We chat with Emma Fraser, about Nine Crows, a Dublin boutique, online store, fashion brand, and now modelling agency, that she runs with Dean Ryan McDaid from an office on the capital’s quays.
Nine Crows has had many lives. Take us back to the beginning. How did it all start?
Dean and I met over Facebook when Dean was 21, and I was 23. We were both selling clothing at car boot sales and flea markets and wanted to open a store, so we decided to do it together over a drink in Pygmalion. We had both seen a gap in the Dublin market for a good vintage store and managed to get a three-month lease on a property in Temple Bar. We opened our doors with no fitting room and no till in December 2010, with three inches of snow outside the door.
How would you sum up Nine Crows in a sentence?
Kelly Kapowski meets Kylie Jenner, and they have a joint Instagram account.
Who looks after what?
We had no plans to be ‘entrepreneurs’. We both just wanted a place to sell nice clothes and where our friends could display their art. As the business has grown, our roles have naturally developed and grown. We have learned, often the hard way, to play to our strengths and that the business comes first. After four years, we are a very strong team and are both involved in all the important decisions, creatively and financially.
Dean looks after the design of the website and the photography. I do the buying and most of the financial/boring stuff. What makes our partnership so strong is that we have created a business that suits our needs and the way we both work. We had no boss, so we got to make up the rules ourselves.
Was setting up your own business and then store during a recession a tough decision to make?
Of course it was, but we didn’t plan five years ahead; we worked week to week at the start so It didn’t seem as daunting as it could have. We paid our first month’s rent and had no money left in the bank, so it was either sell clothes or close down.
How do you source the best of vintage? Does it involve searching through attics/stalking market stalls/being all National Security Agency on eBay?
If we told you where we get our clothes we would have to kill you! Vintage suppliers are like the Holy Grail, and no one shares their secrets. We can tell you that it is completely unglamorous and involves a lot of dust and rooting through bales of clothing all over the world. When you hand-pick all the vintage like we do, buying trips are a monthly occurrence.
I’ve heard you described as Ireland’s Nasty Gal. Do you like that comparison?
We love this comparison. We have always admired the way Sophia has run and developed her company. She has always been at the forefront of her business and created such a strong brand identity for the ‘Nasty Gal’. Of course we would love to see Nine Crows grow in the same way but only time and customers will tell.
Your shop on Ormond Quay Lower is the centre of the operation. How did you make the space yours?
When we took the lease on Ormond Quay the shop was full of old mattresses and broken furniture. We have been fixing it up bit by bit over the last 18 months. We didn’t want to do it all in one go as we wanted to see how people were shopping and what they needed from the store. We now run our website www.shopninecrows.com and our modelling and creative agency www.notanothertheagency.com from an office above the store, so it really is becoming a little hub.
You’ve a strong and respected online presence. What’s your guiding principle regarding that kind of marketing?
Myself and Dean didn’t go to college, so we never learned how to do things in the ‘structured’ way that they are often done, We only figured out what we were doing was marketing after everyone told us they loved our marketing. The way we have run Nine Crows is that we show off behind the scenes, people can see who works for us and how we do things. We have found that this is relatable and helps to develop the amazing brand loyalty we now have.
What entrepreneurs do you see as setting the ideal template?
Overseas: Sophia Amoruso, Lena Dunham, Charlie Barker, Charlotte Crosby. Here: Blanaid Hennessy of Folkster, the guys from Brother Hubbard and the crew who run the Fumbally Cafe and Dilisk restaurant. These entrepreneurs are using social media in the right way, pushing boundaries and changing things up.
Is there any particular mantra that gets you through the week?
We listen to a lot of Shaggy and Destiny’s Child in the shop. That helps.
You’re developing your own fashion line this year. How’s that shaping up?
It’s going really well. Our only problem is keeping up with demand and getting the depth to each product. Over the next few months we will be really stepping up the manufacturing on the Nine Crows line.
You’ve supported LGBT causes in the past through events. Do you think it’s important businesses take a stance on political issues?
I think it is so important. We have this big platform and when we feel strongly about something like the upcoming marriage referendum it only makes sense that we shout it from the rooftops,
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned?
To follow your gut and stay strong. Everyone else will give you advice, but you always know best for your own business and sometimes the harder road ends up being the best one in the long run.
And what’s the one piece of advice you’d give a budding boutique owner?
Make sure you figure out your customer. Find out what they want and how they shop. One you know who’s your girl or guy then just go for it. Don’t waste time planning the next five years or worrying about failure because if you wait too long someone else will have done it before you and the joy is in figuring it out on the journey.