From Baldoyle to the set of James Bond and the opening scene of the latest 007 film, IrelandsEye Knitwear’s Paul and Brendan O’Sullivan saw the film and immediately knew these were their cashmere wool throws.
The opening scene in no time to die is grizzly. The killer looks in through the frosty window but it’s hard to miss – the €149.95 gray throw with its mix of traditional Aran stitches of honeycomb, trellis and cord, designed and made in the O’ factory Sullivan in north Dublin.
“You always recognize your own work,” says Paul O’Sullivan, managing director of the family business, which opened in 1988 and today has sales of around 7 million 20 countries.
Four siblings and their parents started the business making to order for other companies – like John Rocha at Awear – and over the past 34 years the O’Sullivans have become a major player in the Irish knitwear scene.
They have a burgeoning export business for their products but now IrelandsEye is looking at the domestic market with new eyes and a new chapter begins next Tuesday when a special bespoke order of new looks goes on sale in the Create window at Brown Thomas in Dublin.
Inspired by the colors and birds of Ireland’s Eye Island off the coast of Baldoyle, the fashion pieces are designed by in-house design director Maria-Christina McPadden and range in price from €280 to €340.
Chosen by Brown Thomas Arnotts Fashion Director Shelly Corkery, the special order features contemporary knitwear and shorts, playing on contemporary oversized silhouettes and heritage stitches.
“God, we were so green in the beginning, and when we went out to break into the German market, we didn’t even have an order book or a business card. We opened a few stores with relatively high value mail order accounts and to date Germany is our largest export market and would account for almost 20 percent of our total business,” said Brendan O’Sullivan, a director of the company.
IrelandsEye is one of the few Irish knitwear manufacturers still operating in the east of the country. Their range of 80 handcrafted fashion and lifestyle products are made from all-natural yarns.
Early on, the O’Sullivans invested in a Shima Seiki Japanese knitting machine that cost €50,000, while a new family home cost €35,000. That gamble paid off and they now have 26 machines and 60 employees in their 30,000 square foot factory on the Baldoyle Industrial Estate, where 20 pairs of hands touch every garment.
The knitted sections are assigned a radio frequency identifier and travel on an ‘intelligent’ journey on an ‘Eton’ above-ground rail conveyor system that lowers garments to the machinists.
“We introduced this system about three years ago and we are the only knitwear factory in Europe that we know of using this technology,” says Brendan.
“It’s used in car manufacturing and the Eton shirt people developed the system to efficiently manufacture their shirts. It was so good they made it a separate shop.”
20 to 30 years ago there were about 20 to 25 knitwear companies, “but now it’s only half a dozen doing it on a commercial scale,” said Paul O’Sullivan.
“We’ve been in some of the best deals around the world, but sometimes you have to be successful abroad before you can be successful at home.
“In the minds of Irish people, when they hear about companies like IrelandsEye, they might first think ‘Arans, oh this is for the tourists’.
“So I think the Create showcase will allow Irish people to see a company and a brand like ours in a different light.
“We aim to take the heritage of Irish Aran and make it relevant for today with modern design and yarns, taking Irish knitwear into the future and we do this passionately in Dublin with Irish design talent and staff.
Paul O’Sullivan says they believe in a process that prioritizes quality over speed.
“If you look at the big trends in terms of sustainability, authenticity and the revolt against fast fashion, we’re very much part of ‘buy less, buy better’. This is the room we are in. We are in the right place at the right time.
“It has taken us 34 years to get to the right place and we are in this space to do things slowly that last.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/from-opening-scenes-in-james-bond-movies-to-top-shops-globally-we-want-to-make-irish-knitwear-relevant-41802535.html From opening scenes in James Bond films to top shops around the world, ‘We aim to make Irish knitwear relevant’