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Image / Style / Irish Design

Irish Design Spotlight: Gabrielle Malone


By Sarah Finnan
03rd Sep 2023
Irish Design Spotlight: Gabrielle Malone

Gabrielle Malone launched her eponymous brand in 2021, just months after moving home from NYC. Specialising in luxury knitwear, her pieces are focused on feminine, high-quality garments made using traditional techniques with contemporary silhouettes. Here she tells us more about her design process and inspiration.

Tell us about you and your brand
My name is Gabrielle Malone and I launched my eponymous brand in 2021 after having to move back home after the pandemic. At first, it wasn’t the plan to launch a commercial brand – I was just creating a small collection to have in my portfolio for when the world opened back up – but then more and more people became interested in my work and there was so much support for Irish design that it kind of just snowballed from there.

I design knitwear that is primarily knitted by myself and my team of knitters in Leinster. My design is mainly inspired by traditional Aran knits, focusing on a specific stitch for a garment and then reimagining it and designing it in a contemporary way. I think for so long, knitwear – especially Irish knitwear – had this sort of ‘granny-ish’ label and I really wanted to showcase it in a different light while still appreciating the traditional techniques that it came from.

What is your mission?
When I create pieces I envision them being worn years from the point at which they’re bought, I’m really not interested in ‘trendy’ pieces and want to create classic garments that people will love and feel confident in for years to come. I love the motto “buy less, buy better.”

When I started my brand, I wanted to implement the transparency that I would like to see more of in the fashion industry, so I launched a section called ‘Garment Journey’ on my website where under each garment you can click to see where the fabric is from, what certificates the dye has that was used to colour the textiles and where it was made. There are so many steps in garment production that people don’t know about and I think the industry as a whole needs to be more transparent in their manufacturing process and open that conversation up with consumers.

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I always knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry, but not exactly in what capacity. When I was a kid, I was always taking old scraps of fabric, or in one case this beautiful cashmere sweater and costume jewellery that my mum had (sorry mum!) and from that, cutting them up and sewing them into dresses for my dolls. I also would go through sheets and sheets of paper and copybooks designing different outfits. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I was in my last few years of secondary school that I even considered fashion design specifically, even though by that time I would have already made a few dresses for myself. It was when I started going to open days in fourth year that I realised I could make a job and career out of it, and that fashion design was even an option.

What kind of items do you stock?
I stock primarily hand-knit garments. Sometimes I will release a silk scarf with a pattern I’ve made that ties into the collection and I am excited to say that my next collection will expand to some machine-knit pieces. My garments are quite heavy due to the yarns I use and I take a long time when sourcing materials so that the garments are made in the highest quality with responsible materials. I also love getting feedback from my customers It’s because of customer feedback that in my AW23 collection I will be launching two knit pieces made from cotton yarn – I have had a few people commission me for cotton garments specifically because they are allergic to wool. That’s the great thing about running a smaller business, I really get to know what my customer wants and I hope in return they feel like they know me and my brand mission too.

What new brands or items are on your radar?
I adore wide-leg trousers so any brand that makes them really well I’m a fan of, such as Remain Birger Christensen and Anine Bing. I really like that Scandi minimal style where nearly everything is in a neutral colourway but still can be very visually interesting. The past few years I’ve really been interested in coats, probably because for half the year that’s all we can see of each other’s outfits when we’re walking down the street! I have a beautiful navy blue wool coat that I got from a store called Club Monaco when I worked there in New York, it’s probably my favourite clothing item I’ve ever bought. One day I would love to own a Norma Kamali ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’ too, it just looks so comfy and chic.

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
I’ve worked since I was a teenager and usually had to juggle two jobs – retail and waitressing – alongside unpaid internships while paying for college and/or rent, so I’ve always been pretty good at saving. When I started my business, I had been saving to move to New York and once I got there had worked two jobs, full time as a retail supervisor in a store while also working the closing shift at a bar. I was working two jobs because I had given myself until March 2020 to save like crazy and then I planned to quit one job so I could work in what would likely be an unpaid or low-paying entry job in the fashion industry. Of course, March 2020 came around and everything changed, so the money I was saving to help towards an internship and rent went into my business instead.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a concern though! There are so many hidden and unexpected costs in starting a business that no one tells you about. I really had to put all my money into it until this year. That means no savings for mortgages, holidays etc. It’s really tough – but for me, it was worth it.

