The NI fashion designer’s own business success after a career in big brands

A fashion designer from Belfast who has had a successful career with big brands but decided to start her own has won a prestigious award.

Originally from Armagh, Síofra Caherty worked with Adidas in Germany and other companies for years before taking the leap of faith to start her own business in her home country.

She is one of five winners to receive a cash prize of €10,000 to support the development of her craft and business skills at the 2022 RDS Craft Awards.

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The 35-year-old founded Jump The Hedges five years ago, which sells tote bags, fanny packs, storage bags and yoga bags.

Some lines are even sold out within five minutes.

Síofra told Be: “I’ve worked as a designer at Adidas in Germany and also at some Irish brands. After that I decided I wanted to have my own business so I moved back here and did a Masters and then developed Jump The Hedges.

“It was really an opportunity for me to create something myself that was really sustainable because I would be involved in all aspects of the business.

“It was a way for me to use all the experience I had from working as a designer for about seven or eight years. I was able to use the experiences I had gained from living in Germany and America in my own company.”

She added: “I currently make bags from reclaimed or waste materials and then also do community and educational workshops and teach around sustainable design.

“Because the bags are made from reclaimed materials, each bag is unique, I currently use truck tarpaulin, it’s really durable. I source them from all over Ireland and then industrially wash them in water, then I cut them and make them into bags and then do what I call “bag donations” online.

“My shop is closed most of the time and I only open maybe four times a year to do a ‘bag sale’. I have maybe 100 bags that I have made in the last three months.

“The last drop was for Ukraine and it sold out in five minutes, the previous one was for Christmas and it sold out in half an hour. They sell very quickly.”

Síofra said she felt “delighted” that her bags, made in Belfast, were popular and that people were interested in buying sustainable products.

“They’re not necessarily cheap either, my cheapest item is around £70… but at the same time people know they’re made locally here, they’re made sustainably and transparently.

“It’s nice that people believe in what I do and support it,” she added.

Looking back on starting her own business, Síofra has explained how far she’s come.

“It was really, really difficult [at the start] Because I’d worked a lot of very well paid design jobs and had a very clear career path, it was very clear what levels I was going to move to, so it almost felt pretty silly to go out and do my own thing.

“I could see my friends around me and their careers, it was really difficult.

“When I got my first sewing machine, it was incredibly heavy and incredibly fast, and I couldn’t really use it at first. I didn’t have the skills and I couldn’t control them… I definitely didn’t have it. I don’t see it that way.

“I had this ambition to have my own business and I made my own schedules, like, ‘If I haven’t sold any bags in six months, I’ll quit,’ but these bag donations have sold out … when I started, I wasn’t selling any bags.

“I’ve worked part-time in shops, taught part-time, and done all these other things. It’s really amazing now. It’s really positive,” she said.

Síofra with an old truck tarpaulin

The designer shared how she received great support in NI, with her main market originally being in Dublin.

“Now it’s starting to level out.

“I definitely get a lot of support in and around Belfast, I don’t even mean financial support, I get a lot of people texting me, ‘Oh I really love what you do’ and ‘It’s really cool you’re in Belfast “.

“I did some workshops in Ardoyne and that’s really important to me… I meet young people who can’t even imagine becoming a fashion designer.

“You can do whatever you want.”

The 35-year-old says she’s now glad she took the plunge, but that it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Perhaps the hardest part is your own expectations. I’ve been in these jobs that you’d tell people pretty proud of [they’d] be like ‘Ohhh, Adidas’ and then when you say you work for yourself, people kind of go ‘aww’.

“It’s not about fulfilling the ego, it’s more about it [the fact] I do it because I really enjoy it.”

For other start-ups, the fashion designer added: “Absolutely pull through. There is no such thing as a perfect time.

Some of Jump The Hedge’s tote bags

“There is no time like the present. Surround yourself with other people doing similar things.”

The former Armagh woman says the RDS Craft Award is the country’s “most prestigious craft prize” and Síofra will use her prize for education and travel to a leatherworking and bag-making course in Italy.

“There’s nothing really that compares. In order to be shortlisted, one must win a previous competition.

“I will have the opportunity to really learn from the best in the world, what I do, it will allow me to create a product that is higher quality and more luxurious.”

Síofra said she was “really shocked” that she won the award, explaining that she didn’t think it was possible.

“I just found my work kinda too unusual, I felt like what I do is quite niche and sometimes it’s hard to see the value of waste material and I try my best to help people understand it.” see [it].

“I was really pleased, really surprised and really grateful.”

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