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Sinéad Burke, An Extraordinary Young Woman

Sinead Burke

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello! My name is Sinéad Burke, I am currently a PhD candidate in Trinity College and simultaneously, I write the blog, Minnie Mélange. My background is in education, I trained as a primary school teacher and I miss being in the classroom. I would consider myself a loyal, honest and kind friend. I try my utmost to be a good listener and innately curious. Family is extremely important to me – my parents and siblings are my sounding board and a constant source of support and wisdom. My music tastes are best described as ‘eclectic’ and my favourite film is a tie between Les Choristes and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

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Your blog is a mix between fashion commentary and interviews with extraordinary women. What makes an extraordinary woman, according to Sinéad Burke?

The ‘Extraordinary Women’ interview series began because I was frustrated by the way various media outlets reported on and about women. When the idea first occurred, I didn’t have an image in mind of the typical interviewee and I am incredibly fortunate to have spent almost twelve months sitting down with the most fascinating people who challenge stereotypes, refuse to fear failure, share their wisdom and expertise, cherish the aspects of life which make us unique and most importantly, be themselves. These themes have emerged naturally and as cliché as it is to say, I’m really looking forward to seeing what emanates from the next conversation.

Where did your passionate interest in fashion come from?

I’m not entirely sure where my interest first grew from. It’s possible that it emerged from my home environment but more than likely, it sprouted due to my own struggle in finding clothes that were age-appropriate but to my taste. I am a little person; I stand at the height of 3’5” tall and since my teenage years, I’ve grappled with my wardrobe choices. I turned to the fashion industry and attempted to do some research that delved deeper than the surface, hoping to find the answer to my daily question, ‘What will I wear today?’ This research expanded and the more I learned, the bigger my appetite grew for the industry.

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Who are your favourite designers and why?

Within fashion, I’m fascinated not just by the garments alone but their branding, strategic business endeavours and use of social media. Thus, if I had to pick three designers, they would probably be Burberry, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham.

In just over a decade, Burberry has completely transformed the public’s opinion of the brand. Their image is now one of classic tailoring, British heritage and urban sophistication. They excavated their public persona and returned to the qualities which made founder Thomas Burberry a success. This transformation occurred under the collaborative reign of Angela Ahrendts and Christopher Bailey. In the recent past, Ahrendts migrated from Burberry to Apple and I’m fascinated to see the development of Bailey’s dual role as CEO and Creative Director.

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In terms of Stella McCartney, I greatly admire her discipline, ethics and self-belief. There are rumours that she refused to take up the role of Creative Director at Gucci because of their use of animal products. I’m not sure of the validity of that tale (Tom Ford refuses to admit that it is true) but Stella’s brand refuses to use leather, skins or fur in their garments or accessories. Since 2008, Stella McCartney has also phased out PVC, and none of the glues used contain animal products. Fashion has become such an accelerated industry with decreasing profit margins, and I have great respect for Stella for being innovative in a space where many simply do not care.

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Thirdly, I must be upfront and disclose that Victoria Beckham was my favourite member of the Spice Girls and once upon a time, I may have imitated her posing and pouting. However, that has little bearing on why I have listed her here. When the Spice Girls disbanded and Victoria announced her move to the fashion domain, the collective response seemed to be one of confusion and humour. It took a long time for her to gain acceptance from both the public and the fashion industry. Many will question the skill of Victoria as a designer or her ability to create something new, but I think she was extremely clever. Victoria enveloped herself with a team of creative experts and sent designs down the runway that were heavily inspired by Roland Mouret and Elsa Schiaparelli but more importantly, they were garments that she loved and would wear daily. Victoria Beckham’s success is defined by her determination, her ability to admit that she alone does not know everything but also her chameleon nature to be both muse and model.

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What motivated you to start blogging?

