Ireland’s Influence on Fashion: One Island’s Mark in a Global Industry

When you think of fashion, do you think of big-name designers like Lagerfeld, Versace and Yves Saint Laurent, or maybe even fashion capitals like Milan, New York and Paris?

Well, fashion is so much more than what we see in the media and in the stores, on the catwalks, designers and models. It is a global industry that, without the influence and assemblage of different cultures, revolutions and history, would simply cease to exist. We’ve all heard of the big names mentioned above, but are we all aware that even the smallest of islands has made its mark in this diverse industry?

Ireland has had more of an influence in the fashion industry than you’d initially expect. The country has its fair share of fashion staples, activists and fashion-focused companies, and they’re worth sharing with you so that you can see just how influential the Emerald Isle has been in the global fashion industry.

Ireland’s Fashion Activism

 

Sinéad Burke, an Irish fashion activist diagnosed with achondroplasia, has been an active campaigner within the fashion industry for inclusivity. Having recently been named as one of British Vogue’s most influential women, Sinéad is constantly working and consulting with leadership to highlight the lack of inclusivity within the design and fashion industries to ensure that, in future, disabled people are accounted for in their business model.

Her call for more inclusive fashion and design industries has taken the world by storm. She is the co-founder of the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective (IFDC) and was invited to the White House upon attending their ‘Design for all’ event, in which the Obama administration highlighted the intersection between both disability and fashion. She has also recently written a book called “Break the Mould: How to Take Your Place in the World”, enabling young children to understand the importance of being different and to feel comfortable in themselves. You can purchase the book here.

Sinéad is making a remarkable impression on the fashion industry in striving for inclusivity and is influencing positive change in the industry by leaps and bounds. 

 

Ireland Attracts Fashion Culture

 

Rent the Runway is revolutionising the world of designer fashion. It’s an e-commerce platform designed to let people buy, rent or subscribe to designer fashion pieces and accessories. It was launched in 2009, with its headquarters in New York City, and within the past few years it opened its first office outside of the US in Galway, Ireland, which was a bold – but entirely logical – decision. Here’s why.

 

 

The company was valued at 1 billion US dollars in March of 2019 and opened an international technology office in Ireland’s capital of culture in May of 2019. The decision, according to the company’s Chief of Technology, stemmed from Galway being a city that radiates creativity, which reflects the company’s cultural values. Since Galway was named the European Capital of Culture in 2020, it’s safe to say that Rent the Runway’s decision was the right one.

Ireland’s vibrant and cultural cities have been recognised, not only after being named as the European capital of Culture last year, but as being the site of growth for fashion businesses which are revolutionising the fashion industry.

 

Ireland Has Influenced Fashion Staples

 

Aran Sweaters

 

Aran jumpers fill my feed at this time of year, every year, and that is definitely not a bad thing. The Aran sweater is a well-known, cable-stitched, thick woollen jumper originating in Ireland.

The Aran jumper is thought to have first made its debut to the world – or screen for that matter – when Ireland’s Man of Aran was aired, an Irish fictional documentary about life on the Aran Islands, Ireland. The jumper’s design was a reflection of the working life of those on the island – cable-knit for fishermen’s rope and diamonds for the island’s fields, originally crafted from untreated sheep’s wool, which is water resistant, perfect for fishermen who were out in all weathers.

Then, in the 1930s, the jumper was properly integrated into the fashion scene. Its popularity has risen, fallen and risen again, but it seems to be a constant in the fashion realm. Sold by the likes of high-end fashion companies like Jean Paul Gaultier and more affordable retailers like Shein, Aran jumpers and their cable-knitted design are an autumn and winter staple globally.

 

Shawls

 

Some may consider shawls to be a staple of Irish fashion and its history is deeply rooted. Originally made of thick wool, they are featured prominently in photographs in the 19th century and were worn predominantly to protect the wearer from weather.

The shawl has since been recognised widely and accepted to be a statement piece of Irish fashion. Being sported by the likes of character Pegeen Mike in the famous play The Playboy of the Western World, and even on the old Irish banknote in the 1920s and 1970s, the shawl has been embedded in Irish heritage and culture for years.

Even though the shawl did not originate in Ireland, it’s safe to say Ireland has contributed to its publicity and rise to fame in the fashion industry – being repeatedly featured in catwalks and global fashion shows, with no end to its design, style or popularity. We think shawls are to stay, and that Ireland’s played its part.

  

Ireland’s Cultural Heritage Has Influenced Fashion Favourites

 

Claddagh rings

 

Claddagh rings are a well-known jewellery piece, not necessary by name but definitely by their unique design. They are sold and bought worldwide, with particular popularity in the US and by those of Irish descent. The ring symbolises friendship, love and loyalty, and they are often bought for engagements and weddings.

The history of the Claddagh ring can be traced to Claddagh in Galway, Ireland as far back as the 17th century. Its iconic design of a heart being grasped by a pair of hands with a crown on top makes it particularly unique, contributing to its popularity.

The ring has since worked its way into the fashion industry, being worn by many for its symbolism and meaning. There are a number of famous people who have chosen to wear Claddagh rings, including Jennifer Aniston, who celebrated the first year of her relationship with ex-partner Tate Donovan by exchanging the rings. Even former president Kennedy wore a Claddagh ring, taking pride in his Irish heritage, and bought Claddagh rings with his wife upon their visit to Ireland in 1963.

You can purchase a Claddagh ring almost anywhere now – from mainstream jewellers to etsy sellers and online jewellery retailers, I would go as far as to say that a claddagh ring is now a staple jewellery piece in the fashion industry.


Ireland is Shaping the Future of Fashion

 

Irish designers and innovators are paving the way for a future of sustainable fashion. The fast-fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, producing roughly 92 million tonnes of waste per year and is one of the biggest polluters globally, accounting for up to 10% of pollution. 

If there is to be any future of fashion, then designers, innovators and large-scale organisations need to make a shift to sustainable fashion technology, and Ireland is certainly playing its part.

Jump the Hedges, a recycled bag-making studio which is based in Belfast, felt that there was a lack of functional bags that were produced sustainably on the market in the fashion industry. The founder, Síofra Caherty, decided to take matters into her own hands, and started to create eco-conscious and structured bags from recycled materials.

Fresh Cuts Clothing, based in Dublin, Ireland, is a sustainable and ethical clothing company striving to produce more sustainable items and use more sustainable practises and technologies to reduce their impact on the planet.

This is enough evidence to show that Ireland’s fashion-forward companies are playing their part in combating the current climate crisis.

 

 

Ireland has influenced the fashion industry in more ways than one. Influencing inclusive change, a sustainable and eco-conscious future and staple fashion pieces that we take for granted. But one thing is for sure –  the Emerald Isle has made – and is still making – its mark in the fashion world.

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Charlotte Pitts

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