A FORMER Rose of Tralee is betting on the appeal of fresh Irish design to help her succeed in business.
Seven years after taking the international festival’s crown in Kerry as London’s Rose, Charmaine Kenny has launched a new online business venture called TheIrishWorkshop.com.
She says travelling the globe as 2009’s Rose of Tralee, as well as time spent studying and volunteering internationally, has helped her build a worldwide network she can now introduce to talented Irish makers, designers and artists.
Charmaine has teamed up with London-based accountant Fearghal Mulvihill, who has previously worked with PwC and Deutsche Bank in Britain and New York, on the venture which features creative talent spanning the length of Ireland from Dingle, Co. Kerry to Portrush in Co. Antrim.
“We studied in Trinity College Dublin together and stayed in touch over the years, meeting each other at class reunions and friends’ weddings,” Charmaine said.
“Last year we were both working on nascent start-up ideas, and when discussing our ideas we found that there was an overlap so we started researching together and soon afterwards The Irish Workshop was born.”
Charmaine, who has an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in Silicon Valley and has previously worked in London with The Parthenon Group and Paddy Power, is currently curating collections to commemorate 1916 and celebrate St Patrick’s Day… but without the stereotypes.
“We’ve said goodbye to leprechauns and shillelaghs, and hello to artwork made from 1,000 year old bog, stylish knitwear made from 100 per cent lambswool, and limited edition pop-art of our nation’s favourite Tayto crisps and pints,” the Kildare native said.
“I think that people living in the UK will enjoy this fresh curation of the best of creative Ireland.”
Dublin-based jewellery designer Tracy Gilbert is just one talent that the fledgling company has signed up to work with.
“She was our first creative partner so we have a particular soft spot for her,” Charmaine said.
“As a Gaelgóir and someone who was educated through the Irish language, it is fitting that her jewellery range is inspired by Irish history heritage and mythology.
“One of her favourite ancient myths is that of The Children of Lir which has inspired one of her collections.
“Her meticulous attention to detail in her jewellery range is perhaps related to her career as an actuary.
“She is something of a double-agent,” Charmaine jokes.
“Tracy’s star is definitely on the rise as a jewellery designer in Ireland, and here’s hoping that we can help make her dream of becoming a full time jewellery designer come true.”
Forest green Aranknit Lynchmob hats with feathers hand-knitted by Cavan-based milliner Davina Lynch (“using giant knitting needles and oodles of talent”) and real Irish turf fire candles made in Belfast are expected to be top sellers in the coming months.
“We also expect that Tracy Gilbert’s Growing Home collection will be popular — it’s a clever but thoughtful collection of pendants, earrings and cufflinks depicts a tree with roots, but when you look at the tree you realise that it’s in the shape of the map of Ireland,” Charmaine adds.
The Irish Workshop has already signed up over 60 Irish creatives to sell art, jewellery, knitwear, fashion accessories and gifts.
“We not only want to give small, creative, independent Irish businesses access to the international market but we want to provide people across the globe with somewhere to buy authentic, Irish products directly from the people who make them,” Charmaine said.
Business partner Fearghal Mulvihill hopes their specially curated collections will also appeal on a deeper emotional level.
“We want the customer to feel like they are buying more than just a high quality, handmade product, that they are also learning its back story and connecting with the person who made it and in turn connecting with their country,” he said.
“Even though Ireland is a relatively short flight away it is still very common to feel lonely and isolated here.”