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Meet Virtue Shine, the designer behind the vivacious and vibrant Emerald & Wax
Image / Style / Irish Design

Nathalie Marquez Courtney

Meet Virtue Shine, the designer behind the vivacious and vibrant Emerald & Wax


by Sarah Gill
08th Jul 2024

On a mission to empower her customers to live and dress boldly, create intentional designs that speak to the fabrics’ heritage, and spread as much joy as is humanly possible, Virtue Shine of Emerald & Wax has brought West African vibrancy to the West of Ireland. Having recently been selected as one of the 26 designers being championed by CREATE at Brown Thomas, we thought it fitting that we catch up with the woman of the moment.

Virtue Shine spent her childhood running around her grandmother’s fabric warehouse in Accra, captivated by the sea of colourful patterns and magnetic energies that surrounded her. It was here that she learned the importance of community, and where she first experienced the stories of these African wax prints.

Having just returned from a trip back home, Virtue reminisces on her Ghanian upbringing: “This was where it all started for me. I remember the feeling of being in the midst of all the colour and laughter, and I’ve carried that with me through my whole life. When I was back there visiting, it was like falling in love all over again.”

A self-taught crafter who began by making simple totes, scarves and cushion covers before extending her brand to encompass separates, shift dresses, and embroidered kimonos, Virtue Shine tells me that her brand, Emerald & Wax, happened little by little and then all at once.

“I bought my first sewing machine in New York to make some wrap skirts for myself while I was pregnant. I never thought it would take me to where it’s taken me. I never had a real desire to be a designer, but when I moved to Ireland, people were fascinated by the fabrics.”

Quickly realising that there were many ways to showcase the prints and bring their stories to a new audience, Virtue created Emerald & Wax, a wearable art brand that emboldens the wearer to feel seen and make a statement. “For me, it’s not just about the fabrics themselves, but about the story they tell and their history. It’s about how they make people feel, and making the choice to wear something different, bold and vibrant.”

Speaking on the wide variety of customers that shop her designs, Virtue says, “I’ve always felt that African prints don’t just belong to Africans in the same way that art doesn’t just belong to the artist. It should be enjoyed by all, and it makes me so happy to see so many different people wearing Emerald & Wax.’”

Though it took Virtue some time to find her feet, once she began putting down roots, Barna, on the outskirts of Galway City, began to feel like home. From opening a shop alongside business partner Ro Chigozie called Ro & Vee to designing an Irish tweed and African print collection, she tells me that these milestones have affirmed to her that she’s exactly where she’s meant to be. “I wanted my children to know their heritage, to show them a tangible representation of where they’re from,” she says of the new collection. “It feels like having your feet firmly on the ground, rooted to this place. The two textiles are so different, but so beautiful together — it just works.”

Late last year, working non-stop without a day off and putting everything she had into meeting the demand for her products, Virtue realised that she was reaching breaking point. “I felt very burnt out, I was missing my kids and they were missing me. I was starting to resent what I was making, and I knew that there was a risk of losing that passion, and that means everything to me.”

“Two words that I had forgotten about were slow fashion. I was making it myself, but it was coming at a very fast pace and in large quantities. I love to take my time, to play with fabrics, and I didn’t feel like I was giving my creations the love and attention they deserved. I would rather create slowly, with respect and intention and love. Having a relationship with your creation is so important, and I didn’t want to lose it.”

Now, Virtue is rediscovering her joy. “I want people to remember Emerald & Wax as a joyous brand, one that made them feel empowered to form a relationship with colour, and to express themselves. I just want people to feel joy and give joy. The simple things can sometimes be the hardest things to obtain, but they’re so important.”

Photography by Nathalie Marquez Courtney

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of IMAGE Magazine.