Thirdly, I must be upfront and disclose that Victoria Beckham was my favourite member of the Spice Girls and once upon a time, I may have imitated her posing and pouting. However, that has little bearing on why I have listed her here. When the Spice Girls disbanded and Victoria announced her move to the fashion domain, the collective response seemed to be one of confusion and humour. It took a long time for her to gain acceptance from both the public and the fashion industry. Many will question the skill of Victoria as a designer or her ability to create something new, but I think she was extremely clever. Victoria enveloped herself with a team of creative experts and sent designs down the runway that were heavily inspired by Roland Mouret and Elsa Schiaparelli but more importantly, they were garments that she loved and would wear daily. Victoria Beckham’s success is defined by her determination, her ability to admit that she alone does not know everything but also her chameleon nature to be both muse and model.

What motivated you to start blogging?

I was in college training to be a primary school teacher and one of the course assignments was to create a blog. The subject matter was not denoted, and my very first post was about Cate Blanchett wearing Givenchy Couture to the Oscars. I submitted the assignment and months later, when my siblings were tired of hearing about my musings on fashion, I realised that I needed an outlet. I re-opened my WordPress account, and the rest is history.

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Will you ever stop?

No. I’m incredibly proud of my blog and what it has evolved into. What began as a college assignment has afforded me the most incredible opportunities to meet with and interview many of the people who inspire me most. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s next!

What other Irish bloggers do you rate, and why?

The blogs that I find myself consistently drawn to are not just of a fashion-nature. I very much enjoy ‘Alex Donald’s Multiverse’ for informed insight into popular culture, Rachel Ray’s ‘Fur Coats No Knickers’ for commentary on technology and internet trends and Kate Butler’s ‘Thunder Cut Alleys’ for articulated arguments which arise in the public domain. I’m also incredibly fond of the list of links which Ana Kinsella and Sarah Waldron both post at the weekends and Roe McDermott’s Twitter account which is a curation of articles that continuously change how I think and feel.

You’re pursuing a PhD on the rights of the child. Where did that interest come from?

My PhD is in the area of student voice and authentically listening to children. As you said, it stems directly from the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. When I was in the classroom, I positioned myself as not the all-knowing adult but as a mediator of knowledge. I firmly believe that often, children can teach us far more than we could ever attempt to teach them. The most empowering and thought-provoking moments in the classroom for me were when the children not only questioned my thinking but each other’s. So often, adults assume that we have the correct depiction of the problems or possess all of the solutions but if we give children a chance to express their experiences, ideas and emotions, I have no doubt that they will astound us.

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Who has been your biggest influence?

My Dad. The majority of my family are of average height. My dad and I are the only two little people. I am so fortunate to have grown up with such an amazing role model in my immediate environment. My dad always told me that I could achieve all of my goals and ambitions. He did vocalise that I may have to manipulate the physical environment differently to my peers but that it would never interrupt who I would become. My dad embodied this notion and following in his footsteps was easy and an incredible privilege.

What do you make of fashion journalism in general? Has blogging changed it utterly? Or is it still a closed shop?

I’m specific in the fashion journalism that I consume. I subscribe to the writings of Alexander Fury, Jo Ellison, Deirdre McQuillan, Vanessa Friedman, the Business of Fashion, The Gentlewoman and Vogue’s YouTube channel. Blogging has introduced an element of competition which I think is apt and healthy for fashion journalism. It has constructed a foundation and a platform for aspiring writers who otherwise may not have been considered but I think an attitude of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ continues to exist. I’m not sure how such a mentality can be destabilised but as blogs become more professional and print shrinks in reach, I think it’s an interesting time to be online.

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If there was one Irish women you wish more people knew about, who would it be?

My Mam. While I am the typical extrovert, my mam is the opposite. She revels in the success of her family but would hate to be in the spotlight herself. She is one of the most caring, nurturing, clever, supportive, strong, critical, kind and patient people I have ever met. In 1998, she founded Little People of Ireland; an organisation that offers support, information and social opportunities for people with restricted growth in Ireland. She has been at the helm of this charity for almost two decades, and it continues to flourish. My mam is constantly thinking of others and gives her time generously to family, friends and strangers. She is my confidante, my greatest cheerleader and my sub-editor.

Read more of Sinéad’s beautiful words on her blog, Minnie Mélange, winner of the 2014 IMAGE Blog Awards Blog of the Year.

Photos by Ailbhe O’Donnell

 

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