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Image / Style / Irish Design

Irish Design Spotlight: GG Designs


By Gillian Tobin
01st Oct 2023
Irish Design Spotlight: GG Designs

Hailing from the beautiful countryside of Co Tipperary, Gillian Tobin is the maker and designer behind GG Designs – an Irish jewellery brand specialising in unique pieces made from sustainable materials.

Tell us about you and your brand
I’m a jewellery designer and multi-media artist from Cashel Co Tipperary. On completing secondary school, I studied art in Crawford College of Art and Design in Cork City, where I even ventured into ceramics for a short period of time. After I left college in my early 20s, I turned my back completely on my creative life and worked in a variety of different jobs for several years. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself…

I spent many years working in jewellery retail and when my first child started primary school, I decided to go back to college and study jewellery design and metalsmithing. I absolutely loved it! It felt so good to be back designing and creating again.
So, here I am now in my early 4os, combining my two passions – art and jewellery design – through my brand GG Designs –. Creating something and being able to share it with people who appreciate it is so fulfilling.

What is your mission?
As you can probably tell from the materials I use, sustainability is always at the forefront of my design process.
I try my best to utilise what I already have available to me. One of my favourite pastimes is visiting my local charity shops to see what items and fabrics I can use in my collections. I have lots of fun cutting up unwanted materials and turning them into something stylish, affordable, and of course, fun to wear!

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something creative with my life. As a child, my grandmother encouraged my drawing – she even created a gallery inside her front door and would hang my work up every time I called in with a new drawing or painting. My granny was a talented artist herself and way ahead of her time. Her motto was “waste not, want not”… my dad even had that engraved on her headstone! Nothing went to waste, she grew her own fruit and veg, pickling them for the winter months. She even made her own wine using grapes from vines growing outside her back door. When she passed away, I was given her sketchbooks. They have become my most treasured mementoes.

What kind of items do you stock?
I stock a wide selection of earrings, the most popular being my mussel shell and fabric collection. Recently I have started making necklaces and brooches using leather cut-offs. I also make trinket dishes using Irish scallop shells and bright vibrant fabrics and finally my collection of framed shell art.

What new brands or items are on your radar?
To be honest, I don’t follow many new brands or trends, which is probably very silly of me. I just focus on creating my next collection using whatever fabulous items I discover in my local charity shop. I find once I start sketching designs for new jewellery, I go into my own little world. It gives me so much joy to bring them to life.

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
Oh absolutely! In the beginning, I applied to various organisations for small business start-up help but unfortunately, I heard little to nothing back. My savings account wasn’t in great shape so with the help of my very understanding parents, they loaned me the money to get myself up and running. Over the years, my local credit union has also been fantastic.

Best business advice you’ve gotten?
Feel the fear and do it anyway! I was so worried about absolutely everything when I first started out. My biggest fear was that no one would buy my work and it would all be over in the blink of an eye. I think the fear of failure is probably the biggest concern for anyone starting their own business, but all I can say is that if you’re passionate about what you do, chances are you’ll find a way to move forward.

Favourite fashion/design accounts you follow?
To be honest I don’t follow that many fashion/design accounts. It’s quite funny really, my own personal style is very sedate – my wardrobe is full of black and grey! I guess that’s why I love to express myself using colourful jewellery.
I’ve always had a love for statement necklaces and earrings. Having fun with colour is massively important to me when designing new pieces.

Best fashion purchase?
Perhaps not my best fashion purchase, maybe more my favourite, but it has to be my ten-hole steel toe cap Doc Martin boots. I was 15 and a real grunge girl. I can still feel the excitement of travelling to Cork on the bus with my friends, armed with my Christmas money to buy them. They tore my feet to shreds but once I had broken them in, I wore them till they fell apart and magically disappeared?

Other Irish brands you love
I am very lucky to be a regular trader at the wonderful Mountain View Market in Kilkenny every Sunday. It’s a market full of talented Irish creatives, you are spoilt for choice up there. They are an inspiring community of crazy talented Irish makers and designers I love that I get to spend time amongst them every week.

Most useful learning since setting up a business
Strive for progress, not perfection.

Proudest moment so far
I think where I am right now with my business makes me immensely proud. A lot of blood, sweat and tears goes into any business, so it is so rewarding to see my designs being sold and appreciated whether it be through my website, at the markets or in the gift shops that kindly stock my work.

I want my brand to be remembered for… I would love my brand to be remembered for its unique, sustainable designs. I want my pieces to be instantly recognisable. I so want to bring a pop of colour into people’s lives and, as corny as it sounds, hopefully bring a smile to their faces.

If I could have anyone wear my designs it would be… I would love to see the gorgeous Nicola Coughlan wearing one of my designs.

Imagery provided by GG Designs