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Image / Style / Sustainable Style

Irish Design Spotlight: Sharon Sweeney


By Sharon Sweeney
07th Jan 2024
Irish Design Spotlight: Sharon Sweeney

In 2021, Sharon Sweeney launched her eponymous slow fashion label. Hailing from lovely Leitrim, her designs are inspired by a deep sense of mindfulness that permeates every aspect of the business. Here she tells us more about the brand.

Tell us about you and your brand
My brand, Sharon Sweeney Design, is about slow, unique and considered fashion. We launched at the end of 2021 and have since created limited-edition collections. Sustainability and transparency are paramount to the label. This is reflected in all aspects, from the fabric choices to the packaging materials and our commitment to producing solely in Ireland. 

Sharon wearing her own design

There’s a strong focus on tailoring in particular with my collections, and I love creating suits that have a unique cut and shape. I enjoy pushing the boundaries and creating pieces that make people do a double take when passing you at an event, party or on the street. If I had to describe the label in three words I would say, bold, eclectic and chic. 

What is your mission?
To create clothes that are really loved by my customers and that are hopefully passed down over time. That’s the dream! I love when people really love what they own; when they really cherish a piece and see it as something that comes on a journey with them as they make memories over time and grow as people. 

We live in a throwaway culture and clothing plays a massive part in this. The rise of fast fashion means it’s normal to buy cheap clothing that’s usually made of plastic, wear it on average seven times (if even) and then send it to landfill. Not only is it terrible for the environment but it’s also bad for your health, both mental and physical. Not to mention the people behind the clothing – usually garment workers in less developed countries who aren’t always treated fairly. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” If I can contribute as a brand and spread awareness, I will. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Yes, I was a very creative child. I would spend hours drawing and making things from cardboard boxes, wool – really anything I had at hand. I feel bad for anyone who gifted me a Barbie as a child… the clothes would be immediately taken off, cut up and rejigged into a completely different ensemble!

Even though this was the case, I didn’t take the design route immediately. I actually didn’t learn to sew until my mid-20s, having come from a science background. I studied environmental science at the National University of Ireland, Galway. After graduating, I travelled to the States and began a sewing course over there. When I got back, I decided to study for a fashion diploma part-time at the Grafton Academy of Fashion Design. The college is brilliant for teaching the practical skills needed to create garments from start to finish, and my tutor and principal of the college, Colin Atkinson, is an excellent teacher. 

My journey definitely wasn’t straightforward, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. I love how my background has shaped my ethos as a designer. 

What kind of items do you stock?
We stock womenswear separates, with a focus on suits – primarily, coats and jackets. We have statement totes that are made from Irish linen and vintage fabrics. We sometimes do limited edition drops, usually using vintage fabrics that are one-of-a-kind. We also take suit commissions which is a process I love! Working with my clients to create their dream suit is so exciting. We offer personalisations such as embroidery of their initials and custom buttons that are made in Ireland. I think it’s important to source and support Irish where at all possible. 

What new brands or items are on your radar?
I love Jacquemus – the clothing, the shows, everything about the label. I also adore other made-to-order labels like Olivia Rose the label and Charlotte Simone. They are proving that there are other ways to produce fashion, you can find your niche and release pieces on your own timeline. I have my eye on a gorgeous pink Charlotte Simone coat at the moment.

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
It definitely was something I thought about a lot. I’m from beautiful Co. Leitrim and I found my local enterprise office very helpful. I managed to secure a feasibility grant starting out. I would highly recommend them, and to enrol on the Start Your Own Business course is a must. 

Best business advice you’ve gotten
It takes time to figure out what works in any business so look at your journey as a marathon, not a sprint. 

Favourite fashion/design accounts you follow
Oh, I love Rejina Pyo, she’s my favourite designer, and Pernille Teisbaek has the most impeccable style. 

Best fashion purchase
It’s not the most practical, but I bought a Needle & Thread dress over a decade ago – I’ve worn it to several events over the last few years and I will continue to wear it to future events. I have a lot of great memories in it, it makes me feel a million dollars and it’s just so stunning… very 1920s beaded vibes! 

Other Irish brands you love
There are so many, it’s really hard to name just a few as we have such incredible talent for the wee island we are, but I have to say I love Simone Rocha and Laoise Carey. We have plenty of new graduates that are doing amazing work as well like Tom Stapleton Studios and Jessica Brennan Design.

Most useful learning since setting up a business
That you have to really love what you’re doing – if you’re not enjoying the process, it makes the hard parts a lot harder. I always try to enjoy the day-to-day and focus on the present while building towards a future. 

Proudest moment so far
Showing a collection at London Fashion Week was definitely a pinch-me moment! 

I want my brand to be remembered for… its high quality and attention to detail, its ability to retain long-term clients and, of course, our commitment to sustainability. I’ve built really great relationships with my customers and I love hearing about how they wore their piece, how much they enjoy it and how good it makes them feel. Giving my customers the luxury experience from start to finish is non-negotiable. If they choose to purchase from mewhether that’s a collection piece or a commission – it’s important to me that there’s trust and clear communication.

I would also like the brand to be remembered for creating limited edition drops and making use of vintage fabrics that get to be recreated into something beautiful. It’s cool to know that the people who have purchased a limited edition item, are one in a small number of people in the world wearing that piece – it just makes the whole process so much more special for me… it’s almost like a diary entry from that time of my life being a part of someone else’s life. 

If I could have anyone wear my designs it would be… Sienna Miller, I’d love to see how she would style one of my suits. She just makes everything look so effortlessly chic and cool!

Imagery provided by Sharon Sweeney. This article was originally published in October 2023.