Thrills and skills


GREEN THINKING:Some stylish entrepreneurs and activists tell SARAH GERAGHTYabout trying to make a difference

Oskar Saville-Doyle Milk & Cookies

A strong conviction that children should be able to develop their own sense of style – “every kid is different, like every snowflake is different” – combined with a practical desire to locate ethically sourced clothes for her children Aiko and Sammy, the kind that could be washed “1,000 times” and passed down through generations, is what drove yummy rock chick mummy Oskar Saville-Doyle to set up Milk Cookies in the Westbury Mall.

As a “very tiny” child of 1970s New York, Saville-Doyle was influenced by the waste- and litter-prevention campaigns sweeping the country, but also by her mother, who encouraged the 10-year-old to spend a little extra money on higher-quality clothes that would stand the test of time.

Saville-Doyle grew up with the mantra that “cheap is dear” and says: “It’s time to stop wasting money and clothes and start consuming for the right reasons. Start thinking about what we are buying and stop wasting €10 on a shirt just because it’s only €10. It’s just not worth it.”

Her guilty secret?Air travel, and the luxury of long showers when abroad. “I like to just sit in the hot shower because you just can’t do that in Ireland. I’m always like, ‘just 20 more minutes’.”

Oscar wearscircle scarf by Aaron Murphy (€35) from the Loft Market

Aiko (3) wearsQuincy Skirt (€82); and Finger in the Nose black hoodie (€57)

Sami (18 months)wears Decaf Plush polka-dot dress (€69); and striped polo (€42); all from Milk Cookies

Michelle Darmody Cake Café

Michelle Darmody was brought up eating local produce, home-grown vegetables and her mother’s baking in a family that “always kept a compost heap and recycled glass”, so it was a natural leap for her to create a similar environment in the Daintree Building’s Cake Café. “I suppose myself and Paul [Barnes] had the same vision and outlook, so when the space became available in the building it made sense.” The Daintree Building uses rainwater to flush the toilets, and has walls insulated with sheep’s wool, while deliveries from the cafe are all made on bicycles. “[Studying] art also influenced the way I live and my own style. Being a poor student almost forces your creative side – you tend then to make own stuff. At the same time, I always have a look at the January sales and car-boot sales.”

Her guilty secret?“I love travelling, especially to India, so flying would be the hardest thing to give up. But otherwise I don’t have a huge environmental footprint. I cycle everywhere, although you have to be brave in Dublin and wear a helmet.”

Michelle wearsvintage cardigan from the Dublin Flea Market; recycled glass necklaces (€20 each) from World Design

Kate Nolan and Rosie O’Reilly Re-dress

After stints in the fashion industry, Kate Nolan (on left) and Rosie O’Reilly, along with Kellie Dalton, founded Re-dress as a way of working with consumers, educators and the industry to work towards changing consumer patterns and making fashion more ethical and sustainable.

Nolan was a high-street buyer who had witnessed child labour, and subsequently set up her own ethical label, Fable, using organic and fairtrade cotton.

O’Reilly’s degree in sociology and philosophy gave her an understanding of consumerism and sustainability for their designs.

Both strongly believe that it’s high time to open up a conversation with Irish consumers who are “disconnected from the whole industry” but are also showing a growing interest “in re-skilling and re-engaging with the entire design process”.

Current “fast” consumption patterns in addition to a dearth of traditional skills, such as sewing and knitting, prompted the Re-dress team to set up Fashion Evolution, an awareness campaign intended to focus on ethical and environmental issues in the Irish and international fashion industries.

Echoing Vivienne Westwood’s assertion in her manifesto that “scarcity breeds creativity”, both women agree that now, more than ever, is the time to act: to up-skill, return to creativity, and, crucially, to rethink our spending habits.

