Aoife McNamara on conscious crafting, creating a community and nature’s eternal enchantment
Having just launched a brand new collection — Enchanted by Nature in a Disenchanted World — we thought it only fitting to catch up with the lady behind the label, Aoife McNamara.
Seamlessly marrying the innovative with the traditional, the delicate with the rebellious, Aoife McNamara is a brand that encourages both a broader view of the outside world, and quiet moments of self-reflection. Driven by an obligation to protect our planet, the Aoife ethos balances optimistic revelry in colour, creativity and femininity with a keen awareness of our environmental impact.
A brand officially founded in 2019, Aoife McNamara’s presence has been thoroughly felt on the Irish fashion scene over the past three years. Between winning awards, dressing big name Irish celebrities, and fostering a creative community, it’s hard to imagine how there are enough hours in the day.
A dream that’s been neatly nestled in the back of this Limerick designer’s head since she was just a little girl, it all began with a spontaneous trip to a Limerick School of Art & Design (LSAD) fashion show when Aoife McNamara was just 16 years old.
“I remember just looking at the clothes and being absolutely mesmerised that someone could actually make these clothes with their hands,” Aoife tells me. “Once I saw that people have the ability to make their own garments, and the level of creativity coming out of the college, I knew that I wanted to be a fashion designer.”
Growing up in a household where wild imagination and artistic expression were actively encouraged and nurtured, Aoife’s creativity was given space to roam, free from judgement. Reminded time and time again that you can do anything you put your mind to, that’s exactly what she set about doing.
Setting off to secure an Honours degree at LSAD, this budding designer quickly amassed her fair share of industry experience. Jetting off to New York City to intern with Marc Jacobs in third year and swiftly moving on to a Parisian company in the fashion capital, an all grown up Aoife McNamara was poised to make her 16-year-old self’s aspirations a reality.
“When I went to art college and started working in the industry, I began to realise the effects that the fashion industry was having on our planet,” Aoife recalls. “That, for me, was a really big part of why I started my clothing brand in the first place. Though it happened very organically, one of the main things I felt starting out was that I had a job to help protect and understand how I could make changes in a positive way.”
Aoife’s love affair with nature began during her childhood, living in the Limerick countryside. Whether it was swimming in the sea or going on a lengthy hike, being surrounded by the great outdoors was a huge part of Aoife’s upbringing, and an innate appreciation for the Irish landscape was bred into her.
“Once I realised the impact the fashion industry was having on the planet, I wanted to protect nature. People weren’t talking about it, so we didn’t really have an understanding of what fast fashion was. People are becoming aware now, but I feel like a lot of people don’t realise that the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter behind the oil industry.”
While the draw of further shores lured Aoife away during her period of learning, she always knew she would set up shop back home. “Ireland is where my roots are, and I get so much of my inspiration from the Irish landscape, so it just made so much sense to come home,” Aoife says.
“I never knew I would be quite this close to home, but I always daydreamed about there being a clothing store in the thatched cottages in Adare. I think it’s only when it came up on the market during the pandemic that I felt it was just meant to be.”
The timeframe of the pandemic allowed for the Aoife McNamara brand to open its flagship store in 2020 within the walls of a quaint thatched cottage on Adare Main Street, Co. Limerick. Lending a renewed youthful energy to the town she would pass through every day as a child, this exquisitely curated cottage studio doubles as an innovative hub for designers and creatives alike.
While the brand’s philosophy is guided by the pillars of collaboration, connection, empowerment and sustainability, for Aoife, her role is really that of an educator and community cultivator.
“I don’t just want it to be a clothing brand, I want it to be a community. In the cottage, we’re starting to do events and workshops, because to be a conscious consumer and buy sustainably, it has to start from within,” Aoife tells me. “It’s all about educating the conscious consumer. It’s like a circle, because people won’t buy my clothes until they understand why buying sustainable clothing and supporting local matters.”
Revealing that season seven — her latest 15-piece collection — captures the brand messaging as a whole most accurately, Enchanted by Nature in a Disenchanted World speaks to Aoife McNamara’s optimistic vision of a better tomorrow, while acknowledging the destruction that must be undone.
Produced entirely in Ireland from sustainable materials, the collection includes a puff-sleeve blush pink linen gown, a mint green corset dress in duchess satin and a statement coral two-piece tweed suit. The colour palette is a subtle nod to the world around us, with sea blues and pistachio greens, blossom pinks and coral oranges.
Bringing the consumer on a journey from enchantment to disenchantment and back again, the season seven story aims to inspire a deep reconnection to the wonders of nature. Shot on Valentia Island off county Kerry, the video is set to a poem by Millie Brennan that follows one girl’s relationship with the world around her.
“I was born with your grass in my lungs and your flowers in my hair. I bask under your glittering suns, I laugh beneath your twinkling stars, I swim in your cold, enchantingly still waters,” the poem begins. Roving through the bond we, as humans, have with nature, the voiceover reminds us of the give and take, that ancient dance that allows both sides to continue to flourish.
Once the scales became tipped, humanity grew oblivious to the necessities of nature’s nourishment. “Right now, us humans are choosing to ignore the plight of the world around us. The only way to solve this is through action. We must give back what we once took from you, rebuild what we once destroyed, relearn how to appreciate your magic.”
“We must surrender to the discomfort of cold water and jump into the sea. We must sit on the sand and watch, mesmerised, as your spellbinding waves crash gallantly against the shore. We must walk with our hood down in the rain, embracing the cold touch of your elegant ethereal waters. We will learn to love you again, you wild, eternal, unfathomably beautiful thing. I promise you.”
Speaking on the powerful visual these words muster up, Aoife says that “it’s so hard to make an incredibly negative thing in any way positive, but it’s just so important to educate people on where we’re at and what we can do next, without preaching. It’s all about the power of the pocket, because every purchase is like a vote.”
At 27 years old, just over a decade since she first set her eyes on the fashion industry, Aoife McNamara has accomplished quite a lot already. However, for this designer, it’s just the beginning. From awards and recognition to Kildare Village pop ups and opening her very own shop, each milestone is just another step towards a very bright future.
This summer, the gates of the Aoife McNamara thatched cottage will be thrown open to the public for community events and workshops aimed at promoting a mindful approach to life. In her collaborations with other creatives, Aoife opens up a space for a vibrant community of talented artists including Gráinne Mullins, Badly Made Books, and Lydia Maria Jewellery.
John Keats wrote that the poetry of the earth is never dead, and this brand is a beautiful illustration of exactly that. Each individual piece — and indeed the wider brand ethos — promotes a deeper connection, both to the planet and to one another.
Shop Aoife McNamara’s latest collection at aoifemcnamara.com