Distilling beautiful places into woven scarves, bow ties and shawls

AIB Start-up Academy finalist: Brendan Joseph Madden, founder of Brendan Joseph

Brendan Joseph Madden: “I was looking at the way sun dances with water sitting on the edge of Belfast Lough one day. That is when I said I want to make this my product”

Brendan Joseph Madden: “I was looking at the way sun dances with water sitting on the edge of Belfast Lough one day. That is when I said I want to make this my product”

 

Having studied textiles at the National College of Art and Design, Brendan Joseph Madden always wanted to start his own business. Inspired by his grandfather and his own love of art, the idea of developing a range of wearable art pieces of scarfs and bow ties was formed.

“My artwork has always been about touch. My grandad was blind and he was also a basket weaver, which is incidental, he would see with his hands. All my art has been very tactile,” he said.

“I was looking at the way sun dances with water sitting on the edge of Belfast Lough one day. The way the sun shimmers very selectively and dances with certain waves at certain times – it never happens twice. That is when I said I want to make this my product, it’s something happening all over Ireland, this subtle beauty all the time.”

His unique approach to designing his own pieces and creating his own products means that he had all the research and tools to start production.

“I went over to London and enrolled in a cabinet-making course. They taught you how to take a tree and make furniture from it. I decided to work with ash because it’s a really strong hard wood. I built my own loom and designed it so I could carry it with me on the train and ferry back to Ireland.”

Madden started trading in early 2015 after spending two years developing a range of woven silk scarfs.

It was when he found out his wife was expecting a baby he was encouraged to put a business plan together and get the business off the ground. A display case of his products in the Dylan Hotel proved to him that he had an international market. Showcases in the Doyle Collection of hotels further added to building his brand.

Knowing that it was not sustainable to create his art on his own loom he then had to get in touch with Irish mills to enable the business to grow. This was something he found both a challenge and a rewarding exercise.

“You can’t go into a meeting with a mill with a laptop, you have to go in with your notebooks and your pages and show them.”

“Because I have autism, that’s actually a challenge, the good thing about having autism is it’s a challenge to interact with anyone.”

“I got it wrong with one mill, I think they thought I was a precocious upstart. With the next one, I realised I had to approach them and learn their language and how they talk.

“I spent about a year and a half learning how to speak about things to people in mills so that they would come on board and be willing to work with me. They don’t have to.”

Madden is available in the Irish market through his website as well as through Granny’s Bottom Drawer in Kinsale and the Irish Design Shop in Dublin. He plans to develop the range with neck ties, pocket squares and shawls.