Guilty secrets?Air travel and taking baths

Kate wearsEilis dress by Heidi Higgins (€295) and grey Seal cardigan with detailed cuffs (€299) by Lisa Shawgi from the Loft Market; safety pin bracelets (€9 each) from World Design in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, Dublin

Rosie wearsTweed jumpsuit by Sinead Doyle Design (€240) from the Loft Market, also in Powerscourt; Sisal and sterling silver necklace (€98) from World Design

Davie Philip Cultivate Centre

A course in anthropology at NUI Maynooth drew straight-talking Davie Philip’s attention to what he describes as the “great de-skilling” that has occurred over 40 years of modernisation, and banished many of the skills our grandparents took for granted, such as growing food and building. Philip insists he is not an environmentalist, and is simply looking for a fair and sustainable society that works. “If we are going to cope with global change, a new way of doing things is becoming very necessary. The world is asleep and time is running out. A collapsed economy is nothing compared to what could happen if we don’t rethink how we do almost everything.”

His vision of a sustainable community, or “ecovillage”, is reflected in Cultivate’s development in Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary. Philip considers it vital to rethink community and active citizenship at a local level because at the moment, he reckons, “we are getting our community hit from Neighboursand EastEnders”.

Guilty secret?“My girlfriend lives in Italy so I fly there every couple of months to see her.”

Davie wears black organic polo shirt (€24) from Topman

Kaethe Burt-O’Dea Healthcare researcher and activist

Having worked as a nurse, organic farmer and fashion consultant over the years, US-born Kaethe Burt-O’Dea now carries out healthcare design research, and a whole lot more, in her neighbourhood in Dublin 7. A strong believer in the idea that living spaces and social interactions have a significant impact on our health, Burt-O’Dea moved to Dublin from Co Clare, where she lived for 30 years, and did a master’s degree in advanced environmental and energy studies. In 2005, she founded the Sitric Compost Community Garden in Stoneybatter, transforming a tiny derelict patch of grass into a thriving communal space that hosts two parties a year. “Being part of a social group is as important for your health as not smoking,” she says.

Her personal style is vested in one-off clothes that she “dearly loves”. One much-worn coat was made by a woman she knows “who used bits of fabric from a skip. I would much prefer to pay the person who makes the clothes directly rather than pay for the mark-up as well. In the same way we have throwaway fashion, now we have throwaway friendships and a breakdown of social groupings.”

Her guilty secret?“I have to fly back to New York four times a year to visit my parents, but I think I make up for it by growing my own food at the end of the street.”

Kaethe wearsPetria Lenehan coat (€480) from Dolls; recycled telephone wire bracelet (€15) and Maasi necklace (€49) from World Design; and Edun organic Peace sweater (€175)

Alison Lowndes Daintree Paper Shop

Almost 30 years on, the sewing machine bought by Alison Lowndes’s mother soon after Alison was born is still going strong and has inspired in her a life-long love of art and fashion. Characterising herself as a “hoarder” and conscious of waste, she “collects and keeps scraps of material and paper” and always does “something” with them. “I don’t throw anything away. My friends even give me their old stuff instead of throwing it away.”

Unsurprisingly, she customises clothes bought in Penneys and second-hand shops, and for the past three years has been collecting old furniture, with an emphasis on the 1950s, from skips and charity shops to restore and sell or keep for herself: “I get a thrill from looking at and admiring the finished product.”

Working in Daintree for the past four years has been “a real eye-opener in terms of thinking about everything you throw out, and this has influenced how all the staff here live their lives and spend their days. A major part of what we do is recycling, and there is a huge awareness of paper and food waste.”

Her guilty secret?“I spend too long in the shower but, then again, I don’t drive, so I walk, cycle and take the bus everywhere.”

Alison wearsself-customised dress bag; Ostrich eggshell necklace (€75) from World Design; Edun organic Branches sweater (€219)

Kellie Dalton Re-dress

Kellie Dalton has a stylish mother and a grandmother with a keen interest in alternative therapies and food. However, the pivotal moment in her career came while she worked with designer Katherine Hamnett in London for her PhD thesis, Fashion Evolution: A Revolution of Consciousness.

