A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Supporting our home-grown heroes

From bed linen to pottery to perfume, small Irish companies value the quality of their products above all else

Deirdre Noonan of the Cloth Shop: “We have grown the business by encouraging people to invest in clothes and interiors that will last, to counteract the disposable attitude of fast fashion.”

Deirdre Noonan of the Cloth Shop: “We have grown the business by encouraging people to invest in clothes and interiors that will last, to counteract the disposable attitude of fast fashion.”

 

Irish people are great at supporting home-grown heroes and in business there are plenty of those. One of them, despite only opening to the public last May, is Powerscourt Distillery and Visitor Centre. The Enniskerry attraction already employs 26 people and has won awards as a tourism experience.

The visitor centre offers a unique local food and whiskey pairing experience, which in turn helps support local artisan produce including Wicklow cheese, honey and bread.

Sweet treats include Irish-made biscuits, chocolates and locally baked cakes. Don’t miss the Fercullen Fruit Cake and Fercullen Whisky Ice Cream, both of which are soaked in the good stuff. If you’re looking to experience a ‘place on a plate’, it’s the place to go.

The star of the show is of course the whiskey. Fercullen 18-Year-old Single Malt was launched in November 2019 and has already achieved a gold medal in the 2020 World Whiskies awards.

In doing, so it joins other award-winning, premium Irish whiskeys such as Fercullen 10-Year-Old Single Grain Whiskey, Fercullen Premium Blend Irish Whiskey and Fercullen 14-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskey, all perfect accompaniments to good night out.

If a good night for you means a good night’s sleep, then check out White & Green, a family-run online bed linen company. It only sells 100 per cent organic and Fair trade bed clothes. “We have built our business on the basis of providing bed linen that is of beautiful quality but at an affordable price,” says Rebecca Winckworth, who runs it with mother Sari and sister Danielle.

Sari is an interior designer who has spent three decades designing beautiful bedrooms. “It was her idea to set up the company because she couldn’t find a trustworthy brand of bed linen that was going to last a lifetime the way bed linen used to. She found it very dispiriting to be in malls going through shelf after shelf of designer bed linen not knowing which ones she could trust. Very often they might present themselves as organic but not the kind of quality she was looking for,” says Winckworth.

Organic bed linen

White & Green specialises in simple, classic, organic bed linen that is quality-made. “The shopping experience is easy peasy, just go to our website, and you can get next-day delivery for free, all across Europe. Basically, we are the go-to brand for bed linen that is super soft and easy to wash and iron.”

That last is crucial. “Too often you buy something which looks pretty or has fancy packaging and you wash it once and it’s never the same again, or it can’t be ironed properly. Ours is easy to wash and easy to iron.” It’s also generously fitted, so no more wrestling with the corners of your mattress.

The company also does a roaring trade in organic silk pillows. “These are designed to sit under your top pillow, and at night you simply swap them around,” says Winckworth.

“The huge advantage of them is that they don’t give you fuzzy hair or pillow wrinkles.”

An 18ct gold Mosaic gold ring with sapphires, €1,950, from AMOC Jewellery.
An 18ct gold Mosaic gold ring with sapphires, €1,950, from AMOC Jewellery.

Those with an eye for quality jewellery will already know about Greystones, CoWicklow-based Mette O’Connor, in whose AMOC studio you can see her and her goldsmiths handcrafting her interesting and beautiful designs.

“They are very organic, simple shapes, a little bit quirky but also very timeless,” says O’Connor.

She takes her inspiration from all sorts of places and events. Her Mosaic range, for example, was inspired by looking out of the window on a flight to the UK at the patchwork of fields below.

O’Connor only works to her own designs. “It’s not high-street stuff, because I don’t enjoy that.”

She has built up a large and loyal clientele, some of whom will ask for her “reimaginings” service, whereby existing gold jewellery is melted down and refashioned into something more contemporary.

It’s particularly popular if someone has inherited something that has enormous sentimental value, “but which they don’t actually like”. The transformation allows them to pour all those memories into the new piece, in a way that’s more private for the wearer.

Nicholas Mosse pottery: “We wanted to create a new range of spongeware for the new generation who have such an appreciation of the skills that craft entails.”
Nicholas Mosse pottery: “We wanted to create a new range of spongeware for the new generation who have such an appreciation of the skills that craft entails.”

Nicholas Mosse pottery

Nothing says Irish-made more clearly than Nicholas Mosse pottery, Susan Mosse, the botanical artist who co-founded it with her husband says: “If you’re off living in Australia, there’s nothing more homey than a Nicholas Mosse mug.”

Many of us grew up with the iconic spongeware patterns and in recent years these have been extended to meet the tastes of younger buyers too. “We wanted to create a new range of spongeware for the new generation who have such an appreciation of the skills that craft entails.”

Collectors will be relieved to know the newer ranges complement the existing ones perfectly but take a more intense approach to colour and have a more contemporary feel. “We added minimalist but complex colours. Our newer plates can have literally thousands of dots, which take so much time to do.”

