Irish Women in Business - Glove Designer Paula Rowan
For the latest in our series of editorials focusing on Irish Women in Business, we’re talking to Paula Rowan, a leather goods designer and owner of her own store in The Westbury Mall, Dublin 2.
Here, Paula talks to Her.ie about maintaining your vision, sources of inspiration and the best part of the day.
What is your background? Where did you grow up, and is there a history of entrepreneurship in your family?
I was raised in Blackrock in Dublin. I now live in Monkstown by the sea. I grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit. Rowan Seeds had been a family business and this was also fostered by my late father, who was a director in Gilbeys. We were encouraged to think for ourselves and both my parents encouraged hard work and independence, which I think are important elements in the life of an entrepreneur.
Where and what did you study?
I studied History & Classics in UCD which broadened my thinking and developed my writing skills. Though I always knew that I would own and run my own business, I gained a huge amount from my time in UCD,
Did you pursue other careers before launching your business?
After I finished my degree I started a course in interior design so worked in that industry for some time but I needed to subsidise that income so I started helping my brother who had a variety of retail outlets. Very quickly I started buying for the shop. We sold luxurious, leather handbags in his store in the Westbury Mall. I learned to appreciate good materials and expert craftsmanship from this experience. The value of selling premium products has stayed with me and I am drawn to beauty and excellence. When I sit down to design, I do so with this in mind... they’re not just gloves!
What were your goals when you set up your business?
There was one, I was/am absolute: that my name would become synonymous with leather gloves, quality and elegance.
What challenges have you faced thus far?
The biggest challenge has been to get my gloves out to an international marketplace. I believe in the quality and beauty of my product but the funding required to take them to the next level has created some pressure, particularly given the economic climate over the last few years. But you find ways around this, this is what entrepreneurs do. The recession was also tough but it forced me to focus on my core business, streamline costs and make adjustments where necessary.
Do you think there are certain challenges that are unique to women who set up their own businesses?
Not really to be honest, I think the challenges of business are not gender specific. Keep your costs down and maintain your profits are the basic rules for every business. I work hard at what I do and make the most of every opportunity, I think most successful business people do, male or female.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
There have been lots of highlights: when Mrs Sabina Higgins wore my gloves on the first Irish Presidential State visit to the UK it was a huge honour to be part of such a significant event. When I see the publications that they have appeared in: Elle, Vanity Fair, How to Spend It, the front cover of Grazia or when I see my gloves being worn on the hands of global fashion icons: Kate Moss, Chloe Sevigny, Helen Mirren, Princess Charlene of Monaco, Ronnie Wood, Martin Scorcese, Richard E Grant. Seeing my gloves for the first time in Brown Thomas last year alongside other global brands was also a big moment.
What is your favourite/least favourite part of your job?
My favourite part is seeing my glove designs come to life – from a sketch to visiting the workshops in Italy sitting at the sewing machine showing exactly what adjustments need to be made and finally to a seeing people coming into my shop and appreciating the gloves. Of course, it’s lovely that they are such a hit with celebrities but I get the same thrill out of seeing my customers wearing my gloves going down Grafton Street. My least favourite part is definitely the paperwork – a necessary evil.
What is a typical working day for you?
I’m an early riser so up at 6.30 for 30 minutes meditation, followed by at least an hours walk, I’m then ready to start my day. I work either from my studio at home or from my shop in the Westbury Mall which often requires my attention. When you own your own business you are doing a little bit of everything in my case from designing and branding to PR and marketing, from accounting to paperwork. My days are always busy but I manage to fit most things in, I like to be productive.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I take inspiration from everything and everywhere. I live by the sea so that in itself is an inspiration. That aside, it could be a piece of furniture, art or architecture or a scene in a movie. Of course there is the more obvious inspiration of what’s happening on the catwalk and inevitably I look to the classic designers, so my collection when completed is classical and contemporary, I want the end product to be beautiful and elegant but it also needs to be commercial.
Are there any other women in business that you look up to?
Yes there are many as designers and business women both present and past. Jeanne Lanvin was an inspiration and pioneer. I admire the work and the work ethic of Donna Karan and especially Diane Von Furstenburg, all of these women paved new paths with iconic designs and created a new markets. My cousin’s wife Orla Kiely has been very successful too and has remained true to her design aesthetic.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Everything you do is an investment in your future. Understanding that the time I spend, the skills I master and the network I build is an investment in my future gave me the courage to take risks. I have been able to punch far above my weight in fashion terms by focusing on the long term business.
What advice would you give to other Irish women who wish to get into business for themselves?
Stick by your principals. I insist that my gloves are made from the finest leathers, in traditional Italian family run workshops and that everything is ethically sourced and certified, my gloves are all ‘handmade by adults and worn by grown-ups’ as my late friend Catherine Donnelly once said.
Paula Rowan, Westbury Mall, Dublin 2.
See her full collection in-store or online at www.paularowan.com