“I was always interested in fashion but I was also always aware of global issues, so the more information I got, the more I felt I couldn’t not act on it,” she says. Work on “interesting and meaningful” projects – such as a cotton project proposal for the UN – persuaded Dalton that Hamnett had it right; she was effecting ethical, sustainable change through business, and promoting the idea of a collaborative effort, an ethos now permeating high-end fashion. Chanel’s 2010 spring show featured an ecological theme, while Vivienne Westwood and Danish label Noir are pursuing similar lines. “Change comes from the bottom up and top down, so hopefully it can meet consumers somewhere in the middle,” she says.

For clothes, she’s a fan of Circus Store, and other stockists of hand-made products, and small, independent designers as well as swap shops and vintage shops.

Her guilty secret?“My car upsets me so I try to cut out short journeys but my boyfriend bought me a new bike for my birthday and it’s my saving grace for my driving sins.”

Kellie wearsHenrik Vibskov Pali dress (€345) from Circus Store

Kellie Dalton will present her thesis, Fashion Evolution: A Revolution of Consciousness, on November 11 from 7-9pm at a venue to be confirmed.

Kevin Brazil and Harry Hutchinson Cheesemongers

Describing themselves as “foodies” and “aesthetic people” who love fashion but “aren‘t at all into mass-produced anything”, Kevin Brazil (on left) and Harry Hutchinson have found the perfect working environment. In Fallon Byrne, the two promote organic, sustainable and local produce while working on the store’s extensively stocked cheese-counter. “I‘ve always had a passion for food so while I was studying English in Trinity I found a part-time job in Fallon & Byrne,” says Brazil. “I agreed with their whole ethos so now I work there full-time.”

“I worked in the restaurant and being a waiter was very important in terms of finding that customers choose what food suited them,” says Hutchinson. “I wanted to specialise so I went for cheese because it’s an exciting time in terms of new farmers and organic and artisan produce.” For clothes they both tend to seek out small, independent designers, citing Henrik Vibskob and Julian Red. “I don’t see the point of a €5 T-shirt made in a sweatshop,” says Brazil. One of Hutchinson’s favourite items is a T-shirt he found in a squat in Barcelona.

Their guilty secrets?“Air travel. I don’t compost enough and I feel really bad about using the dryer,” says Brazil. “I throw wine bottles in the bin sometimes,” says Hutchinson.

Brazil wearsorganic long-sleeve tee (€22); California fleece big sweatshirt (€52) from American Apparel

Hutchinson wearsMade For You By Arms Meeting shirt (€110) and Julian Red organic denims (€140) from Circus Store; ribbed long-sleeve T-shirt (€34) and purple scarf (€18) from American Apparel

Jimi Shields and Maria Vlahos ThirtyThreeTrees

“Chasing the divine” is how husband-and-wife team Jimi and Maria describe their level of ambition as partners in their highly regarded architecture and garden-design practice ThirtyThreeTrees. “We often find a divine or very spiritual quality about certain spaces and gardens.”

After meeting in the US, the couple came to Ireland together when Ohio-born Maria was offered the head-gardener position at Mount Usher gardens in Ashford, Co Wicklow. When a friend suggested they design a garden together, they realised they had a bone fide business partnership that had “grown organically”. Both agree they are “obsessives” in terms of style: “When people come to our home they will see the same level of detail here as we use on the job.” With a young family, they have made a lifestyle choice to live in the city and be near everything so they and their children can walk and cycle. Professionally, they have been “pushing the green” more and more in every project.

Her guilty secret?“Air travel. It happens quite often since Maria’s family live in Greece and we still have ties in NYC.”

Jimmy wearsNavy shirt (€57) from American Apparel

Maria wearsGhulam Sakina dress (€48) from Dolls

  • Styling And Co-ordination Aisling Farinella
  • Photography: Alan Betson