We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Local Enterprise Office

'I had a lot to learn': How this 24-year-old from Limerick launched a fashion label through Instagram

Aoife McNamara has had a show-stopping start.

“I ALWAYS KNEW I wanted to have my own business, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

Having just graduated from college in 2018 and starting womenswear label AOIFE Ireland in October last year, ‘fast’ might be an understatement from owner and founder of the brand, Aoife McNamara.

“It was all really organic how it started. I just started selling clothes and I was like, ‘hey, this is something I can actually make a living out of.’”

With some of Ireland’s most well-known faces among fans of the brand already, including Vogue Williams and Roz Purcell, – and at just 24-years-old – McNamara must be doing something right.

So, how did the Limerick native turn her love of fashion into a thriving business? From receiving help from her Local Enterprise Office to working with influencers, McNamara chatted us through some learnings from her experience to help anybody else with a business idea get it off the ground. 

LEOWeek_434 Local Enterprise Office Local Enterprise Office

Understand your own motivation

After graduating from Limerick School of Art & Design with an Honours degree in Fashion in 2018, McNamara moved to Paris for six months to gain experience working for different brands. It was during this period that the graduate realised she wanted to start her own business. 

“I was working for different fashion houses and I suppose, as a creative, when you’re in a creative environment and you’re getting told what to do by other people, I didn’t love that whole experience,” she says.

“I wanted to work for brands that really had sustainable aspects to their business. Brands didn’t really have the same vision as I had, and I found that really hard.”

That’s really when I was like, ‘I want to work for myself’ and see how it goes.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media

Like almost every millennial, McNamara used Instagram to share photos of her life – but it was her clothes that garnered the most attention. “I started sharing a lot on Instagram throughout college,” she says.

“Then I started to work with Suzanne Jackson when she asked me to dress her for one of her launches.” As one of Ireland’s most well-known names in the blogosphere, and with a following of 285,000 on Instagram, working with Jackson is something that many brands strive to do – yet McNamara crossed it off her list while she was still in college. 

Local Enterprise Office / YouTube

“After that, my presence started to grow more on social media and I started to work with other influencers like Louise Cooney and Erika Fox. Roz Purcell and Vogue Williams are my more recent influencers that I’ve worked with.” 

Nowadays, Instagram is more than just a pastime for McNamara – it’s a vital tool. “Instagram is where I sell everything, really, and it’s where all my traffic comes from to my website,” she says. It’s just as well that she started posting her outfits there during college, then. 

Work to a timeline that suits you

Although she was making clothes for some of the country’s top influencers – who have the potential to make items sell out within minutes – McNamara wanted to hold off making clothes for a larger audience until she was completely ready. 

“Even when I was in school I was making my own clothes, and I’d always been asked ‘oh are you selling your clothes?’, but I never had. I would make a few things if I sort of knew the people who asked, but I wanted my standards to be really high before I started to do anything like that. I wanted to be known for having a good standard, so I waited until I had a manufacturer in Ireland. I waited it out a bit.” This decision to wait has allowed McNamara to create clothing she’s happy to release to the world, rather than rushing into it when she wasn’t ready. 

LEOWeek_442 Local Enterprise Office Local Enterprise Office

Know the areas you need help with

It was this time last year that McNamara contacted her Local Enterprise Office in Limerick and enrolled in the Start Your Own Business Programme, which gave her the tools to launch AOIFE Ireland last October. 

“I talked a lot about my clothes online and one of the guys I’m friends with, who has his own business, said to me, ‘You should get on to your Local Enterprise Office if you want to start anything.’”

Being a creative person, I didn’t know anything about the business side of things; how to manage the business, how to plan, so I learned that and got amazing mentoring from it.

“After that, I went on to secure a Business Priming Grant with my Local Enterprise Office, which I’m currently using, which is amazing. Most recently I did Showcase Ireland in the RDS, which was another insane experience. I got to showcase my collection to international buyers.”

Trust your gut

Starting a business not long after graduating from college isn’t for the faint-hearted, but McNamara didn’t let it hold her back.

The most important thing is not thinking too much about it.

“You can plan it, you can scare yourself so much when you’re starting a new business, but I think the most important thing is if you really love it, it’s your passion that’s going to shine through,” she shares.

As for her advice for those looking to start a business? “I think getting the right mentors is really important,” says McNamara. “Find people you really admire and pick their brain, even if you’re just meeting them for a 15 minute coffee. Have a chat with them, ask for advice. You’re only going to get the answers if you ask the questions.”

With such an impressive start, what’s next for AOIFE Ireland? “I’m launching into Kilkenny Stores in the next few months and some stores internationally – they are just getting confirmed at the moment.” From Instagram to international brand, something tells us things aren’t going to slow down for AOIFE Ireland.

Have a business idea of your own? Local Enterprise Week, organised by the Local Enterprise Offices, is taking place from Monday March 2 to Friday March 6. Hundreds of events are being organised with the support of Enterprise Ireland and the local authorities – all designed to help you plan, start or grow your business in 2020.  Find out what’s happening near you here. #MakingItHappen

If you’re inspired by Aoife McNamara’s story and want to take steps to start or develop your business, these Local Enterprise Week events might be of interest to you:

More: ‘We were just a group of friends’: How 9th Impact went from living room idea to 20 million downloads

More: ‘We sold out in seven minutes’: How Kildare-based Pestle & Mortar became a global beauty brand

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel