Fiona Heaney, Creative Businesswoman of the Year: 'Okay, I’m stuck here, let’s embrace it’

Fiona Heaney, owner, founder and designer of Fee G, was named Creative Businesswoman of the Year 2018. Speaking to Jillian Bolger after her win, Fiona opened up about her career in fashion design; as well as her sources of inspiration.


Two-time runner-up in this category, Fiona Heaney is “blown away” to win the award this year. “To win IMAGE Creative Businesswoman of the Year is wonderful. I’ve been using the words ‘created with love’ on our garments for more than ten years, and I’m really proud to win this.”

Related: Nora Twomey, Businesswoman of the Year:
'If you feel you’ve stopped learning, it’s time to move on'

A graduate of NCAD, Omagh-born Fiona gained design experience in Australia and as a buyer for Dunnes Stores, before setting up Fee G in her living room in 2003. The self-funded business specialises in affordable Irish luxury, with a distinctive approach to colour and print.

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About Fee G

Starting out with a clear commercial focus that included occasion wear, her feminine and polished designs are immediately recognisable for their clean lines, luxury fabrics and sharp tailoring.

The Fee G brand has grown extensively, with Fiona boasting a loyal customer base; including accounts in the UK, Spain, Germany, the Middle East, US and Ireland.

Related: Sonia Deasy, Entrepreneur of the Year: 
'If you don’t learn from mistakes, you’ll never progress'

Career highs include being invited to Áras an Uachtaráin for her contribution to Irish design (“I’m a huge Michael D fan because he supports the arts and crafts and Irish design”), and seeing celebrities wearing her clothes. High profile clients include Amy Huberman, Jo Malone and Sabina Higgins.

Is there anyone she’d love to see wear her clothes? “Michelle Obama. I really admire her – she’s into fashion and a great public figure and campaigner.”

Fiona Heaney accepts her award. Photo by Kieran Harnett
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Inspiration

As a creative, Fiona knows that her inspiration can come from anywhere; from architecture, to travel, to discovering a new culture. “This season, I was taking a flight somewhere and ended up getting re-routed through the Middle East for two days. It was a highly inspiring trip. It was a case of, ‘Okay, I’m stuck here, let’s embrace it.’ You don’t know when or where inspiration will come from, so you need to be open to new ideas and able to react to them.”

While she loves her industry, she knows that you have to work hard to stay on top. “You’re only as good as your next delivery. We work in forward sales, so I’m currently working AW19, but we are also currently producing SS19, and yet we’re retailing AW18, so you have three seasons on the go. That’s a daily challenge, as it’s a juggling act with three elements and there are always complications.”

Related: Anne Harris, Lifetime Achievement Winner:
'Open your eyes and observe'

Fiona would advise anyone considering starting a fashion business to ask all the right questions. “Do your research. Have you got a market and a customer base? Have you a product you can sell? Who are your competitors? You really need to know your market inside out, and you have to be absolutely passionate about what you’re offering and why you’re different to anybody else. Like, why are you going to succeed? You have to ask the questions.”

Since launching, the brand now offers a full ready-to-wear collection, establishing Fee G as a leading fashion house offering wardrobe solutions for all occasions. The Fee G collection was delivered to 128 individual accounts for SS18, a growth of 20% year on year. “For 2019, we’re working on our export growth. We’re trying to sustain that market, and the growth is coming from overseas.”

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Top photo: Fiona Heaney, photo by Anthony Woods

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