Theo + George: a Dublin fashion label investing in your future
For US-born designer Katie O’Riordan, care and sustainability matters. Here she selects five pieces from her collection to tell the story behind the brand
Katie O'Riordan: “Theo and George are my two granddads. They are so close to me and, along with my dad, taught me everything I know about business and how to be a good business person.”
The feeling of having a new piece of clothing that is beautifully made and makes you look incredible can be transformative. Then, imagine this heavenly piece of clothing is even more special because it was made in a sustainable way and is fully recyclable.
Philadelphia native, Katie O’Riordan founded Dublin-based clothing company Theo + George in 2013 to give exactly that; clothes of exceptional quality produced in an entirely environmentally friendly way that make you light up when you wear them. Care and sustainability is at the core of the company ethos; from the way the fabrics are sourced to how to recycle the packaging it arrives in.
“That is kind of where Theo + George came from, it was about doing things right and setting the foundation at the beginning of the brand. We are really lucky, we work with four different manufacturers and they are all completely open and transparent with us. We know how much they pay their workers, we know what their process looks like," she says.
“Theo and George are my two granddads. They are so close to me and, along with my dad, taught me everything I know about business and how to be a good business person.”
O’Riordan believes that investing in a small number of higher quality items, made in fair conditions, will save you money in the long run. Her clothes are crafted, comfortable, adaptable but also washable, durable and built to last. She believes in responsible clothing.
(Interview continues below)
SIGNATURE LOOK: Five key pieces from Theo + George
Ella crew neck cashmere sweater
I love the softness and the quality of the cashmere in this sweater. It is the perfect piece to wear in winter. We worked very hard so that you can actually wash the jumper in the washing machine if it’s inside a pillow case so you don’t have to go to the dry cleaners. It is one of my favourite pieces and it comes in grey and black.
Shop the Ella crew neck cashmere sweater now
Payton French terry dress
For me, this is the most versatile piece in the collection. You can dress it up or dress it down and it’s really comfortable. It is a thumbhole design so it mixes sportswear in with a dressier look. You can add heels and a bomber jacket to make it perfect for a night out.
Shop the Payton french terry dress now
Emma long sleeve Breton stripe top
It is the weight of this that I love. You see Breton stripe tops a lot but ours is almost a sweater weight and great for the weather here. It’s a timeless piece that everyone should have in their wardrobe and you can wear it with anything.
Shop the Emma long sleeve Breton stripe top now
Lisa bomber jacket
This is our metallic bomber and perfect for this time of year for getting dressed up and going to Christmas parties. You can wear it in so many different ways. It is definitely a piece I notice that people get excited about when they put it on. They tend to light up. It’s quilted on the inside so quite warm and the perfect day to night jacket.
Shop the Lisa bomber jacket now
Jude oversized crew neck coat
This is a really clean design and very versatile. It’s a timeless piece. The fabric on this is unbelievably soft and it is completely satin lined. It is gorgeous.
Shop the Jude oversized crew neck coat now
“In Ireland alone nearly a quarter of a million tonnes of clothing go into landfill every year. Fast fashion has its place and I understand it, but the reality is it’s not sustainable for the environment and we do actually need to make a change. I think naturally, I started being really cautious about what I was buying (before I started the company). I would save up and invest in pieces and the feeling that you get when you wear really nice clothes and didn’t just buy it on a whim and really wanted it; you feel amazing in those clothes. It is for so many different reasons other than just the quality. There is a connection and emotion surrounding the purchase.”
Values are at the heart of O’Riordan’s clothing brand and how her company is run. The name of the company itself is rooted in the pride she has for her family background and their approach to business.
I love soft fabrics. When I’m designing a collection I go back to the factories with the fabric all the time saying “no, it’s not soft enough
One example of the care that O’Riordan, a mother of two, takes with her clothing is their cashmere.
“For our cashmere, our factory is completely vertical so they can trace back the yarns to the goats that they come from. They work directly with the herdsmen. They are paying a premium to get the long yarns so that our jumpers will hold up to being washed, being worn because if you get short yarn cashmere it will literally fall apart. So you can get cheap cashmere but that’s what you are sacrificing; you won’t get longevity. For us, it’s about being able to buy quality clothes that will last a lifetime.”
There is an obvious joy O’Riordan gets from the design and the feel of beautifully-made clothing.
“I love soft fabrics. When I’m designing a collection I go back to the factories with the fabric all the time saying “no, it’s not soft enough.” Until I really get that emotional connection to it , I just can’t settle. I think there is a bit of the perfectionist in me that pushes to do better to give people that feeling that it is a really special piece.”
Theo + George sells online only to ensure luxury at an affordable price. They also have occasional pop up shops throughout the country.
O’Riordan took an unusual path to becoming a designer, but design was threaded through all her career moves that led to setting up the business.
“I wanted to go to fashion school but dad, as an engineer, said “there’s no way you are going to get a fashion degree,” so instead I got a physics degree and an economics degree and then graduated right after September 11th so the market in the US was crazy. I then decided to go back to school and do architecture because I love design. I worked for an architecture firm for a year.”
After the architecture firm she went on to manage the outerwear department for a leading multinational sportswear company in America before she met a Limerick man, now her husband, and ended up moving to Ireland “for love” in 2011. She continued to work for the US company for two years managing products for Europe and Russia.
O’Riordan made the shortlist for the IDI Universal Design Award in 2015 and was awarded the title of 2017 IFIA Fashion Designer of the Year. She has collaborated with Paul Smith, L.A.M.B., and Disney. She was also part of the design team that produced the US Snowboard team uniforms for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The couple now have two daughters, Isabelle and Zara. “After I had my first child the travelling was pretty intense (with the sportswear company) so I decided to settle down and start Theo + George.”
“We sell pretty much wholesale prices to the public. We also offer “try before you buy” to our customers in Ireland which is free shipping and free return and we don’t charge your credit card until you decide what you want to keep.”
One of her favourite aspects of her work is seeing how her clothes can make others feel.
“When you put something on and it just makes you feel good, or you see somebody else put on a piece of your clothing and they light up and get that same feeling, I think that’s pretty amazing. They glow. It is that emotional connection that drives me in this business and what I love about it.”
Theo + George believe in the ease of buying less and choosing well. Our clothes are adaptive and they work together. We make exceptionally crafted comfortable clothes to help you look good, feel good and focus on the things in life that matter. Our design process keeps textile and social responsibility in mind every step of the way so that our customers don’t have to. The end result is beautifully designed, crafted, comfortable clothes that are washable, durable and built to last.
For more, see theoandgeorge.com