While they might run a slow fashion label together today, Meritta Gorman-Geoghegan and her eldest daughter Bridget joke that their working relationship was not always as smooth.
“I have letters that Bridget wrote to me from probably the age of nine about how she had unfair treatment,” exclaims Meritta.
“Labour rights,” laughs Bridget.
Today, however, they both bring their strengths (and sense of humour) to Mise Tusa: their sustainable clothing line, made with love in the west of Ireland.
Originally from Daingean, Co Offaly, Meritta has been making clothes since childhood. In fact, she made her first suit at just nine years of age.
“It was navy with white polka dots,” she smiles. “My grandmother was a dressmaker and I had to make it by hand because I wasn’t allowed to use the foot machine. But when I proved myself after two suits, I was allowed to progress to try and pedal my feet.”
After school, she did a PLC in fashion design in Portlaoise before moving to London, where she found a job in a design room in Camden, working her way up from junior sample cutter to pattern cutter/designer.
Five years later, however, she moved home, got married and was expecting Bridget when she bought the premises in Clarinbridge in Co Galway that was to become her first boutique, Áil Rúin.
“It was a derelict building,” she recalls, “and we had a small little bedsit upstairs and a design room and the shop was downstairs. A number of years later we built on an extension and I was buying in from all over the world.”
Like Meritta’s other children, Bridget “grew up on the shop floor” and showed her own entrepreneurial streak early on, selling homemade jewellery and cookies. Given the “labour rights” letters, it came as no surprise that she went on to study law after school. However, after graduation she followed in her mother’s footsteps by moving to London where she got a job at Selfridges, starting on the shop floor with Givenchy before moving into marketing in the beauty division.
“I learned so much there,” she says, but the arrival of COVID in March 2020 saw her return home.
“I came back for what was meant to be a weekend for St Patrick’s day,” says Bridget. “When I did my undergrad, I always had it in my mind that I’d like to do human rights law and go on to study that. So I thought this would be the year to do it.”
Starting Mise Tusa
Things were also changing for Meritta. About five years ago she had simplified what she was stocking in the shop and focused more on her own designs. She had also completed a post-grad in Trinity College in creative and cultural entrepreneurship, as well as training as a yoga teacher with Bridget.
It was this training that originally set them thinking about producing a yoga-inspired collection. This idea really grew legs as multiple lockdowns passed, leading to the launch of their mother-daughter slow fashion and lifestyle brand, Mise Tusa (which means “me” and “you” in Irish), in September 2021, with the support of their local enterprise board.
There are four parts to the collection: “Mise Tusa Imagine”, which Meritta describes as feminine and colourful; “Mise Tusa Create”, which is more contemporary; “Mise Tusa Movement” which is the yoga-inspired range; and “Mise Tusa Collaborate” where they work with like-minded designers and creators.
Each piece in the collection is designed by Meritta and made in her studio in Ardrahan, Co Galway, with the help of her staff, Siobhan Conneely and Tatjana Merzvinska. Fabrics are as local or sustainable as possible, for instance many of the wools and silks are woven in Ireland. They also utilise “luxury industry surplus”, ie leftover fabrics from factories that manufacture for top designers.
Many of the pieces are designed to be multi-functional, like the “Goddess” top that can be styled as a cardi, worn as a v-neck wrap top and even back to front. Indeed, Meritta says that she has made more of the “Warrior II” palazzo-style pants for clients going to weddings and events rather than those practicing yoga, which was the original intention.
It seems that post-COVID, comfort and versatility are key.
“I think people are becoming more aware also that the idea of buying something to wear once and then leave it in the wardrobe is not good for anyone,” says Bridget.
“People are more conscious now and if they buy something for a wedding they want to know they are going to be able to wear it in their day-to-day life as well, that they’re actually going to get value from it.”
While Meritta runs the design room, Bridget has developed the branding for Mise Tusa and leads the marketing, as well as managing social media and the website, which she built from scratch.
“I really wanted to capture the story because I’m so proud of the work that mom does and I want people to actually be able to see it and understand what we do,” she says.
Sustainability is a key message for Mise Tusa. As part of her master’s, Bridget did her thesis on the human rights impact of fast fashion. As well as “green-washing” (false marketing in relation to a brand’s sustainability and eco credentials), she says there are huge issues with to labour rights, with many of the big brands abdicating responsibility by sub-contracting their manufacturing.
“I’ve seen mom working, it’s such skilled work to make clothes and I don’t know how we could have gotten to a place in society in countries where people who do this highly skilled work aren’t being paid properly,” she says.
“There’s huge issues in it, whether it’s child labour or discrimination against women because it’s mainly women who work in these factories. It really opened my eyes to a lot of what is going on – and then you see on Instagram everybody is doing ‘hauls’… it’s just the whole consumer mentality.
“They don’t want to wear the same outfit twice in a photo.”
She acknowledges that not everybody could afford the pieces from Mise Tusa either but that when it comes to sustainability “it’s not about trying to be perfect”.
“It’s about making small changes where you can,” she says, explaining that applying concepts like the “30-wear rule” (ie if you buy something new, ask yourself will you get at least 30 wears out of it) as well as buying vintage/second-hand clothes or repairing or re-working what is already in your wardrobe all help in the fight against fast fashion.
There are challenges to growing a slow-fashion brand. For instance, Meritta says it is very difficult to find machinists in Ireland now and that enterprise board training or grant aid would be very helpful in this regard.
That said, Meritta and Bridget have big plans for Mise Tusa. As well as selling their collection in the shop in Clarinbridge and online, they are currently running a pop-up shop in Paris until the end of April at the Jardin Palais Royal, with Bridget basing herself there for the duration.
“Bridget is taking one for team, like,” jokes Meritta.
Before we wrap up our interview, Irish Country Living asks the mother and daughter team why they think they work so well together.
“I mean, she’s just fabulous,” says Bridget of her mother. “I find it hard to find the words.”
“Come on, dig deep Bridget,” laughs Meritta.
“She doesn’t use patterns,” Bridget continues. “She could look at you and put the fabric on the ground and cut something out. And her sense of humour. We get on and it’s very nice working together – it’s warm and open.”
“We get on really well,” agrees Meritta. “We can go anywhere – we can be in the small confined space of our camper van – and be very content because we just enjoy the same things.”
No danger of any more letters so?
“I’d say Mom’s like my best friend,” smiles Bridget. “We just get on.”
For further info, visit www.misetusa.ie