Best business advice you’ve gotten
Last year I was part of ‘Back for Business’ which was founded by Paula Fitzsimons and was supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs for people who had returned to Ireland and started a business. It was six months and it was a huge learning opportunity, from speaking with industry leaders and many other small business owners. I learnt that it didn’t matter what sector your business was in, we all had the same questions and concerns. I would tell anyone who has questions to enquire about training and grants through local supports. Whether it’s your Local Enterprise Office, a programme like I did or Enterprise Ireland, there is so much that you can learn from other business owners and mentors.

Favourite fashion/design accounts you follow
For style, I really like how @lizzyhadfield and @tarmarz style their wardrobes, with simple pieces but layering them together and styling them in a really effortless way that just looks so cool. @greceghanem’s account is great for showing how fun and colourful your own personal style can be without your age putting a limit on that. @best.dressed and @accidentalinfluencer both have a feminine aesthetic that I really like as well, they both wear a lot of long skirts, loafers, bralettes and dresses but style them in a very chic and sometimes edgy way, I like how their outfits can look very feminine, but not ‘girly’.

Design accounts that I follow include @upnextdesigner, which showcases new and young independent designers. I think it’s great how a stylist can find a new brand on their page, put one of their garments on a client and suddenly the brand has a whole new audience and consumer base who have now found them! Another design/art account I like is @c_l_o which takes different pictures from the internet and just curates them into a really beautiful feed. I like going through both of these accounts and finding new designers, photographers and artists.

Best fashion purchase
I would say a Miu Miu bag I bought in Kildare Village because it’s an item that is constantly on repeat in my wardrobe. It’s a black leather bag but is in the shape of a rugby ball and I like adding that little bit of whimsy to my outfits. I feel like I’m a person who has everything but the kitchen sink in my bag! It’s important that I can carry all necessary and unnecessary items in my bag throughout my day and have a bag that accommodates that. Gum? I have some. Claw clip? Sure I have two depending on what colours you’re wearing. Scissors? Yes, I have them too!

Other Irish brands you love
One positive from lockdown was that so many new Irish brands were born out of it. Right now I’m really loving Caoimhe Murphy’s colourful print dresses, Lia Cowan’s huge voluminous cotton and tulle garments and Barbara Bennett’s shoes, I rarely wear heels and I really like how she makes such cool hand-painted trainers and loafers!

An Irish heritage brand that I love is Cushendale – they have the softest mohair and I was lucky enough to collaborate with them in the past. The latest brand I’ve just discovered and love is Sarah Caine. They only launched this summer and make the dreamiest white dresses.

Most useful learning since setting up a business
I’m a little bit of an introvert, so the biggest obstacle for me was becoming more extroverted and really putting myself out there. This comes about in different ways, like taking the leap and applying for awards or walking up and speaking to people in a business setting about my brand and what I do. I would love for the work to just speak for itself, but sometimes you need to speak up and put a spotlight on it for people to discover it. Maybe it’s specifically an Irish trait, but I definitely see a difference between living here in Ireland and in New York in how people talk about their artistic work and career.

Proudest moment so far
I think my first launch was such a huge day for me, I was so emotional. After winning a Future Makers grant for my degree collection, Brown Thomas invited me to interview for CREATE and I was so honoured to then be accepted and show my first collection in Brown Thomas. To say my brand debuted in Brown Thomas is such an amazing thing and I’m still so grateful to have that experience and see my clothes on the floor of a luxury store.

I want my brand to be remembered for… beautiful designs that make the wearer feel more confident, with beautiful clothes that you can tell have been made with care.

If I could have anyone wear my designs it would be… Zendaya, hands down. I just think she has the coolest style! I would love to see how she would style one of my knitwear pieces.

Imagery provided by Gabrielle Malone.