A contemporary twist to Irish heritage: An interview with Aoife McNamara

 

Aoife McNamara brand

Written by Danielle Olavario

Aoife McNamara’s muse for her most recent collection was Jean O’Donoghue, a ballerina and personal friend, who at age 20 was diagnosed with anorexia. Now, six years later, she has won “one of the hardest mental battles I’ve ever fought.”

In honour of Jean’s resilience, Aoife designed a collection made up of classic ballerina silhouettes, but bolder: a sweet and elegant navy blue dress reminiscent of Dior, a bright pink skater dress that wouldn’t look out of place onstage, billowy tops with bow detailings in the brightest sky blue and hottest hot pink. The names of each garment are phrases taken from the Jean interview (‘Hold on to your glow’ skirt) or a ballet reference (‘relevé- to raise). The collection is a visual representation of the dance and of Jean’s story: underneath the romance and softness is elastic resilience and unwavering strength. 

Aoife McNamara Designer

Photo cred: AOIFE MC NAMARA 

The collection encapsulates the Aoife McNamara modus operandi: everything is about the story. “Bringing the customer on a journey is really what we try to do as a brand,” she tells me. “We’re storytellers, and that’s really what I try to do through our garments.” 


‘Not wanting to harm and not wanting to create waste’

Aoife graduated in 2018 with a degree in fashion from Limerick School of Art and Design, but her love for sustainability began long before that. Growing up in the Irish countryside and regularly doing activities like open water swimming and outdoor running, Aoife has a strong connection with the environment. “It all started with my love for nature and not wanting to harm and not wanting to create waste,” she says. “Throughout college, I really tried to push the boundaries on how I could help make a difference in a positive way in the fashion industry.”

 AOIFE MC NAMARA Blazer

Photo cred: AOIFE MC NAMARA 

Since then, the grind hasn’t stopped. With the brand being “a contemporary twist to Irish heritage,” her focus is on working locally. She now works closely with Irish wooller mills to create her materials, but she admits the journey hasn’t been easy. In Ireland, scaling a company is “close to impossible,” as there isn’t enough facilities for manufacturing like there is in Europe. “It takes ages to really figure out who the contacts are, where to get the materials,” she explains. “But it's something I'm so passionate about. So I don't find those hurdles, as disheartening. I find them as a challenge. And it does excite me to push the boundaries and really figure out how we can better our designs.” 


‘We’re not just selling clothes here’

Storytelling requires innovation, and Aoife is not afraid to experiment. “We try to educate through our clothes. We're currently looking into blockchain technology. We're looking at QR codes on how we can bring the customer on the journey of the garment. So showing the whole carbon footprint of the garment- where it started from the farm in Ireland to being sown through the mill and then landing as a garment with them.”

Roz Purcell

Photo cred: AOIFE MC NAMARA 

Aoife is not just looking at technology as a tool to innovate either. The pandemic provided her with the pause she needed to think about the direction her company is headed. In the past year, she has opened a physical space in a thatched cottage in Limerick, which she hopes would be the first of many “innovation hubs”.  “People will be like, why are you opening shops? You should be all e-commerce,” she muses. “But we're not just selling clothes in here, it's an innovative hub where we're creating, we're designing, we're selling Irish artists. We're bringing the customers to the store, giving them an experience. And I think that's so much more special than buying a garment online.”

Aoife McNamara Top

Photo cred: AOIFE MC NAMARA 

‘We’re educators first’

Aoife’s goal is to open ten innovation hubs across the world, where customers can expect not only to shop but to be enlightened on how to be a sustainable consumer. “We're not just selling clothes, we're educators first. That's what we want to do before we sell any garments.” The QR codes and innovation hubs are only tools for her to achieve this goal. “Sustainability starts from within, and being grounded and being aware of what's around you,” she says. “For me, each collection has so much to tell and I want to keep being able to do that as well as educating the customer.”

Instagram: @aoifemcnamarax