Sisters’ scarves stocked in Brown Thomas and Avoca
Small Business Inside Track Q&A Keira and Dairine Kennedy, KDK Scarves
Keira (left) and Dairine Kennedy of KDK Scarves.
Keira Kennedy is one half of Dublin brand KDK Scarves – a position she shares with her sister Dairine. The business was established in 2012 and has quickly grown to be stocked in Brown Thomas, Avoca and several exclusive boutiques around the country. KDK digitally prints Irish-inspired images onto scarves that are made from luxurious fabrics such as cashmere, silk and silk blends.
What sets your business apart from the competition? The accessories market is very competitive but it’s also a big growth market because people can tap into the luxury market without spending a fortune. Our scarves are different to other products in the marketplace in that we use our own photos as designs and try to make something that is specifically Irish while also being stylish.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
My old boss in Leinster Rugby, Conor Hanratty, used to say: “Hard work never goes unrewarded.” There are times when you’re establishing a new business that you think you’re pushing uphill. You’re blindly doing a lot of work and you don’t really know what’s going to happen or you don’t get immediate rewards. I think if you really put your heart and soul into something, even though it mightn’t turn out exactly how you planned, you will see rewards.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business.
Underestimating how much administration work would be involved. We thought that design and production would be our greatest challenges but it has instead been the administration of the business.
And your major success?
Being stocked in Brown Thomas for the past four years and getting stocked in Avoca, another store with whom we are proud to be associated. We’ve just been announced as finalists in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards. To survive in any retail business you have to be selling the units. It doesn’t come down to being “nice that you’re Irish”; it comes down to whether the customers are buying your product or not. It’s very satisfying to see your scarves selling alongside brands such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Valentino.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
There are so many women in fashion that are admirable to us, such as Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney, but from an Irish perspective, Shelly Corkery in Brown Thomas is someone who has worked her way to the top of the tough business of luxury fashion. She has longevity, she has stayed relevant and has taken brave decisions with huge budgets.
On a personal level she was very supportive of us with the CREATE initiative, giving young designers the opportunity to gain experience of a department store environment.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
We started at a really difficult time economically so we didn’t even consider going to the bank looking for finance with a luxury product. We had saved money which we put in at the start. I think it made us more careful with our finances.
What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy?
Reduce the red tape for small businesses or to have a separate, simpler set of rules for companies that have less than a certain turnover. We find that adhering to all the rules and red tape really eats into time that could be spent growing the business.
The Irish Design 2015 initiative was brilliant for generating a huge buzz among designers. Through that initiative we also got funding to go to the Premier Classe accessories trade expo in Paris. It would be great if such really meaningful support for Irish design and fashion continued.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Taking the first step in actually launching the business. We had to learn a lot about the fashion and retail industries and about how the whole system works. It was one thing for me, in my previous role, to sell something like Leinster Rugby, quite another to sell our own product and ourselves.
How do you see the short-term future?
The aim is to expand our volume and to be stocked in department stores in Europe and the US. We are also looking at expanding our product range while still incorporating our digital printing techniques. We have investigated the possibility of making the product entirely in Ireland – we would love our product to say “Made in Ireland” if that was a possibility in the future.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I don’t know what it’s worth and we wouldn’t sell it. Well... unless someone like LVMH came along and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse!