After a decade in sales Cairenn decided to pack it all in and follow the creative path she had always longed for. Stocked in Brown Thomas, her first collection achieved a 100% sell through. Here she explains the ethics behind her eponymous brand and the passion that has made the leap of faith worthwhile.
What time do you usually get up and how do you start your day?
At the moment I am 36 weeks pregnant so I’m trying to get into my home office for 7.30/8am as I find I work best now in the mornings. No one day is the same so I try and structure my week ahead and then have a to do list the night before each day.
Take us on a quick jaunt through your career to date…
When I left school I knew I wanted to do something creative but wasn’t quiet sure what exactly that would look like. My parents encouraged me to do a broad degree, so I ended up studying a degree in European Business and Languages, after which I worked for Microsoft, eircom and eBay in business development and Enterprise Account management roles. After over a decade of working in sales and having two children in quick succession I decided to leave the corporate world to follow a more fulfilling creative path that I had always longed to follow.
My first step was enrolling in a short coarse in the Grafton Academy to study Fashion Design, after which I had my first samples made in March 2016 and showed my first collection of samples in May 2016 to retailers. By September 2016 I had secured Avoca as a stockist and some boutiques. I launched online on the 1.2.17 and I have grown the bricks and mortar presence of the business by 217% since launching.
Quality and ethical production is always at the forefront of my brand
What is your professional non-negotiable?
Quality for me is non negotiable – price is always a factor that comes up time and time again when showing a collection, but I have always stuck to my principles and only used natural breathable fabrics, these fabrics are considerably more expensive than buying manmade fabrics like nylon or poly cotton. My daughter and myself suffer from eczema so I have only ever wanted to work with natural breathable fabrics that allow your skin to breathe.
I also only work with a small group of trained seamstresses. These two components are non negotiable for me personally and both increase my costing sheets.
For me my focus is working with the finest fabrics and ensuring I am bringing affordable luxury to the market that has been made in an ethical manner. Creating a business for me was never just about margins. I care deeply about using the finest quality fabrics which range from cottons, silks, cashmere and embroidery anglaise trimmings to working with women who have honed their skills over decades. When I have been pressed on price I remind people one or both of above would need to be diminished if we were to cut prices, and if you decide to take that route I personally feel its a race to the bottom. Quality and ethical production is always at the forefront of my brand.
How do you motivate yourself on days when your energy levels are lower?
Whilst not pregnant..I try and force myself to go for a jog, I really find that helps enormously with your energy levels and mood. Having said that sometimes you have to accept what your body is telling you and just roll with it. I have had plenty of set backs and disappointing results and some I’ve bounced back from easier than others. When your tired sometimes you just have to listen to your body and have a bath, light the fire, order and takeaway and stick on Netflix. We are all only human and we have peaks and troughs of when we are really in our stride and other times when we just need to rest a little more. Rest is the key to balance…don’t beat yourself up if all of your to do list didn’t get done today, tomorrow is a new day.
Anytime I’ve ignored my gut its inevitably led me to making a bad business decision.
As an entrepreneur how do you deal with success and failure?
I have a tendency to focus on my to do list and what needs to get done so if I’ve a set back or a small win sometimes your moving at such a pace that you don’t have time to dwell on the positives or negatives because your onto the next challenge. I’ve learnt to try and celebrate the small wins, and really listen to my gut in business. Anytime I’ve ignored my gut its inevitably led me to making a bad business decision.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor, but would love one.The closest thing I have had the privilege of being part of was being accepted by the DCCOI, that in turn led to a year long support group if you will, where we had classes and training on certain subjects from experts in their respective fields. It was great to be accepted and as a group we all came from different industries but all essentially designers and creators, we all keep in touch and its great if you have a query or quick question to be able to throw it out to the team on whats app and see what their thoughts are.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field?
I would say try and gain as much experience as you can before setting out on your own . If feasible keep your 9-5 paid job and start your ‘new business idea’ in your spare time. We all have dreams and aspirations but we also need to ensure we can make a living from something before diving into it. This does come at a cost, your evenings are gone, as are your weekends. It is a huge sacrifice to undertake but if your serious about pursuing something then it shouldn’t feel like such a chore. When I started my business I had left the corporate world, and my full time job was being mum to a 2 and 1 year old. I did not have any childcare or support so trying to find free time in the evenings and weekends was even more difficult and came at a great sacrifice to any time I would have spent with my husband, friends or sleeping as it were.
Was there a key turning point in your career that you can attribute to your success?
Being stocked in Avoca and Brown Thomas was a huge milestone. Avoca decided to stock my brand before I had even officially launched and BT stocked our A/W 2017 collection in all of their stores; we finished the season with a 100% sell through rate.Thats means not a single dress was left in any of the Brown Thomas stores, that was an unbelievable achievement and one I am extremely proud of.
What’s the next career priority for you?
On the success of our previous seasons I have had Avoca ask me to design an exclusive range for them for S/S 2018.This will launch in store from February. We are in talks with more retailers further a field in the UK and Middle East as potential stockists and in terms of our collections/designs we are expanding into communion wear and flower girl dresses, so its set to be a very exciting and busy 2018.
See Cairenn’s latest collections at cairennfoy.com