A wave of independent shops in Dublin
Irish duo Barbara Nolan and Jennie Flynn opened boutique shop Designist in a former pharmacy. (Barbara Flynn)
Few Irish eyes are smiling during the country’s brutal recession. Yet in Dublin, some artisans and clothing designers are seizing the downturn as an opportunity for rebirth.
Collapsing rents and surplus commercial space have enticed designers to open galleries and boutiques, while established entrepreneurs are applying lessons learnt during the past decade to become savvier and more innovative. According to the Dublin City Business Association, for every 100 euros spent in a multinational store, only 14 euros are returned to the local economy — compared to 45 euros for an Irish-owned shop. So a fresh wave of independent boutiques could revive the city’s prospects.
To find Dublin’s cutting-edge independent brands, you will need to look past Grafton Street, the city’s best-known commercial boulevard, which remains a hive of chain stores hawking international labels. Clued-in visitors turn to Dublin’s other shopping corridors, including Exchange Street, the canal front by Portobello Harbour and the blocks around the Irish Film Institute in the Temple Bar nightlife strip.
One shopping district in particular, full of refurbished Victorian and Georgian buildings, provides a one-stop shop for visitors looking for Irish-designed fashions, accessories and housewares. The so-called “Creative Quarter” is located two blocks west of Grafton Street, amid the cobblestone alleyways between Clarendon and South Great George's Streets east-to-west and between Lower Stephen’s and Wicklow Streets north-to-south. This area -- the city’s original 18th-century garment district -- goes by a few other nicknames, including Castle Market, Fashion Quarter and Soda (South of Dame Street Area). In the last few years, a wave of store closures, which claimed Road Records on Fade Street and the Doll Store on George's Street, is being countered by a wave of revitalisation, such as the Doll Store re-opening at Powerscourt Centre in response to community outcry this winter, and a collection of Irish designers unveiling retail ventures at Project 51. Walk into any shop in this district and you may catch the first of many Irish eyes smiling once again.
Launched in September 2011, Project 51 is a Georgian building refitted to house a mix of shops and studios for 16 Irish designers who specialise in crafting luxury clothing and accessories, such as bridalwear and jewellery, including the award-winning brooches of Irish designer Eily O'Connell. Led by Jennifer Rothwell and Eoin McDonnell, the collective makes the most of its space at 51 South William Street, where work is created at jeweller's benches and sewing machines on-site.
Last year, Ruth Ni Loinsigh moved Om Diva, her unabashedly feminine fashion and design emporium, into a Victorian building on Drury Street. The four-storey boutique and workshop space is a far cry from the tiny market stall that was Om Diva’s first home 13 years ago. Two storeys of the new venue showcase Ni Loinsigh’s vintage finds (bags, hats, skirts and scarves), most of which she customises to suit modern tastes. Also for sale are the baubles she finds during her frequent travels through Asia, such as a faux-turquoise stone and silver necklace. (Her visits to Asia inspired the store’s name.) The rest of the building houses Atelier 27, a retail space for about 30 novice designers and a sewing school. Ni Loinsigh mentors the fledgling artisans with frequent workshops, and supports them by taking a commission of sales instead of charging rent.
Opened in in 2007 by Irishman Garrett Pitcher, Indigo & Cloth is now one of the country’s leading independent clothing stores. Lodged in a subterranean shop on South William Street, it focuses on heritage Irish styles that are tweaked to ensure up-to-date functionality. For instance, a tweed jacket woven using traditional methods by Donegal-based Molloy & Sons also features pockets that are designed and shaped for stashing today's handheld electronics. Indigo & Cloth has a broad selection of clothes for men as well as women, unlike some of the more female-oriented stores in this part of town. Expect knowledgeable, unpretentious service and an exhaustive selection of jeans, with upwards of 30 denim brands at any given time.