Fashion sector calls for State support

Generation of fashion designers ‘who can stand side by side with the best in the world’ want to stay and produce in Ireland

 At the Irish Fashion Summit in Farmleigh were (from left): Eddie Shanahan, chairman CIFD; Patrick McHugh, photographer and web developer; Shelly Corkery, fashion director Brown Thomas; Elke Timmerman, Mode & Design Brussels;  and designer Heidi Higgins. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

At the Irish Fashion Summit in Farmleigh were (from left): Eddie Shanahan, chairman CIFD; Patrick McHugh, photographer and web developer; Shelly Corkery, fashion director Brown Thomas; Elke Timmerman, Mode & Design Brussels; and designer Heidi Higgins. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Government agencies should do more to help Irish fashion designers argued Gorey-based designer Blaithin Ennis at the first Irish Fashion Summit held in Farmleigh at the weekend.

“So many Irish designers had to leave Ireland to set up in business”, she said, citing successful names like Orla Kiely, Philip Treacy and Simone Rocha and the continuing flow of Irish fashion graduates abroad.

Hosted by the CIFD (the Council of Irish Fashion Designers) as part of ID2015, the event, opened by Tánaiste Joan Burton, brought together nearly 200 industry professionals along with college heads from NCAD, LSAD and local technology institutes in the first such gathering of its kind in the country.

Speakers included Cathal Keaveney of Peter Mark, who described the founding of a business which now employs over 1,500; designer Heidi Higgins, who summarised the difficulties setting up her fashion label in Portlaoise; and Shelly Corkery womenswear director of Brown Thomas, who explained how Create began as a small project with young Irish designers five years ago and has now become second only to Christmas as the store’s biggest annual promotion.

Alexandra Pisco, director of Maisons de Mode in Lille, outlined how in 2007 the region launched an ambitious programme to promote and develop new fashion labels in tandem with urban renewal which has since become an international success story and a blueprint for replication elsewhere.

Maisons de Mode works with 22-30 chosen brands, supporting them with studios at reduced rents, technical and business coaching and other services. It now has 445 points of sale in 20 countries all over the world.

“We are waking up to the loss of [manufacturing] skills in Ireland” said CIFD chairman Edmund Shanahan in his closing address. “We are also waking up to our heritage and exporting more fashion graduates than fashion collections.

“A new generation of fashion designers who can stand side by side with the best in the world want to stay and produce in Ireland. We have the final chance to save the skills and production facilities that can help them and regenerate dozens of jobs in the industry.”