Caroline Mitchell has designed and created bespoke knitwear pieces in Limerick City for nearly 20 years. Picture: Eamon Ward.
10 Questions with Limerick clothing designer Caroline Mitchell
By I Love Limerick Correspondent Ann Mc Donald
Caroline Mitchell designs and makes bespoke wedding dresses, special occasion knitwear and ready-to-wear collections. She is a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design and has been a knitwear designer in Limerick City for nearly 20 years. She worked with several Irish and international companies before setting up her own label.
What was your childhood like and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Castleconnell and my childhood consisted of wading about in the river, swimming, country walks, playing with and making clothes for my dolls, and watching Star Trek and Batman on the TV with my brothers – very wholesome!
How did you get interested in knitting?
My mum had worked in Dublin for the designer Irene Gilbert and was a talented dressmaker – she made all our clothes and had me knitting and crocheting by the age of four – My friends had to same dolls as I did and I used to make clothes for all of them as well as my own out of all my mum’s leftover fabric and wool. I was a terror for not following a pattern and making it up as I went along, but it seemed to work!
Have you always wanted to be a clothing designer?
I always wanted to ‘make’ things – not necessarily clothes. As long as it involved knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, macrame, jewellery, accessories, painting… When I was in school I always thought I just wanted to teach ‘crafts’ but by the time I was applying for the School Of Art and Design in Limerick, I knew it had to be fashion design.
Why did you decide to set up your own label?
When I left college I got a job in a knitwear company in Co. Kildare and was there for four years. It was all menswear ( with a little childrenswear) and after all that time designing ‘classic’ mens’ jumpers I was eager to do something more creative ( and for women) I wanted to sew beads on things – and use embroidery, and sometimes go a little crazy!
Did you face any challenges while setting it up?
I didn’t actually face any huge challenges when I was setting up – probably because I was young and didn’t really know what I was doing! I got a start-up grant from the (then) Limerick City Enterprise Board ( now Local Enterprise Office). I had about £200 in the bank, a couple of boxes of yarn I’d bought from a factory I did a bit of freelance work for, and zero orders. I was SO lucky – I got some of my designs into a fashion show with Celia Holman Lee and a lady with a boutique in Lahinch saw it, ordered a load of pieces from me, and the rest is history. I had to learn so much in that first year – things they don’t teach you in college – like costings, invoicing statements, VAT stuff, managing money, employing people… but it was a time when all the shops wanted ‘Irish Made’ so it worked for me.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
My greatest achievement is that my business has survived!!! – since I started there’s been a boom, then a recession, I opened a shop, had to close it again (recession). I went from wholesaling to shops to ‘make to measure’ to selling online – and now we have Covid which has had a huge effect on business, but I’m hanging in there… Over the years there have been other highs – I’ve been featured on television, nominated for Best Designer in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards, and shown in London with the Council Of Irish Fashion Designers.
Do you have any fashion inspirations?
My Fashion Inspiration can come from all kinds of things – I do look at the trends and the colours for each season, but then I tend to put my twist on things – recently my inspiration has been very ‘Art Nouveau/ Deco’ – My most recent winter range was inspired by Leon Bakst who designed for the Ballet Russes in the early 1900’s – I love to look at early designers like Erte and Chanel and I was also hugely inspired by the recent ‘Dior’ exhibition in the V&A.
What advice would you give to someone interested in breaking into the fashion industry?
My advice for anyone interested in breaking into the fashion industry is to get some work experience first – easier said than done now, especially with the pandemic. When I was starting out there was a huge amount of small to medium clothing factories in Ireland, but they have all but gone now and so many skills have been lost. I think the only advice would be – try to design things that you love, prepare to work hard, and prepare to be broke for long periods of time.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
In five years’ time, I would like to be… still here making things that I love! I’ve recently updated my website with the help of a LEO grant, and I’m in the middle of another learning curve with that. Hopefully, that will all be running smoothly and I’ll still be making beautiful’ one-offs’ and wedding dresses and sewing beads on things!
And lastly, what do you love most about Limerick?
What I love most about Limerick is the support I’ve had from my extremely loyal customers – A huge amount of my repeat business comes from Limerick and I’ve clients who get a new outfit or piece every year (even during the pandemic). Limerick women have an amazing sense of style and love to wear an outfit that’s a little ‘different’ and to have something that is actually made here in the city.
For more about Caroline Mitchell, go HERE
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