Stitch in time
KNITWEAR:Made by mostly retired Irish craftspeople, Lucy Clarke’s designs for children are clothes to be passed down, writes ROISIN INGLE
LUCY CLARKE FIRST had the idea for her unique range of handmade, Irish-designed clothes when she sat knitting up a storm while pregnant with her first child. Clarke, a musician who, as a 14-year-old, was the drummer in prolific Dublin schoolgirl punk band Chicks, took up knitting while pregnant and proved a natural with the needles. Almost immediately friends began commissioning her signature hand-knitted stripey legwarmers and hats.
“They seemed to really like what I was making. I had been looking for hand-made Irish-designed children’s clothes for my own baby to wear but they were really hard to source, so I thought I’d try to do it myself,” she says. Now mother to daughter Jo Jo (4) and son Hart (2), she and her husband Simon O’Connor are finally ready to launch the Si+Lu range, an exclusively online business aimed at parents looking for children’s clothes that will last.
The hand-knitted stripey jumpers, beautifully lined tweed coats, old-fashioned hats and ear-warmers are neatly laid out on their wooden kitchen table in their home in Rathmines, Dublin 6. They are the kind of creations you can’t resist picking up just to give them a stroke.
Simply designed, they evoke an almost mythical era when it was perfectly natural for Irish children to go about their business dressed in Donegal tweed, soft Irish linen and rare alpaca or fine merino wool. The clothes are made by mostly retired craftspeople across the country, a highly skilled yet under-used resource Clarke is delighted to tap into.
The whole family is involved. O’Connor, a composer and graphic designer, has been in charge of all the branding and building the website. Jo Jo is running around their garden modelling a cute linen dress, while Hart looks adorable in his merino safari jacket.
The clothes are about as far away as you can get from the cheap as chips chain-store gear rendered unwearable by one run through the washing machine.
“They are definitely clothes to be passed down,” says Clarke of the range, which has nothing to fear from the washing machine and starts from €12. The most expensive items are the handwoven tweed coats at €160.
“We know we can’t compete with high-street prices as each piece is individually crafted, but it was important to us that even though they are luxury goods they were still affordable.”
The couple tested demand by bringing early creations to markets around Dublin, where they were pleased to discover their range had instant appeal with parents. Unable to secure start-up funding, Clarke’s main support while starting the business came from Dublin City Enterprise Board’s mentoring programme. “It was a brilliant experience; I learnt so much.”
It’s been “a joy”, she says, working with more than 30 craftspeople around the country who in the past have worked for everyone from Blarney Woollen Mills to Lainey Keogh. Most of them are retired, their average age 70, with one knitter in her early 80s. Clarke sends the materials and patterns to the knitters, seamstresses and weavers and encourages them to make the clothes at their own pace. Each craftsperson gets 25-30 per cent of the garment price.