Q&A WITH SARTORIAL SNOB
Bébhínn McGrath, the 27 year-old designer behind Irish label BÉBHÍNN has a beautifully minimalistic aesthetic. Providing a range of well-tailored pieces in Irish linen, made consciously, the pieces are long-lasting.
1. What is your career background?
I grew up in Waterford, Ireland where I was always surrounded by fabrics and fashion since I was a baby in the cot, as my mum is a dressmaker and my grandmother was a great knitter. I inherited my grandmother's knitting machines and they are used for my knitwear in the collection.
When I finished school I moved to London to study Fashion - however it wasn't what I had imagined, I disliked the atmosphere and attitudes in the college and it gave me a negative outlook on the fashion industry. From there, I moved to Dublin where I continued my studies in Costume Design. I was very lucky in that my lecturer took me under her wing and the day I finished college I started working as her assistant and I went on to work in the film and TV industries for five years.
2. What's the background of your brand, what got it started?
Even though I left the fashion industry in College, I never lost the dream of establishing my own label. I thoroughly enjoyed working in costume, however I was never fully invested as I knew it wasn't my life-long career. The idea had been niggling away at me for the past two years and last April when I finished working on Vikings TV production I made the big leap and moved home to the coast and started working on my business plan, designs and samples. It was a very long process, and I've learned so much along the way. There is a lot behind the scenes that you never think about. So 12 months later, BÉBHÍNN was born!
3. Why are ethics so important to you?
I used to be a high street junky! I would shop weekly and not consider the impact on the environment or the workers behind the clothes. As I got older I gained an interest in the background of our clothing and the fashion industry. I began to ask where our clothes come from, who made them and at what cost? I watched the amazingly produced, eye-opening, yet harrowing documentary The True Cost and since that day I haven't given a second thought to abandoning the high street giants and my awareness for ethical fashion has grown so vastly. So when I decided to establish my own label there wasn't a second thought that it wouldn't be ethical in as many ways as possible.
4. What ethical and sustainable practices do you incorporate in your brand?
All the fabrics are fully traceable, the linen I use for the entire collection is woven by Emblem Weavers in Wexford and the yarn I use for the knitwear comes from Donegal Yarns in Donegal. I chose to use solely Irish fabrics as they are being produced on our shores, why import when there is no need? Also, Irish linen is the best in the world. It was once one of our biggest industries yet now there are just two working mills in the country. So when making the decision of what fabrics to use I couldn't not support this family business that is within an hour's drive from my home.
Everything from the first drawing to signing the delivery parcel takes place in my home studio, all by myself. I make and design all the garments from scratch. It is essential that the pieces are manufactured to the highest standard as the aim is that the garments will last and be cherished for years to come. The collection is designed in a way that the pieces won't date so people can continue to enjoy wearing them with them staying "in fashion".
5. You work on a made to order basis, why did you decide this?
I decided to work on a Made To Order basis to predominantly avoid waste. I didn't want to manufacture each piece in bulk to be left with them at the end of the season. Now I just have rolls of fabric that can be used indefinitely. Also, with it being my first collection, it is market research in a way to see what pieces are most popular and that will influence the designs for further collections.
Also, with the Made To Order, it means that each customer is having pieces made especially for them. So I offer the option of supplying measurements for a custom fit. Also I send photo updates of the manufacturing process so that the customer feels involved and invested in their purchase.
6. You work predominantly with Irish linen, why?
I have always been a fan of linen. I love the way it moves, the durability, comfort and breathability. I also enjoy watching how it wrinkles and the character in the fabric. There are very few designers using linen as the sole fabric in their collections. Especially in Ireland, where it used to be so popular, I think it has somewhat been forgotten about. So I decided to invest in the industry and try make linen popular again. There are so many different weights, styles and finishes of linen that I use throughout the collection. Most people are very surprised when they see the garments that they are looking at Linen as it is not how they know it. The aim is to merge traditional Irish Linen with modern tailoring techniques to create a unique expression of Irish design.
7. What is the aesthetic of BÉBHÍNN?
Timeless, modern, minimal, thoughtful.
The collection consists of 16 pieces that can all be mixed and matched together. They are contemporary classics. I am trying to move people away from buying throw away clothes and investing in long lasting pieces, that they will love and in return the garment will love them back! As the pieces are classic cuts and styles, they are designed to stay in "fashion" for years to come. Pieces, that you will come back to time and time again. Made To Order . Made To Last.
8. What's in store for the future?
For now I am enjoying the day to day runnings of the business so much! Working for myself is such a nice feeling and one that I will enjoy for years to come I hope. I'm at the sewing machine everyday and loving it.
In the future I would love to have an open studio with a pop up shop. I feel the quality and design of the collection would benefit from people seeing and feeling it in real life rather than through a computer screen. I would love to chat to my customers face to face and hear their thoughts on the clothes, the ethics, and aesthetics so watch this space!