The new range has brought a whole new generation to the brand. “When we started out all those years ago, it often felt like no one knew about pottery. With the understanding that younger people have, I’m starting to have faith that this heritage won’t disappear,” says Susan.

Harvey Norman stocks a range of Guaranteed Irish sofas.
Harvey Norman stocks a range of Guaranteed Irish sofas.

Seek out Guaranteed Irish goods

One of the best ways to support Irish businesses is to seek out the Guaranteed Irish logo when you’re shopping. Furniture specialist Harvey Norman stocks a huge range of Guaranteed Irish goods. By choosing them, you are supporting Irish jobs, and getting some super stylish homewares into the bargain.

All its Guaranteed Irish sofas and chairs are locally made, designed and constructed for comfort and style. Harvey Norman has several such collections including the Roxy, the Dixie, the Oasis and the Studio.

Carefully crafted from head to toe and made up with only the finest fillings, its Guaranteed Irish mattresses come in sleep surfaces from wool and latex to gel and memory foam to give choice on support, structure and more. Its Sleep Studio Pillow collection is a full-on “bed for your head”, which uses breakthrough Irish innovation to measure the gap between your head and shoulder, to find the perfect pillow size for you.

Women of the Westbury Mall

Having a passion for your material separates the great retailers from the good. Deirdre Noonan and her daughter Sinead Martin are literally passionate about material.

Their store, The Cloth Shop, in Dublin’s Westbury Mall, has fast become a place of pilgrimage for all who value the shirt on their back, and the dress.

It is, says Noonan, the antithesis of fast fashion. The former camerawoman gave up her life in movies when searching for good fabrics for her daughter, then a fashion design student in Limerick, provided a eureka moment. There simply wasn’t anywhere to go to source quality fabrics.

They opened The Cloth Shop in Limerick in 2010 and three years later moved it to Dublin, originally behind Mercer’s Hospital. In December, they moved to their new premises, a beautiful store in the Westbury Mall.

Its beautiful Irish wool, linen and lace are all made locally. Its linen is GOTS (global organic textile standard)-certified, its wool from one of Ireland’s last remaining traditional full service mills, its lace is embroidered onto 100 per cent natural cotton tulle, using a traditional Limerick lace-making technique.

“We have grown the business by encouraging people to invest in clothes and interiors that will last, to counteract the disposable attitude of fast fashion – and people have responded to that,” says Noonan.

The store stocks a broad range of goods, from a 50 cent thimble to €350-a-metre fabric, and everything in between, which is why its clientele is so mixed.

“Last week, we were full of men looking for practical haberdashery fabrics for mending bike covers and bags, which we sell a lot of. We also sell to people who make their own clothes and to invest in their homes, and not just follow interiors trends with a new look every year.”

The pair has a list of dressmakers and tailors they recommend for people who want tailored clothing, from suits to dresses. Many of their clientele travel a lot for work and are keen to have a wardrobe of quality clothing such as dresses made of silk chiffon they can pull out of a suitcase and literally “iron with their hand, throw it on and look great”, Noonan says.

It sells a lot of English suiting too. If there is an international conference in town, she can be sure a number of visitors from overseas will come in to source quality fabrics to take home and have suits made up in countries where tailoring is top-notch and inexpensive, but quality fabrics scarce.

Very many will visit nearby store Parfumarija too, unable to resist the gorgeous scents emanating from this fragrance lover’s niche perfume boutique, home for rare scents in Dublin.

It was founded by Marija Aslimoska, a former nurse who decided instead to follow her life’s dream and train up as a perfumier. She’d grown up obsessed with perfume, she explains, and spent her spare time seeking out and studying scents .

When a patient in her 90s told her that, if she had her life to live again, she would “do everything differently”, it had a profound effect on her. “Her words haunted me,” says Aslimoska, who promptly gave up nursing to pursue her true vocation, and now has her own laboratory in Ranelagh for blending scents.

To those who knew her, it was inevitable. All of her previous boyfriends had given her copies of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. “I have three hardback copies, all with different inscriptions.” But it was the one who went on to become her husband that encouraged her to follow her nose.

She opened her Westbury Mall business in October 2013 and has since cultivated a devoted customer base.

“Previously, when you went out and other people knew what perfume you were wearing that made you happy, now they don’t want people to know. When my customers go into a room no one knows what perfume they are wearing – but everyone wants it.”

Much of her work is about consultancy. Staff will find out a little about your likes and dislikes when it comes to a perfume and what you want from it. They’ll come up with a range of four or five candidates, and leave you choose. Then they’ll send you off to think about it. “It’s not a hard sell, it’s a very liberal attitude and it works because what I want is not people’s money, it’s their love.”

Find a perfume you love and you’ll stick with it. You won’t find department store perfumes here, however. It is reserved for the creations of artisans and ateliers which she travels to source.

One of her current favourites is Swiss perfumer Andy Tauer, but the quality of the ingredients used by all her suppliers is out of this world.

“Blockbuster” commercial perfumes don’t appeal to her at all. Nor is she interested in perfumes as a brand extension.

What she does want is to wear the work of dedicated perfumers, people who have devoted their lives to scent, just as she has.