As promised, I’m so excited to announce the first Feisonista giveaway. I’ve teamed up with Ursula Celano to give away three sets of three Ursula Celano Irish-inspired notebooks to Feisonista readers!
It’s so easy to enter: simply check out her website (www.ursulacelano.com) and leave a comment with your favorite design. Also be sure to like Feisonista on Facebook if you haven’t already and follow on Twitter (@Feisonista) to get the latest updates about the contest and Irish dance news in general. You’ll get an extra entry if you share the contest with your friends on Facebook from the Feisonista page – just let me know that you did! Make sure to share the giveaway with your friends so that they have a chance to win!The winner will be picked randomly from all the entrants next Sunday, December 17th.
Note: All photos supplied by Ursula Celano.
What I love about the designs is that it’s a more subtle approach to Irish design. Irish dance is a big part of my life and I would love to bring it into my “real life”. However, most of the designs that are out there are a little too in your face, or too young, to make that transition. Ursula has found a way to showcase modern Ireland in a way that you can be proud to tote along with you all day. I had the great chance to talk to Ursula about her designs, business and Irish dancing! Check out the interview below!
Give us a bit of background about yourself.
I’m originally from Dublin and living there currently. I am 38 and have two sons who are 6 and 4. In college, I had two very different focuses – I read art history with English in Trinity College Dublin then computer science in Queen’s Belfast. I’ve always had more of a girly side as well as a technical and business focused side! After university, I did lots of tour guiding for the state in Dublin Castle and Government Buildings at this time (a bit like working as a tour guide in the white house). After that I went to London to train as a management consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers where I met my husband. Eventually, I ended up working in the National Trust (a large historic properties & landscapes charity in the UK). Of course, that was all before my brother had his first child and I saw how much my mother loved that grandchild. When we were due our own first son my husband kindly agreed we’d move to Dublin, live near my family and here I am six years on.
My husband, Richard, works in Accenture but unfortunately has mainly been based away during the week. I have worked part time on a project by project basis for a small consultancy here mainly dealing with tourism projects. This has been really interesting and I have had some great projects. I’ve written some strategies, business plans, funding applications for Dublin tourism, the Dublin writer’s museum, the new Ross tapestry project, the Titanic Quarter Belfast etc. My boss was really wonderful and I could easily fit it in with baby naps, playdates etc. It was great work as it combined my love of Ireland and our culture with an ability to figure out the business part of it. However, it wasn’t very consistent work and with my children getting older, I needed something that was more consistent and could work around their schedules.
One of the things that inspired me to launch the design line was my children. I had always wanted to do something like this and I wanted my children to see me following my dreams and doing what I wanted to do. I think seeing me do what I want gives them confidence to follow their own dreams in their careers.
Designing my line has worked perfectly because I can do work in the morning and mind them in the afternoon. It’s also nice because my children don’t necessarily see my drawing as work, so I can do it around them without them feeling neglected.
Do you think your background in tourism helped develop your designs?
It definitely helped. One of the major advantages that I had was knowing the demographics of tourists in Ireland. The average tourist is usually quite well off, well traveled and cultured. They’ve seen things in London and other parts of the world that represent their countries in a modern way. It has always bothered me that there hasn’t been much Irish design for sale which sets out to depict/represent modern Ireland. There are quite a few notable Irish brands of Ireland but many of them are quite male (e.g. alcohol brands) or not particularly Irish and definitely not feminine – and yet the majority of purchases are made by women. I’ve always been quite girly and wanted to make something that I would buy.
If you look at design in the UK and in the US, it’s easy to name hundreds of women who have their own design businesses – and they must be reasonably successful – and they aren’t afraid to do something distinctive. I wanted to be the Irish counterpart to that.
I read somewhere in preparing for this – that successful design usually comes from a very strong viewpoint.
That was very interesting to me because my designs all come from a very strong point of view. The idea to do this gift brand had been in my head for years. My friends and family could tell you I am always drawing, painting or making things.
