Having worked in New York and Paris with leading design houses like Marc Jacobs, Aoife McNamara returned to her native Limerick to set up her own label; and hasn’t looked back since.
Now three years in business, with her own store in Adare as well as successful pop-ups at Kildare Village, the 27-year-old has made her name with her luxury but sustainable collections inspired by the natural world.
To reduce waste, Aoife operates a “made to order” model, meaning that clothes are only made when ordered to avoid overproduction. All garments are made in Ireland using fabrics including Irish linen and innovative materials like Secell, which is made from seaweed.
Q. What is one of your earliest fashion memories?
A. My mom used to have the most beautiful two-piece suits in every colour in her wardrobe: muted tones, over-sized shoulder pads and tailored waistlines. I remember thinking it was like a real-life Barbie wardrobe when I was very younger, maybe 10. Me and my sisters used to play dress up mixing all the textures and shapes together making our own fashion show.
Q. When did you first realise that you wanted to be a fashion designer?
A. My mom brought me to the LSAD [Limerick School of Art and Design] fashion show when I was in third year in school. I remember just being mesmerised that a human could make the clothes with their hands! Art was always my favourite subject and I always loved getting creative. But I think it was when my mom brought me to the fashion show that I was like, “Oh my God, this is exactly what I want to do”. And from there on, I set my head down and focused on getting into art college.
Q. As a student, you interned with Marc Jacobs in New York. What were the main lessons you learned there?
A. Learning to work in the fast pace! Certainly in college I would have been a lot slower. But also diving deeper into the research and development of the garment and focusing on the finished details, such as hand-stitching techniques. There was an army of people getting collections together, but I really saw the team coming together under pressure and I think that was a huge inspiration to me as well.
Q. You opened your flagship store in a thatched cottage in Adare in the middle of the pandemic. But did you ever have doubts over such a leap of faith?
A. I think one of my strengths is the ability to just go for things and not overthink them. I think that’s probably why I’ve probably gotten a bit further in my career; but obviously that’s a weakness as well in a lot of ways. But I think I’ve always been that kind of person who says, “Why don’t I just try it now?” I wouldn’t think of getting judged or if it didn’t work out. I’d be thinking, “This is an amazing opportunity for my business, this cottage is only on the market because of COVID and why don’t I just go for it?” They were the factors I was thinking of. It wasn’t really about failure. It was more so about the opportunity and that’s how I look at every opportunity. If it fails, so what? At least I tried it; and there’s nothing worse than regret if you don’t try new things.
Q. How important is sustainability to your brand?
A. Being a conscious designer is my why. It’s embodied in everything in my business as well as my life. We believe in “earth logic” not growth logic, ie we put the earth first, loyalty to planet before industry, business and economic growth. The new lens of earth logic is like a turn of the kaleidoscope, enabling us to see new patterns and configurations, new possibilities and pathways with a future of sustainability through design. For example, working with innovative materials like Seacell, which is a fibre originating from seaweed from the northern Atlantic, with antioxidant properties, certified by European laboratories. Using material with certifications allows us to know we are making the right decisions for our customers going forward with earth logic first.
We also look at the design, so the layout of the garment. How do we not create waste? And any waste that we are creating, we’re creating scrunchies or pillows out of it.
We also built our five-year roadmap with Davy [consultancy firm], looking at how can we use a renewable courier service, how can we look at 100% recycled packaging etc. It’s sort of breaking down every little detail of the business and figuring out how we can make that better.
I think I also have a role to play in educating my consumers around sustainability. We’re actually starting workshops on natural design and how to stitch a button if it falls off your top!
Q. What is your “hero” piece from your current collection?
A. I think it would be the “I dream of a future” dress. Firstly it’s 100% Irish made with Irish linen from Northern Ireland. But it also represents an idea of hope and I suppose I dream of a better future for our planet and for our environment.
Q. What advice would you give to a young designer starting out?
A. Never stop becoming a student! The moment you stop that and you lose your curiosity, for me, that’s quite scary. I never want to stop being a student.
Q. What designer do you admire?
A. Stella McCartney would definitely be my inspiration. She started doing sustainable design before anyone else. It wasn’t a thing. So, I think for me, it’s her drive to push innovation as well as pushing the boundaries in the fashion industry – unlike anyone before her in the sustainability sector.
Q. What is your top tip for looking after your clothes?
A. For me, it’s all about understanding the garment. What is it made from? What are the care instructions? You have to understand this before washing. I would also recommend getting a Cora ball for your washing machine. Every time we wash our clothes, they shed tiny, unseen microfibres, including plastic. They go down the drains, into our waterways, and are being found in our food and drink. That’s bad for the aquatic animals and bad for us. Using the Cora ball will help prevent this.
For further information, visit www.aoifemcnamara.com