc. It is difficult to find the time sometimes but well worth it!
If you could refocus the conversation regarding fashion in 2016, what would you put on the agenda?
The focus regarding fashion in 2016 is already changing, thanks to bodies like CIFD (council of Irish Fashion Designers) and DCCOI (design and crafts council of Ireland) in the last year or so they have done a huge amount of work promoting Irish designers (‘create’ with Brown Thomas for example) I think retailers, and customers are coming around again to supporting Irish design which is brilliant.
As a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design, do you think that people should go to college before they think about ‘being a designer’?
I don’t think you necessarily have to go to college, although it certainly is a good platform to start from – It does bug me sometimes when ‘celebrities’ suddenly become ‘designers’ but at the same time I love what, for instance, Victoria Beckham has done…
Is there any advice that you would give anyone who is thinking of being a fashion designer (something that they don’t warn you of!)?
The only advice I usually give is ‘marry well’!!!!! But that is tongue in cheek! I think a good business course is always very important – When I started up, and for the first few years the advice was always – ‘don’t take too much of a wage, put the money back into the business so it will grow’ – I’d tell anyone to always try to pay yourself a decent wage if you can as you need some reward – and chocolate.
Caroline is also nominated as Fashion Designer of the Year in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards next week in the Radisson. If you would like more information on the Awards or how to buy tickets, you can read more here.
A big thank you to Caroline for interviewing with Floralesque. Her pieces are beautiful so we are delighted to be able to feature her. You can check out her designers on her website, Instagram or on her Facebook page. We also wish her the very best of luck in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards in Galway next week!
If you enjoyed this interview in the ‘Floralesque Meets’ Series, then you can click here to read more exciting interviews with designers, creators, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs and more – enjoy meeting the makers!
All images kindly provided by Caroline and the photographer was Paul Cooley.