Sister pact: siblings who work together

What happens when you take an already intense, complicated and close relationship and add business into the equation? Sisters talk about getting on in life and in business


Corina and Naomi Gaffey
Fashion stylist Corina and her older sister, Naomi, a freelance photographer, collaborate on editorials for magazines.

Corina: Naomi and I both worked independently as stylist and photographer before teaming up. I landed a job in Stellar magazine as fashion editor, and we were looking for more photographers. Naomi’s name was put forward, the editor loved the results and we haven’t looked back. We still work together regularly.

It’s definitely harder working with a sibling – you tend to be less patient. I know exactly what makes Naomi tick or winds her up, so sometimes we need to be a little bit careful about how we speak to one another. Luckily we don’t hold grudges and move on really fast if we don’t see eye to eye. Naomi is really the rational and calm one and doesn’t let a lot faze her, so that inspires me. She pushes me to be better.

A bonus is that it’s really nice to have someone who understands your job exactly, so we can help each other out. I’m all on for working together and also dividing and conquering too. It makes our relationship and work stronger.

Our mother loves the fact that we work together. We just wish our brother was a make-up artist or hair stylist so we could really be the Gaffey Gang of fashion.

Naomi: The best part about working with my sister is trust. I know Corina will deliver, so working together is never a gamble. The worst part is having creative differences. Someone has to give in, or you don’t get anywhere.

We’ve had minor disagreements but nothing catastrophic, or that has ever compromised the end result.

There is a totally different dynamic when you work with a family member. There have been plenty of instances when tension mounts and you feel like you are about to lose your composure, or your mind. I call it creative tension, and it’s not necessarily a negative thing. It means that we are both incredibly passionate.

Our dad passed away when we were barely teenagers, but I’m sure he would have been really proud of us. He was really interested in photography and sketching; I think that’s where we get some of our creativity from.

I can see us collaborating on more projects in the future and I can see us diversifying. At this stage we’ve other skills that we can offer to clients independently of each other.


Andrea and Michelle Horan
Andrea and Michelle run Tropical Popical nail bar on South William Street, which they opened after travelling the world together for almost a year.

Michelle: We’d been in America for a few months and were getting our nails done a lot. Andrea decided that a cool nail bar was just what Dublin was missing. We wanted somewhere you could get your nails done without having to commit to a paraffin wax mani while listening to whale noises in the background.

We’d been travelling for 11 months together, so when we got back to Ireland and the perfect location was found, we opened Tropical Popical. Because I had a background as hairdresser, it seemed natural that I’d run the nail bar, while Andrea works on the brand.

We always got on quite well and spending 11 months in each other’s constant company certainly means you get used to somebody. A sister is probably the only person you can have tense moments with but they’ll be forgotten about five minutes later. We’re opposites in personality, so when she starts to lose the run of herself, I’m the one that brings her back to reality. It’s great knowing there is no hard feelings after a tiff.

The only bad part? Never being able to go on holiday together.

Andrea: We talk to each other several times a day now, and that definitely wouldn’t happen otherwise as Michelle’s not much of a talker naturally. I’m careful to ensure that we both have enough space within our professional relationship, as otherwise it could be quite suffocating. Michelle has her bits to look after and I have mine.

Without a shadow of a doubt, I think a sister is the best person to both travel and work with as it’s easier to get past the inevitable stormy moments without it being a big deal. I love seeing so much of each other; before all of this we had very different lifestyles.

I always thought Michelle had so much more potential and was capable of more than she gave herself credit for, so doing this together has brought her out of her shell and made her much more confident in herself, which makes me really happy. But we have professional disagreements all the time, over decor, stock, ideas ... I lose the run of myself and Michelle tells me to get a grip.


Sarah, Jennie and Grace McGinn
The three McGinn sisters recently launched fashion website

Sarah: We have quite a motivated, entrepreneurial family. We used to have these long chats where we would discuss what businesses we might do together in the future. At the time it seemed a bit pie in the sky, but the real kick off was when we decided to launch a fashion blog together back in 2009 – What Will I Wear Today. From there we worked together part-time for three years until we realised that we worked quite well together and wanted to do more.

Our family has been extremely supportive of what we do, but they were also very clear that if we felt that working together so intensely would compromise our relationship as sisters, it was not worth doing. But we’ve just devised our five-year plan, so I guess we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future.

Jennie: We are a very tight family – we have lived, travelled and socialised together over the years. We have to manage the specific dynamics of a “big” family (there are eight of us in total) together – lots of birthdays, graduations, weddings, partners, milestones.

