Dublin; the 5th fashion capital of the world?

By Heather O Sullivan

An insight into making a living in the merciless Irish fashion community.

The first thing that springs to mind when anyone mentions working in fashion is the ruthless, unfeeling attitude of Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ as she commands her employees to break their backs, sabotage their personal lives, and attend to her impossible requests. The reality of the Irish fashion industry is the opposite of this idea; it’s filled with young creatives uplifting each other and making a community for themselves in Dublin. Every week there are markets where designers sell their clothes. Thousands of Irish sellers can be found on second-hand clothing apps. Students are graduating college every year with degrees in fashion design. So why is the Irish fashion industry a struggling one?

Georgia Kinane, Co-owner of GNE Vintage, is a young entrepreneur who recently made the leap into the Dublin fashion scene. She was inspired to start her clothing business by her mother who owns an antique shop. “She’s always brought home crazy, weird things. Dresses mainly. As a kid I would always have wedding dresses in my house and I would be putting them on. She has a love for vintage herself, with a full established shop, not like me,” Kinane laughed to herself. 

The vintage shop originally began as an account on Depop, an app describing themselves as a fashion marketplace “where you can see what your friends and the people you’re inspired by are liking, buying, and selling.” Kinane spoke about how much simpler, quicker and more casual it was to run the business then, completely through the app on her phone. Since making the transition into selling at markets and pop ups, GNE Vintage has claimed its place in the fashion community. “[Starting out] I didn’t really get much help from anyone. Through doing pop ups, you get to know more people who have vintage shops, and they kind of help you out then, when you know them. But before that no, not really.” 

Two of the biggest barriers vintage shops in Dublin face; getting stock and rent in the city. According to Kinane “Ireland has no vintage, you have to get it abroad.” This in turn comes with shipping expenses and import duties, courtesy of Brexit. These import charges can raise the price of one pair of Nike runners from £279 to £293.30 due to duty of 2.2% and Irish VAT (23%), among other examples found on moneyguideireland.com. It may not seem like a drastic extra charge in this case, but imagine the extra cost on a 25kg bale of vintage fleeces being shipped from a wholesaler in the UK. 

With the help of her multimedia degree, Kinane expressed to me how much she would love to be able to make a living out of running GNE Vintage, but she’s unsure how realistic this is. “It’s really hard in Ireland to have a stationed shop and it be successful, and without doing anything online. Think of Temple Bar, how many vintage shops have you seen come and go because the rent is so high? I think the rent is the main thing, it’s hard to start, to get enough money for the rent for the shop and the stock, and your own rent.”

When researching the price for businesses to rent in Dublin compared to other countries, there was a drastic difference in price. In Stockholm rent would be on average $3500 a month, which is $42000 a year, whereas a premise at 13 Parliament Street in Temple Bar, where Fish Shack used to be located, is currently being rented for roughly €12,290 a month, which is €147,500 a year. 

Sarah Rudaru is an Irish designer who became quite successful with her brand ‘Rud’ in the past year, from only selling on Depop, to stocking her knitwear in stores such as The Design House and Urban Outfitters. Every item of clothing she sells is entirely handmade by herself, which perfectly captures the dedication necessary to be a success in the industry.

 “I didn’t think people want handmade clothes anymore, because Shein is so popular and they can buy everything for so cheap now. At the start I was really going back and forth on whether I should sell, would I be embarrassing myself if I try sell because people have such easy access to knitwear [on fast fashion websites]? I had no faith at the start and when I started selling and selling I was getting so excited, and it was a complete shock.”

Radaru said the Irish fashion community is the most friendly and welcoming community she has ever come in contact with. It was the owner of Deadstock Vintage, the shop that is currently renting out The Design House, who reached out to Rudaru and asked if she wanted to sell her knitwear in their store. “She’s so nice, so welcoming. She sells her own things and she doesn’t feel that there’s a competition, she wants me to sell with her. Another designer, Ditsy Bits, she’s always promoting my things, I promote her things. It’s insane how supportive and welcoming everyone is.”

Although Rudaru sees Rud as her primary source of income, she has a part-time job as a waitress and can’t afford to focus on it full time until after she has graduated. “After I finish college, that’s when I’m going to go full force deep into Rud. I’d like to expand the brand somehow, because so far it has so much potential that I don’t see why I wouldn’t try to make some kind of living from it.” When asked if she thought it was even possible for designers in Ireland to make a living off their brand, she enthusiastically spoke about another Irish designer; Rashid. “She sells to the most famous people, Doja Cat, Ariana Grande, Vanessa Hudgens, I can’t even name anymore because there’s so many! She has made it, she’s getting to the point where she’ll never have to think about working a nine-to-five office job ever again,” said Rudaru. 

“The types of designs that Irish Designers have are so different. I don’t know anyone who sells things like me, or who sells things like Rashid, or who sells things like Ditsy Bits. We all have different ideas we want to share to the world, and I feel like slowly someday we’ll all be able to show that to everyone.” 

However, not everyone has a huge amount of sympathy for these struggling creatives. I spoke to a few Trinity students about the recent introduction of the weekly basic income of €350 to support Irish artists. A few medicine students felt that this is “unfair to people who spend a lot of time and money studying to be able to have a career, and afford to live in Ireland.” They said that they thought “artists can try to succeed in the business, but it should be treated like any other business, where the owner has to work their way up by earning a profit and then expanding, not just getting money handed to them from the government.” 

Between the extreme decline of concert ticket sales, podcasts becoming advertisements for brands, photography being overshadowed by video, and designers having to pay ridiculous rent and import duties, the arts industry in Ireland is facing the most barriers to success in history. But young artists and seasoned artists alike aren’t losing hope. They’re doing everything in their power to adapt and overcome these barriers, and continue believing that Ireland will see the value of its artists.


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