So how did you go about starting your own design line?
Well I got started by using free online resources. There’s a ton of great free software and videos that will teach you how to draw on the computer. I spent months learning how to do that. However, once you learn, it’s so easy to develop products. You can just click and paste your designs into product templates! I use Spoonflower a ton in product development. It’s a great resource – you can upload any design and print it on pretty high quality fabric. It’s not too expensive either at $26/meter of fabric. The only downside is that it’s addicting! I used this as the first step to see what my designs would look like in real life.
I went to a trade fair in the UK last February and met some sourcing agents who liked the idea of what I was trying to do. We have been working on a collection for showcase January 2012 for about eight months. I also asked around and found a factory in Dublin in July who could make my designs into notebooks. This also took longer than I thought it would. In the end, the notebooks only arrived on November the 8th, so I went from pottering about not being very busy straight into a pre-Christmas sales season. I went into town about two weeks ago and tried all of the top design shops in the city – they were all very excited and interested in my concept. So since then I have been starting to tweet a bit, get a website started and a blog – all with the intention of making some big sales of my expanded range in January.
Where is the line now and where do you see it going?
I knew I had made it as a designer and accomplished my goals when the notebooks were being sold in several top design stores in Dublin.
It has always bothered me that we often expect visitors to buy presents to bring home that we would not buy ourselves or images of Ireland which are either not true or are so over used that they are diluted of any real message.
I am very proud of our cultural traditions – Irish dancing for example and it has always disappointed me that you cannot walk into a high quality gift shop here and see Irish dancers. Now, with top design stores selling my notebooks, you can. It’s taken Irish designs out of the very focused world of sheep and shamrocks and into a higher quality product.
Well, it’s just starting out, so I’m just excited to see it develop at the moment! But I would love to develop a whole line of products and bring it abroad a bit. I have an Irish sales agent now who’s helping me get into more gift stores and has countless suggestions about what other products I could make with the designs!
I have my first line now so people can see what I’m about and then look forward to doing another line in August 2012. There’s an Irish gift trade show in January that I’m frantically getting ready for so hopefully that will lead to even more business opportunities!
That’s fabulous! On an Irish dancing note, are you involved with the Irish dancing world?
I am not a dancer at all sadly – I love to watch it though especially the hard shoe dancing where there is music in the steps as well as the visual. I do shuffle about when there is some dancing to be done but I am hopeless at remembering the steps. I did really enjoy Irish dancing when I was younger but I was not talented. Lots of my friends still dance seriously and there is a very popular class on Monday nights in our local hall – especially for the mature thirtysomething dancer!
The inspiration behind the designs is really about celebrating the dancing traditions but also friendship, the colours, patterns, exuberance and delight. It translates I think really well into patterns. I want to design things that make people smile and Irish dancing makes people do that!
I do love the razzmatazz of the dance costumes. I think it’s a bit of escapism really that’s very fun and vibrant. In Ireland, because it’s so popular, there’s always a balance between the dancing and the costumes and wigs, etc. While we see the outrageous costumes, we also see the Colin Dunne type performances and shuffle around about at parties. So I think for us, we see the costumes as a frivolous and fun part of a gorgeous overall culture. And the overall culture is really what I wanted to showcase with my designs.
Agreed – Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
I did go to a talk recently by another aspiring entrepreneur and her advice was to tell everyone what you are doing and be open to any suggestions or offers of advice. This I have taken on board (apart from being naturally very chatty anyway). Firstly, meeting new people and making friends is going to be the most positive benefit of this enterprise anyway – but it is also amazing how everyone has something useful to add – be it some idea for a new design or having a relative or friend who may know how to source something etc.
So, now that you know the story behind the designs, enter the giveaway to get your own set of three notebooks from Ursula Celano! Make sure you check out her website (www.ursulacelano.com) and leave a comment below for a chance to win!
Stay Fashionable, Feisers!