Traditional Irish Crafts are such a part of our country’s identity and I firmly believe that it is so important that we preserve them, but also actually use the crafts to produce products that people can purchase and enjoy. And it was while I was looking online for Irish Designers that both designed and made in Ireland that I found Ballyboy Designs.
When I first came across Siobhán’s work I was blown away. Her capes are show-stopping and completely Irish designed and made which just adds to their appeal. Her luxurious capes are made from a pure wool tweed and each with a stunning silk lining. The tweed itself is made in John Hanly’s mill beside the banks of the Nenagh River in Ballyartella, County Tipperary. The detail and quality in her pieces are second to none and I am beyond delighted to be featuring her today on Floralesque.
Can you please tell us a little about your path into fashion and design?
I have had a lifelong love of fashion, design and craft and in particular the work of Irish designers and craftspeople. In addition, I have always wanted to set up my own business. A few years ago I was searching for an Irish made cape for myself. I was very clear what I wanted, Irish tweed, luxurious lining, beautiful cut and finish and in the glorious colours of the Irish countryside. My search was fruitless and thus my love of Irish fashion and desire to start a business came together and BallyBoy Design was born. My first design was the Burren Cape, which has become our signature garment. It is made of the finest and lightest of Irish tweeds and is lined with pure silk.
The capes that you create are simply stunning and the vibrancy of the colours is so eye-catching. What drew you to have capes as central to the brand?
The cape, or brat as it was known back in the day, is an iconic Irish garment. As an Irish designer working in Ireland, specialising in handcrafted garments, which are made in Ireland using Irish materials, I have always felt that the traditional Irish cape, was a very romantic yet practical piece of clothing. It is elegant, stylish, timeless and very versatile; you can dress it up or down. I wanted to bring a modern interpretation to the Irish cape and the vibrant colours of my designs, reflecting the beautiful hues of the Irish countryside, are key to that.
What is your favourite material/textile to create with?
I love fine Irish tweed in jewel colours in about a 360-gram weight and I match it with shot silk linings in my range of cape, wrap and scarf designs which really makes the colour of the tweeds pop.
Are there any milliners or designers that you are inspired by?
I am a great believer in quality, timelessness and versatility so I love the classic wrap dresses from Diane Von Furstenberg, as well as signature pieces by Louise Kennedy and also Helen McAlinden for an effortless blend of classic style with a modern edge. I remember visiting the Philip Tracey exhibition in Collins Barracks back in 2005 and being blown away, each hat was a piece of art.
I love that you use Irish Tweed in your pieces, how important is it for your brand to use native textiles in your pieces? Is it more difficult than sourcing abroad?
It is very important to me that I use Irish textiles and also that my products are made in Ireland, that is the essence of what BallyBoy Design is all about. When you visit the textiles fairs such as Premier Vision in Paris or the London Textile Fair, which I go to in order to source my silks and to see what is going on internationally, the choice is overwhelming.
In Ireland, you have a limited number of tweed producing mills but what they lack in numbers they more than make-up in quality, support and flexibility which is very important when you are a small designer starting out. I currently work primarily with the John Hanly mill, which is based outside Nenagh in Co. Tipperary and they have been very helpful and supportive as BallyBoy Design has grown.
There are two amazing milliners working with the brand – Margaret O’Connor and Wendy Louise Knight. What drew you to their work?
I wanted to collaborate with milliners who liked what I was doing and bought into the whole concept of an Irish product, designed and made in Ireland using Irish fabrics. I wanted hats to complement my designs that had a bit of pizazz, were edgy and fun and beautifully finished. I particularly wanted to use felts, feathers and netting in the trim I am particularly fortunate to have found Wendy Louise because she absolutely gets that and is very close to my design base in Co. Longford which is a terrific bonus when we are meeting up for our design sessions.
Although I am sure it is hard to choose, what has been your brand highlight to date?
There have been a few I’m glad to say. If I have to pick one, I was approached by a bride to be last year who was having a winter wedding and was struggling to find something to wear over her beautiful but not very warm dress. She saw a piece on BallyBoy Design in the Irish Times and contacted me to make a private appointment to discuss options. She arrived into my workroom with her mother and sister.
They liked the designs so much they ended up ordering a Burren cape for the bride and three Clifden capes, (which button on the shoulder), for her three sisters who were her bridesmaids. When she sent me a thank you email with photos, while waiting to board her flight for her honeymoon, I was absolutely thrilled to hear that they were delighted with the capes and to see the photos. It was great to be part of someone’s big day.
Do you have any tips for those going into millinery/fashion that you wish someone had told you when you were starting?
Network as much as you can, keep an open mind and be prepared to learn from others. Understand the difference between good and poor quality and only work with people who ‘get’ your brand and fully support it. You also have to be careful that in your enthusiasm you don’t end up taking up every opportunity that turns up and
. You need to be selective and ask yourself, is this in line with my brand and what I want to achieve? It takes 3 to 5 years to get a business off the ground and cash flow is crucial so I cannot overemphasise the importance of an entry-level product to help maintain cash flow.
Where do you see the brand in 5 years?
Our plan is to be exported to the UK, US, Germany, France and Italy and have our own shop in Dublin.
And lastly a very important question…. Lyons or Barry’s tea? And favourite dipping biscuit?
Barry’s and a chocolate digestive at our daily 11am planning session!
A massive thank you to Siobhán for doing the interview, I loved learning more about the iconic brand and what the future will hopefully hold. If you are looking for that special gift for someone, or you would like to invest in a luxurious item that will last you many years then I would highly recommend that you check out the Ballyboy Designs website. They are also on Facebook and Instagram.
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 Siobhán for use.