When mother-of-three Anna Dobson’s marriage ended in 2013, it sparked a chain of events that led to a new beginning by setting up her own business in 2017.
“I think separation pushed me to realise that I needed to do something for me and the boys,” explains Anna (40), who is the designer behind Love Mo Chuisle, producing high-quality, handmade Irish tweed coats, clothes and accessories for men, women and children.
Originally from Avoca in Co Wicklow – which has a long tradition of weaving – it is perhaps not surprising that Anna was drawn towards a degree in fashion and textiles after leaving school, going on to work for Dunnes Stores and Brands Incorporated in the UK (owned by billionaire businessman Mike Ashley), where she was involved in designing everything from home to ladieswear.
After getting married, however, Anna relocated to Donegal, where she continued to freelance for companies like Heatons from home while raising sons Rhys (now 10), Sonny (eight) and Archie (six). But following her separation in 2013, she decided to move back home to Co Wicklow with the boys in 2015 to be closer to her parents and work opportunities.
Indeed, she soon got a job managing a fashion house in Dublin – but the daily commute quickly took its toll.
“The traffic, three small kids – it just wasn’t working,” she explains. “The nine-to-five ended up being a six-to-eight.”
Made with love
At the back of her mind, Anna had always dreamed of starting her own business producing high-quality children’s wear from traditional tweed, having made clothes for her own boys when she could not find what she was looking for on the high street.
“I have friends with girls and they’d go shopping and get gorgeous pieces, but I’d go shopping for the boys and there’s one little section of boys’ clothing and nothing, just printed logo t-shirts and nothing of any quality,” she explains.
“In my sitting room, I always had a straight stitch (sewing machine) and an over-locker, so I brought them from Donegal with me and I made up a pattern cutting table out of MDF –and that’s how it started.”
While her initial collection featured waistcoats and bow ties inspired by her boys, soon friends were asking if she could make pieces for their children and themselves. And starting with just a few metres of tweed sourced from McNutt of Donegal, Love Mo Chuisle was born in 2017.
“My plan was to take on one shop a month, to repeat orders, build it up – so that worked well for me,” says Anna.
Spanning a palette of mustards, bright blues, raspberries and autumn green plaid, alongside traditional grey and navy herringbone tweeds, the Love Mo Chuisle collection features matching waistcoats, ties and bow-ties for boys and men, coats, capes and dresses for girls, and ladies’ fitted box pleat coats and dresses, with prices starting at €14.95 for the children’s accessories and ranging right up to €359 for the ladies’ coats.
Given the fact that every piece is handmade with Irish tweed, it’s fair to say that many of the items are at a higher price than everyday wear in an era of fast fashion, eg €169 for a girl’s coat.
That said, Anna explains that Irish customers will still splash out for a special occasion, while the range has proved incredibly popular with the tourist market, with stockists including Shannon Airport Duty Free, Kilkenny Design Centre and The Design Loft at Powerscourt Estate.
“Because it’s made in Ireland, I think they want to bring back a part of where they’ve been and that really works well for me,” she explains.
Importance of networking
Of course, designing is just one part of the business, and Anna acknowledges the huge support she’s received from her local enterprise board, which helped her to develop her business plan and provided grant support towards her website, marketing and the purchase of new machinery, such as a steam press.
She is also a member of Network Ireland Wicklow – recently winning the local women in business award in the arts category – is supported by World Trade Centre Dublin, and was also accepted onto the ACORNS 4 programme for rural female entrepreneurs, backed by the Department of Agriculture. Such networking has proved vital for the growth of the fledgling business – particularly when it comes to finding stockists – and Anna would advise anybody starting a business to avail of all the support services on their doorstep, even if it does seem daunting to put yourself out there in the beginning.
“It’s like having a baby and going to one of the mother and toddler groups. You’re on your own with this baby, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know anybody there, but you have to get out, you have to meet people, and I think business is the same,” says Anna.
“I could sit at home all year in the studio and cut and sew, but it’s not going to get me business, it’s not going to put my name out there. I think meeting people who are in business and who have opportunities as well is definitely a good thing and you’ll always get something positive from everything that you do.”
Indeed, Anna is being supported by Network Ireland to attend Showcase (Ireland’s Creative Expo) at the RDS this January, where she is hoping to connect with more Irish stockists, as well as target stores abroad; particularly since receiving her “Guaranteed Irish” stamp of approval.
Future plans include opening up her own shop and studio in Avoca village and taking on staff, having already contracted two women for sewing – though Anna continues to do all the cutting and sizing on the garments.
Naturally, running a business while raising a young family requires a lot of juggling, while going through a separation has also had its challenges; especially due to the lengthy legal process in Ireland. Yet Anna feels she has emerged stronger as a result.
“When you separate first, I think there’s a really big fear,” she explains.
“I know for me anyway, what I went through was more around my kids: ‘Oh my God, I’m separated, my children have a broken family, how do I make sure it’s not going to affect them in any way?’ And I think what I went through during the first year or two was more around the kids and how I was going to cope with them going forward.
“And once I got to the stage where I knew I was strong enough and I knew I could do it… I knew it doesn’t matter what I’m in, as long as they’re ok and I’m good. If we’re happy, it’s good and the kids, they’re great kids, they’re happy.”
And as she faces into an exciting 2019 with Love Mo Chuisle, Anna is sure of one thing.
“I’m a lot stronger than I ever was,” she says simply.
For further information, visit https://lovemochuisle.com/
Showcase – Ireland’s International Creative Expo is one of the country’s largest international trade shows. The annual event is attended by over 5,000 buyers from Ireland and more than 20 countries around the world, generating sales orders of up to €20m over the four days of the show. Showcase is a partnership between the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and Showcase Ireland Events Ltd, with support from Enterprise Ireland. More than 450 Irish designers, manufacturers and craftspeople exhibit at the fair, including over 100 emerging Irish businesses supported by their Local Enterprise Offices. Showcase is for trade attendance only.
For further information visit www.showcaseireland.com and www.dccoi.ie