Business

“Designers tend to be emotional, but to survive you have to put your business hat on,” says Fee G’s Fiona Heaney

“The biggest learning curve in the fashion world is that you will never know everything, you will never get it 100 percent right and it doesn’t matter how good my team is on the day, there are always things that are out of your control is a fabric color or button placket. You have to be on your toes all the time and it’s that attention to detail that has helped us survive.”

Iona Heaney, Creative Director at Irish fashion brand Fee G, looks back on 18 years in the business.

With a savings investment of €50,000 in 2004, Fiona and her husband Don Gormley launched the brand and this weekend the couple have every excuse to open the bubbly.

Yesterday, Fee G was nominated as a finalist in the Womenswear Brand of the Year category at the Drapers Independents Awards, which recognize the very best in independent fashion retail. Barbour won the category last year and is back as one of the 10 finalists.

Don Gormley left a career in IT software design to become the company’s CEO. He says the €50,000 to start with “was a great investment as we have managed to build a profitable, growing business with multi-million sales.

“Fee G has been able to self fund the business growth by continually reinvesting profits back into the business and is now stocked in most boutiques in Ireland and the UK with a few additional stockists in Europe.”

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Fee G’s Fall Winter 22 22 Collection. Photo: Abe Neihum

Peak hours at Fee G Headquarters in Ballymount, Dublin. Your AW 22 collection will be delivered to stores. Her SS23 samples are with her agent in London for futures sale. After ordering, the fabrics are purchased in Italy and the collection is made in Poland and Portugal.

Fiona, NCAD fashion graduate and creative director of the brand, says: “We are honored to have the Drapers nominated and to be recognized within the industry for being among the best brands to sell in boutiques.

I think we took a risk when we started

“When we started in 2004 we were the young guns in Irish fashion, making Italian knitwear, suede and leather. In the second season we introduced dresses and now they are our best sellers. We’re not just an occasion wear brand and we would have been known for that in the past. Now our goal is to have a fashionable solution for every day.”

So much has changed in the retail landscape since they launched and many Irish labels have ceased production. When it comes to new ventures, Fiona admits, “It’s difficult to get started. I think we took a risk when we started. I had a design job and took a punt after a boutique in south Dublin asked me to design scarves. I put them under my own name to see if it works. They were all sold out in the first two weeks, so after that I said to Don, ‘okay, let’s do it’.

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The Fall-Winter 22 22 Collection by Fee G

“Designers tend to be emotional and think with their emotions, but to survive in fashion you have to put on your business hat and ask yourself, ‘Who is my client?’, ‘What do I want to wear this for?’ ‘Why would you choose my robe and my special designs?’ You need to understand what your customers expect from you and your designs.”

She says: “During times that were rocky – and there were a lot of them, it wasn’t all smooth – Don always used the analogy, we’re a small boat in a big ocean. While a bigger company is a big ship, it’s harder to turn, it’s harder to change direction. In this respect, we can react very quickly to our customers. If we want to make a decision, we do it very quickly and act on it very quickly.”

During the pandemic, the company continued to produce collections and introduced two changes. They launched Day by Fee G, an embellished casual wear line, and launched their own e-commerce website.

It’s not for everyone and not for the faint of heart

“Initially we were exclusively a brand available in boutiques but we felt that we needed to show the end consumer what we were offering across the collection as no store will be big enough to stock the entire collection of over 70 Pieces we make can be bought in sizes 8-18,” said Fiona.

We’ve learned a lot in the last 18 years. They launched their Luke Lovely series in 2012 but parked it years later, not because it was unsuccessful, but quite the opposite.

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The Fall-Winter 22 22 Collection by Fee G

“We wanted the two labels to work synergistically so that when one was at its peak, the other wasn’t as busy. Because in this phase of the industry there were ups and downs in the use of time. But in reality the customers wanted both collections and we were dealing with both brands at the same time. Luke Lovely didn’t work in synergy with Fee G, while now he does with the Day collection because it’s not seasonal,” explains Fiona.

“Fashion is tough,” says the designer. “It’s difficult because you don’t produce the same thing every season. Fits and lengths change, new patterns have to be created, digitized and graded so it’s constantly changing. It’s a very challenging industry, not for everyone and not for the faint of heart. In order to survive in the fashion world, one absolutely must have a passion for it. You work on many seasons at the same time and you have to really want it.”

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The Fall-Winter 22 22 Collection by Fee G

https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/designers-tend-to-be-emotional-but-to-survive-you-have-to-put-on-your-business-hat-says-fee-gs-fiona-heaney-41893199.html “Designers tend to be emotional, but to survive you have to put your business hat on,” says Fee G’s Fiona Heaney

Fry Electronics Team

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