Then when you throw the relentless demands of a start-up on top of that, you have to be very conscientious about how you separate work life from family life.

Our mother has been extremely encouraging from the outset – she has always championed the creativity of her daughters and is a constant source of inspiration and motivation.

Our father comes from an entrepreneurial background, so was delighted to see his offspring follow suit. Although I’m not sure he fully understands why we’re trying to make online shopping easier for women.

Grace: While there is a common goal and understanding, we naturally have different views, styles and ideas. What’s important is how you manage and communicate those differences of opinion. We didn’t get that right at the start, but we put a lot of time into our working relationship by spending time reviewing our individual roles in the business and how we communicate with each other.

When it’s family working together, it can be quite hard to acknowledge the progress you’re making and we had to learn to really celebrate the worthwhile moments.

I’m the youngest, but we’re all equal in the business. Age has never really been an issue; what’s more apparent is the different abilities and experiences we each bring to the table. I like to think that what I lack in years I make up for in inches.


Tracy and Anne Tucker
Tracy and Anne operate the luxury boutique Costume in Dublin.

Anne: I had moved to the UK to work for the Spanish clothing chain Mango. After a couple of years, I realised I didn’t want to stay in London long term, so to be able to move back and join the family business was great for me.

My mum Billie set the shop up with Tracy in 1997 in the heart of Dublin.

Our sister Leigh used to work with us as well, but now she designs a children’s clothing range, Willow, for Dunnes Stores. One of the benefits of working together is that Tracy and I both have kids, and they are our priority, so if there is an issue with any of them and we can’t be in work, that’s never a problem. The worst part is that Tracy brings baked goods into work a lot, and makes me eat them.

Our relationship is not intense really; there are five kids in our family so we have two siblings between us to dilute the intensity. We come from parents who worked together and in the same business as us, so I think we had already developed a good work/family relationship before we started. We don’t know our family any other way.

Tracy: A couple of years after opening Costume with my mother, Anne came home from London after working in fashion retail and joined us. Our mum still comes in a couple of days a week, at the end of the day she is the boss. But being the eldest, I guess I can be bossy without realising it.

Anne and I have a very close relationship both in work and at home, but we do our best to keep the two separate. The best part is that we are totally on the same page about most things and we laugh off our differences.

We have lots of disagreements – I will love something and she will hate it, and vice versa, but that’s what makes Costume succeed. But we never fall out over them. It’s invaluable having a sister as a partner, she will always tell me the truth, and we both know that no matter what, family comes first.


Karen and Natalie Keane
Karen and Natalie are chocolatiers and run Bean and Goose in Co Wexford

Karen: In the past, I worked in IT and human resources, but by 2013 I was ready for a change. I wanted to be based back in my home in Wexford and felt ready to take on a bigger challenge. I had reached an age where I no longer feared failure.

At this time Natalie was working in a chocolate shop in Kinsale and had become interested in the chocolate industry. She spotted a gap in the market for chocolate that could sit with the new modern, creative Irish brands that were emerging, such as 3FE and Arun Bakery.

So, Bean and Goose was born. We have always loved chocolate – the first thing we’d do with our pocket money was run to the shop. I’d buy a Mars Bar, Natalie a Star Bar. Our tastes have evolved since then, but the chocolate of the 1970s would be the root of our passion for it. We never get sick of it.

We are very close, the first two of five siblings, and there are only three years between us. We’ve a strong bond and are friends as well as sisters. Our skills complement each other; we let each other be boss over certain areas. Anything IT based I will do, whereas Natalie has a very good eye for design.

Natalie: In the beginning, we booked ourselves on a chocolate making course in Kenmare with Benoit Lorge and we were hooked. Then the hard work began, months of learning new skills and creating the beginning of Bean and Goose. Being sisters meant that we could learn in a more relaxed manner, and it was great knowing we were on the journey together.

So far, our business has been entirely self-funded. Our sales cover the day-to-day running of our business. However, this is something that we will be working on this year, as we definitely need to scale up our business to meet demand, which we are really excited about.

This is the first time we have worked together in a professional capacity and it can be intense. We both take turns pulling rank; we both can be bossy and opinionated. I think the other one knows when to let it go, or when things are getting too tetchy. This is our second year and we have the challenge of sustaining and growing Bean and Goose. There is nothing better than to be able to turn to each other and know that the other is thinking the same – “Wow, this is really happening.”