A fashionable business

Published Tuesday, 11 September 2012
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Three of Northern Ireland's emerging fashion designers have got a boost into retail with the help of two established businesswomen, and they got their lucky break on Facebook.

Troubled economic times mean graduates often struggle to finance their career, but the recently launched Unify Collective Fashion Studio has given designers the chance to put everything into becoming the next Stella McCartney.

The scheme, based in Belfast, allows graduate designers to work in a fully fitted professional studio, and they also get retail links and help with advertising - which means the designers can concentrate on their creations.

Unify is the brainchild of Moira women Sarah McCann from The Sewing Cottage, and Mandy Baxter of Pollini Fashion.

"I wanted something in my shop that would stand out, so I came up with the idea of having local designers produce pieces for my shop that would be one-off, affordable prices," explained Mandy, who then set about finding the people who could make those unique pieces.

The self-confessed Queen of Facebook found she didn't have to look too far.

"I posted something cryptic on Facebook and was inundated with designers wanting to find out more," Mandy told me.

The list was narrowed down to just three, and with a mix of Dave Henderson's unique designs, Shauna Fay's elegant dresses and Sean Henry's edgy sense of fashion, Mandy feels she's got something for everyone.

"They're dedicated, so driven. They really were the right people.

"All three are completely different to each other, so that means that putting these three designers into a shop with totally different looks we can target different age ranges of customers."

Shauna Fay designs.

Shauna Fay explained how Unify has provided her with a support network in a cutthroat business.

"It's a fantastic opportunity; it means you're not alone. When you're trying to do it all by yourself it's such a minefield," said the 29-year-old.

"What I want to get out of Unify is to be able to step away from the business side of things and concentrate on my designs."

The Newry designer's form-fitting pieces were admired during the first Unify fashion show earlier this month.

"I like something to hug you and to make you feel good. I love the female form, I'm not into wearing baggy clothes, I like something that emphasises your good parts and takes away from your bad parts," said Shauna.

"Mandy has been good enough to give us the opportunity of putting something into a shop and we met completely on a whim. I have done these dresses as good, sellable dresses and I want to see them sell.

"If they do then I'm going to work hard on my spring/summer collection for next year and get it into Pollini and even more shops. "

Mandy's vision for the Unify designers is clear - get women across Northern Ireland wearing local designs.

"In this economy, there's nothing but doom and gloom. Women need that little pick me up that makes them feel a bit special. These dresses are all going to be at affordable prices.

"I think Northern Ireland needs somewhere where they can go to see a choice of local designer's pieces," she said.

© UTV News
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Sara Neill
Sara Neill

Sara Neill joined UTV's Webteam as an online journalist in 2011, previously having worked for radio and print outlets.

She has covered a range of topics, from the Saville Report to the Royal Wedding or new sounds on Northern Ireland's music scene and fashion shows.

In her spare time, she likes to read poetry and 1960s American literature and blog about all things makeup, hair and beauty.

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