Since 2012, Ireland’s Brown Thomas’s flagship store, located in the heart of Dublin’s bustling Grafton Street, has cultivated its own unique platform to nurture and incubate Irish talent. Alongside this, Create offers the leading retail destination an innovative, engaging way of driving footfall during one of the markets most dismal months.
“It gives our customers the opportunity to discover a carefully selected edit of designers at the forefront of Irish design today and those who are fast emerging,” explains Shelly Corkery, Brown Thomas fashion director. This year, the initiative included 25 designers working across design categories like ready-to-wear, millinery, accessories and interiors, including Richard Quinn, Úna Burke, Lainey Keogh and Domino Whisker.
“From my product-based point of view, I’d say that customers’ appetite for harder to find or independent brands is definitely growing, in line with the idea of embracing a more individualistic approach to styling,” says Sara Maggioni, retail and buying director at WGSN. “The younger generations in particular are seeking more unique pieces, and they also buy in a more conscious, considered way: less but better, and supporting local brands also fits into that.”
After a challenging few years, spend is picking up in what will soon be Europe's only English-speaking country in the EU and Brown Thomas has certainly hit gold with Create. Over the decades it has given a platform to brands and designers that otherwise struggle to get exposure or make sales, and, in turn, developed in line with consumer expectations.
“ It isn’t prescriptive in a way that other initiatives might be — it is collaborative”
Luxury leather designer Úna Burke, who took part in the inaugural Create and has seen the initiative evolve since inception, paints a picture of how the platform has grown and expanded: “The first time, it was very new to them [Brown Thomas], us and the customer in Ireland. But, since the recession, the customer has definitely gotten braver.”
Create takes place on the first floor of the distinguished flagship and features substantial input from the visual merchandise department, both in terms of budgeting and brain power. This year it explored a theme of reflection, a self-proclaimed and apt nod to past designers and a look towards how it can continue to break new experiential ground.
“They put a huge amount of effort into in-store visual merchandising,” explains Paul Stafford, one half of Derry-based millinery duo The Season Hats. “Throughout the store, there is a specific design aesthetic, like the iridescent projections that change colour.” Set against a specially constructed mirror backdrop, the NewGen winners’ exotic and elaborate folding creations can be found delicately perched on the “millinery wall.”
A newcomer to Create, Stafford is equally positive on the working process: “Brown Thomas have been very supportive in terms of making the edits of the collection — and knowing what their customers like. They made loose edits but it wasn’t prescriptive in a way that other initiatives might be — it is collaborative and less dictated.” He also cites the real-time, ongoing feedback on sales: “This has been the most interactive with a constant response on how things are selling. We can be really reactive to what’s happening down in Dublin.”
“It’s also about adding a bit of excitement in-store and reaching a new demographic”
Equally impressed, Burke also pointed out that in her retail meetings with the fashion department she received dedicated feedback: “You don’t really get the luxury of having that kind of comment from a buyer, especially from a department store.”
As well as supporting designers who have recently taken the plunge to set up shop, Brown Thomas also runs ‘Designer to Watch’ with local university, the National College of Art & Design - Simone Rocha’s alma mater. “It’s also about adding a bit of ‘excitement’ in-store and reaching a new demographic,” says WGSN’s Maggioni. “In addition, stocking brands that not every other department store has, sets you apart and makes you stand out in a crowded market.”
Most of the products available are relatively difficult to find elsewhere and the beauty of Create is that as well as getting feedback, designers are encouraged to be on-site to meet-and-greet customers. “It allows you the opportunity to build up one-to-one relationships,” Burke explains. “Our product is a personal journey and it’s about reminding people in a physical way of being strong, while also speaking to inner strength. I can’t explain how important it is when you get to meet people and take them on your journey.”
With price-points for Create ranging from £90 for a bracelet and up to £1,500 for a body-piece, it is precisely this consumer engagement that Burke believes is vital in taking clients on the journey from entry product to larger purchase. “They can move through our brand, from bracelets to belts to dresses,” she says. “It’s really nice to build up that personal relationship.”
Create is now, according to the designer, fully entrenched in the Irish fashion calendar: “Especially if, like us, you change your strategy and have decided to go off schedule, then this is really useful. It focuses you and gives you a deadline,” she adds.
For Stafford, the unique approach of Brown Thomas and Create gives integrity to the entire production. “You will get different customers coming along for different things but you get the hands and minds of who made them simply standing there. Quite simply, it’s a really good initiative that all retailers should be taking on board now.”