Irish Women in Business: Fashion Designer Marion Murphy Cooney
For the latest in our series of editorials focusing on Irish Women in Business, we’re talking to Marion Murphy Cooney, award-winning fashion designer.
After years of study and designing in her spare time Marion finally bit the bullet in 2005, giving up her job in marketing to concentrate on making her business a full-time endeavour. She hasn't looked back since.
Here, Marion talks to Her.ie about starting out, having it all and the best advice she's ever been given.
What is your background? Where did you grow up, is there a history of entrepreneurship in your family?
I'm proudly from the fabulous Kileely in Limerick city. I had an amazing childhood there. Yes, I've uncles who have established business' in Limerick and have mentored me well! My dad, (who sadly passed away last year) was a self taught very talented artist and always encouraged me from a toddler up. So the artistic streak is definitely in my blood.
What was your first indication that this would be the career for you?
I remember ripping up my dad's old shirt and made outfits for my Barbies. ( I had the best dressed dolls in town!) My mam bought me my 1st sewing machine when I was 12 and it was the BEST present EVER! So I experimented every day...
Where and what did you study?
As a teenager I did an evening course in a local resource centre and that's where I learned how to sew. After my Leaving Cert I was delighted to be accepted into the LSAD, where I studied for 2 years.
At what age did you first suspect you would eventually go into business for yourself?
I always made bespoke orders in my early 20s. I worked as a brand ambassador for a reputable drinks company who were amazing and learned lots of marketing skills. Eventually, when I was expecting my 2nd child in 2005, I bit the bullet and left my day job and set up as sole trader Marion Murphy-Cooney fashion designer. I was 27.
Did you pursue other careers before launching your business?
Yes, I worked in marketing and retail for several years which really benefited me now!
What were your goals when you set up your business?
I always have a 'to do' list and I keep adding as I achieve them... My dream was to own my own boutique and have a good brand/label. I now own The Design Atelier on Friar St in Nenagh, Tipperary, and I have 2 labels 'MMC by Marion Murphy-Cooney' which is my ready to wear label, and 'Marion Murphy-Cooney' is my couture label, both are doing really well.
A happy client wearing one of Marion's cape dresses
What challenges have you faced thus far?
The fashion industry is tough in general but I'm lucky at this stage I have quite a few loyal customers that keep me busy.
Do you think there are certain challenges that are unique to women who set up their own businesses?
With me, it's a work life balance I'm still trying to master! I have 3 children ages 4, 9, and 16 so you can understand it's a busy time. My husband sometimes works abroad so it can be tough to juggle it all, maintain a high reputation and constantly try to promote myself.
What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
I have several! Owning my boutique, developing my label and now will be selling further afield to the Middle East soon.
What is your favourite/least favourite part of your job?
My least favourite thing is the long hours! I get the guilts being away from my kids and husband for too long
My favourite thing is that I get to design beautiful tailored clothes and have dressed many of Ireland's familiar faces on the red carpet in Ireland and even at events like The Oscars!
Lorraine Keane pictured at the VIP Style Awards in MMC
What is a typical working day for you?
An early rise to get the kids ready for school, then I open shop at 10am. I rarely get a lunch break, my day is a mix of appointments for new designs and clients, fittings, designing ready to wear and marketing. I close at 5:30pm. Thankfully my husband Kevin has dinner ready! I try to get a run in too in the evening as well as spending time with kids. It's normally bed early if I don't have a show on!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
For my couture pieces my inspiration comes from my clients personalities/the event in question. For my ready to wear, my ethos is 'classic tailoring with a nostalgic influence'. I like my designs to be season-less and timeless, an investment piece! I don't follow fads.
Fear of the cost might prohibit some women from looking into custom-made pieces, what do your prices start from?
As my clients know they are getting a unique piece made to measure in great fabrics, my clients are always pleasantly surprised when I quote them as they expect to be more expensive. My outfits range from €150 upwards but I also work to budgets. All my garments are manufactured in house (#madeinireland!) so that's quite important.
Where do you go when you’re shopping – favourite designer/high street store?
High street it has to be Zara! Designer, (apart from my own designs!) I have a weakness for shoes and bags. My recent purchase is my LV speedy 35, I adore it! Mulberry is a favourite too, always on my wish list.
Are there any other women in business that you look up to?
Yes, several! Close to me is my pal Jean Maguire, owner of Desert Diamonds and Image events in Abu Dhabi. She is a very hard working lady and I've learned lots from her. In Ireland I admire Norah Casey, she's a strong minded powerful lady. Internationally I admire Victoria Beckham, how she's evolved to her greatness and now she's an inspiration. And of course my mam, Mary Murphy, my idol! She's the strongest woman I know.
Some of Marion's current designs
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad always said you can tell a lot about a person by their eyes! Trust your gut... And my husband, preparation is the key to success!
What advice would you give to other Irish women who wish to get into business for themselves?
Enjoy what you do. Do your research. Fail fast and move on. Also, the local enterprise boards are fantastic for help and information.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
At the moment with the help from my friend Jean I'm starting to make good contacts and clients in the Middle East!
For more on Marion Murphy Cooney visit her website here, or call to see her in person at The Design Atelier, Friar St, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. Tel 06731265.