Meet Ashley McDonnell, tech and luxury entrepreneur and podcaster
30th Nov 2022
Want to know how the world’s luxury brands are leveraging the latest digital tools? Or eager to score a career at a leading fashion house like Dior? You need to talk to 29-year-old Galway woman Ashley McDonnell.
On paper, Galway’s Ashley McDonnell’s inspiring career timeline looks perfectly set; as if every step was carefully structured and considered. From a woman who studied business and French in DCU, to working with LVMH – the luxury goods giant that owns Dior – at 22, taking on tech giant Google at 25, and now a role at Puig – the luxury fashion and fragrance company that represents brands like Dries Van Noten and Carolina Herrera – as global e-commerce and digital media manager, this is a woman who has stayed on top of her game… and all before she’s 30.
However, the 29-year-old, now based in Geneva, will wave any trace of ego away with a bashful and warm smile, clocking her enviable CV down to good old-fashioned grit, persistence and with a dollop of luck thrown in for good measure. “I grew up with a lot of creativity around me. My grandmother always encouraged me to paint and to create, and I was always sketching and designing little outfits and stuff. I grew up thinking, well, that’s something that I could definitely do later on,” she says.
The rise in demand for niche, emerging and fresh brands means there is a gap in the market for countries to claim their space on a global stage – the perfect opportunity for Irish brands to establish themselves.
“I was lucky to have an art teacher who was very encouraging. And I remember when I was in fourth year, my teacher said to my mum, ‘She really should consider having a career within art and fashion.’ And that was the first time I’d heard the words career, art and fashion in one sentence. I ended up creating my art portfolio and heading off to London and to Dublin with the hope of studying fashion design. And although I did have a few offers, I was a bit spooked at the last minute, and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do something that will guarantee me to have some sort of job at the end, even if it means I’m not fully successful in my creative endeavours?’”
This led her to eventually study a double major in business and French between DCU in Dublin and France, before getting her master’s and a slew of internships in LVMH among others. Internships get a bad rep, she agrees, but doing them was key to getting a foot in the door with some of the leading fashion and tech brands around the world. “This is the one piece of advice that I give to people who reach out to me for a few insights on how to find the right job – internships are so key, because in France, especially, it’s ingrained within the education system.”
“The internships you do are just as important as the course you study because when it comes to luxury fashion and beauty, the major brands hire based on these. And if you don’t have any internships, it’s impossible to get in that door,” she explains. “I ended up doing all of my internships in the fashion space, always with a tech focus, because I loved bringing that very new and futuristic element into my roles. I was in my late teens, early twenties. And that was the only age group of people that was interested in taking these roles – how to focus on social media, how to use Google for fashion, and things like this. So it was also a question of timing.”
The Irish marketing and media executive began her career in Paris at the headquarters of the world’s leading fashion brands, at LVMH Group’s Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. Ashley led the development of digital marketing globally for the travel retail division of Dior, as one of the youngest executives within the company. It might have looked like a smooth transition, she adds, but it took some graft to get to that early point. “I’d been applying for jobs at Dior for a really long time. I’d applied for over 100 jobs at LVMH Group – I didn’t have any typical connections,” she continues. “It might look like really smooth transitions and natural progressions, but when I finally got the call and HR asked me, ‘Why are you interested in this position?’ I didn’t know which position the HR manager was talking about, because I had applied for so many!” This set her on the path in the luxury fashion industry, one she wanted to stay on, but she briefly left when she saw a gap in her skillset she knew she needed to fill if she were to continue to grow.
Prior to joining Puig in 2021, after three years with LVMH, Ashley joined Google as global luxury account manager at the EMEA hub in Dublin, with a firm goal in mind: “I decided if I want to really be legitimate within the tech and luxury space, I needed to spend time within a tech company. And I had three things that I wanted to become an expert on, and that was Search, YouTube and Display,” she says, explaining why she needed to know each one inside-out. “When it comes to Search, what we mean is, when a luxury client searches for goods online, luxury brands need to ensure the entire experience – from the moment of a Google search until the purchasing transaction – is to the highest standard,” she continues. “The technical sophistication and creativity, combined with multi-billion-euro annual advertising budgets from within the industry, mean the search game within luxury is highly competitive as well as lucrative.
“Secondly, YouTube. YouTube is the second largest search engine globally after Google – it’s also the world’s leading beauty content platform. For years, brands have been leveraging ads within YouTube to hyper-target potential luxury clients with cutting-edge campaigns that convert YouTube users into luxury consumers. Lastly, Display. Google owns the world’s largest online display advertising network, and through real-time bidding, allows luxury brands to launch global but localised visual campaigns across the internet to reach potential luxury clients with the right message, at the right time.”
There are some misconceptions about the luxury fashion industry, Ashley adds: “Although the luxury industry, particularly the fashion side, can be mistaken as highly competitive for both talent and brands, with a lack of opportunity for growth, the reality is very different. The global luxury goods market is expected to increase from US$309.6 billion in 2021 to US$382.6 billion in 2025, with luxury fashion representing around one-third of the entire luxury goods market. French and Italian brands dominate this space; however, the rise in demand for niche, emerging and fresh brands means there is a gap in the market for additional countries to claim their space on a global stage – the perfect opportunity for Irish brands to establish themselves.”
Ashley is passionate about her Irish roots and Irish design, citing Gabrielle Malone, Caoimhe Murphy and Sorcha O’Raghallaigh as favourites. “When I was 19, I left the country. And I never really went back. So I wanted to have a stronger link with Ireland and bring some of the digital expertise that I’ve been lucky to be exposed to back.” In March this year, she became chairperson of Digital Business Ireland. “In Ireland, we’re known for two things globally – our hospitality and our storytelling, and what better way to showcase that than with luxury fashion? Because we can tell a story through clothing.”
Read more about Ashley’s career here. This article originally appeared in the Autumn issue of IMAGE. Photography by Zoe Ardiff.