In Conversation with Laoise Carey: Irish Designer and Founder of Laoise Carey Studio

WRITTEN BY Ella Sloane

March 16, 2023

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In Conversation with Laoise Carey: Irish Designer and Founder of Laoise Carey Studio

by | Mar 16, 2023 | Fashion & Lifestyle

Ella Sloane

16 Mar, 2023

Irish designer Laoise Carey describes her journey to becoming a fashion business owner as an unexpected one, but in my opinion, the designer’s childhood suggests she was always destined to end up on this path. 

Hailing from Nenagh in Tipperary, Carey recalls having a flair for creativity from a young age: “When I was young, my Mam used to text her brothers and sisters and say ‘If you’ve any hand me down clothes from the kids, bring them over to Laoise’.” Carey fondly remembers “chopping them up and glueing them back together” when she did get her hands on pre-loved clothes, and it seems not much has changed since then.

Upcycling is at the heart of Laoise Carey Studio; the designer’s pandemic-born, “eco-friendly, feminine and edgy” independent fashion brand.

Speaking frankly about her whirlwind experience in the fashion industry so far, Carey explained that the sustainability ethos she has carried into her business today was inspired by a period of disenchantment with the environmentally-destructive nature of this industry. 

During her final year studying fashion design in NCAD, Carey set to work to create her graduate collection in a way that wouldn’t be wasteful. “I hated the idea of going out and buying loads of rolls of clothes for my graduate collection and it’s really hard to get eco-friendly fabric in Ireland so I ended up using my aunt’s old farmhouse curtains.

At this time, Carey describes “really struggling with the whole fashion world” – something which drove her to expand her horizons and complete a basket-weaving course in Tipperary. This course proved formative for Carey, as she not only incorporated the skills she learned into her graduate collection, weaving “sandals and a massive basket bra”, but still largely takes inspiration from nature and traditional Irish crafts in her most recent collections.

Reflecting on this journey and how it has influenced her work today, Carey says “For me, it was about bringing fashion back to nature. I was just really inspired by sustainable fashion and using things like the basketry or upcycling was my way of expressing creativity without the environmental impact. From there I’ve always just continued making clothes using upcycled textiles.” 

After graduating from NCAD in 2017, the designer landed a job with Simone Rocha in London; an experience which she describes as the highlight of her fashion career. Working there for two years allowed Carey to gain a lot of insight into what goes on behind the scenes with a luxury fashion brand, the designer explained “I learned so much about how to make luxury garments.” 

During her time working for the acclaimed Irish designer, Carey even got the eye-opening opportunity to work at four different fashion weeks. From London Fashion Week to showrooms in Paris, Carey was truly able to, in her words, “experience every aspect of the business.”

After finishing her job in London, Carey planned to travel around Europe. “I was just going to move to Berlin and see what happened.” Fate had other plans, and unfortunately Carey was forced to move back home when the pandemic hit, like many other young Irish creatives. However, this sudden change of plans turned out to be a blessing in disguise. In 2020, following this change of direction, Laoise Carey Studio was born: the designer started making and selling her own clothes, working from a spare room-turned-studio in her parents house in Tipperary.

Impressively, Carey runs every single aspect of the business herself; from designing and carefully hand-crafting each item of clothing to social media management and marketing.

Painting a picture of a regular day in her life, the designer summed up the broad range of tasks that the job demands. “I’m going between my computer and my sewing machine and my iron.” Speaking of the challenges that come with self-employment, she admits that it can certainly be “hard to strike a balance when you’re working for yourself” and there’s always the risk of “spending too much time on social media and trying not to stay working too late in the studio.

A central aspect of Laoise Carey Studio is its refreshing transparency, something which is becoming increasingly important for fashion brands. One of the creative ways in which Carey prioritised transparency with her customers was by creating unique ‘receipts’ for each item in her SS22 collection which included a full cost breakdown of everything from materials and production to marketing. 

Speaking of what slow fashion means to her, Carey says I think slow fashion starts with the designer slowly considering what they’re making and considering how they’re selling them the fabrics, the shape and the sizing and all that and then it goes to the consumer to slowly consider their purchases and make an informed decision about what they’re buying. The idea of slow fashion for me is at the forefront of my business; that’s all about ethically-made garments, being transparent and using the most eco-friendly fabrics I can find.” 

The designer sources the second-hand and vintage textiles used in her collections from “anywhere and everywhere.” Most of her materials come from charity and antique shops, or Ebay and Etsy. Sometimes she even strikes gold at a flea market or car-boot sale – the possibilities are endless. “I’m always on the lookout for tablecloths, curtains, old vintage doilies. Last season (AW22) I actually used some factory off-cuts from a mill in County Tipperary.” 

Looking back on Carey’s previous collections, it’s clear that she takes pride in having an Irish-owned business. Not only does the designer use Irish materials to make her garments, but she also incorporates various Irish motifs and nods to Irish culture into her designs: from her Shamrock Patchwork Gilet to the beautiful floral Ríona blouse, the undeniable Irish influence in Carey’s work makes her brand stand out. “I love the idea of us having our own culture, we just just need to tap into it”, she says.

Some of the signatures from Laoise Carey Studio’s 2022 collections included florals, colourful gingham, and quirky retro prints. “I came across these Irish linen tea towels online a couple of years ago and I was just obsessed with the retro prints and all of these random Irish recipes and things on them.” The tea towels can be seen featured on the back of a range of one-of-a-kind trench coats from her autumn winter collection last year and it’s easy to see why she’s “obsessed”.

 

Imparting some advice for anyone trying to break into the fashion industry or start a business themselves, the designer recommends getting advice from your Local Enterprise Office or taking courses on starting your own business; both things which she found really helpful when it came to getting Laoise Carey Studio off its feet. Emphasising the importance of gaining hands-on experience and “getting to know people in Ireland,” Carey says “I worked in my spare time in college for one or two hours a week with different designers.” Continuing, the designer added “Message a designer you admire and ask if you can just visit their studio for a day. Build up some contacts that way, get to see what it’s like to work in the industry and just take it one day at a time.

Revealing the inspirations behind her SS23 collection, the designer notes “it will be heavily influenced by antique and vintage lace”, which she is currently hoarding a stockpile of – we can’t wait to see it come alive. 

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