Walking past Dawson Street’s numerous Georgian buildings, one’s gaze could not help but latch on to a certain lime-green edifice that commands attention; its golden, printed mannequins, reclining on steps outside the vibrant entrance, are equally unmarred by changes of weather or season. This is the home of The Design House – the creation of multi-talented designer and entrepreneur Bebhinn Flood – a sui generis establishment in the heart of Dublin that has garnered a staggering number of home-grown fashion, art and craft labels to showcase across three retail floors since its inception two years ago. The top-tier levels are dedicated to studios where a variety of creatives working across fashion and all aspects of design are housed, often playing an integral role in influencing the business. Resident web designers have shaped The Design House website, while photographers have lent their skills to various photoshoots. In addition, a plethora of bespoke courses and Afternoon Tea workshops are held regularly, with confectionery supplied on picturesque cake stands from the charming, in-house Italian cafe found on the lower ground level. As The Design House celebrates its second birthday this month, I conversed with Flood to gain an insight into her pioneering role within this design initiative, which has seen her shortlisted for an Image Businesswoman of the Year 2015 award.
Since The Design House opened its doors two years ago, has it always been so multi-faceted – encompassing varied workshops, studios and an impressive number of designers & artists – or has the scale at which you run your business grown over time?
When we originally started off, I think we had 14 designers, and we had no-one renting upstairs. Now, including the crafts-room, we stock products from about 120 designers, and we have about 14 artists – for those who work in the building, give or take, we have about 20. And then there’s others that use the consultation space as well, that aren’t stocked here, to meet with professional clients – they always end up stocking [in The Design House] as well but sometimes it just starts off that way, and evolves from there. So yes, it’s really taken off and the scale has grown rapidly, which is great!
Actually, it’s a bizarre thing to thank for some of that, but Daft.ie has been brilliant. I was chatting about The Design House as a franchise concept earlier on, and was asked, “How do you get your talents?” and I said, “Well, of course at the start we went through the Craft Council, and emailed certain people after taking down names, at showcases and so forth. But to be honest, the best one was Daft!” When we put it up on Daft, we were inundated with people trying to contact us. Now we’re at the stage where we just have it up on our website and people can contact us when they’re interested – we have a little “Join Us” button.
The workshops are a recent addition. One of the reasons why we started doing them was because we needed every section in the building to actually start making income, so we thought, “Okay, how can we make this floor lucrative – a pattern-drafting room and sewing room? We don’t we do classes? That would do it!”. We were always thinking that a lot of different places do classes, so the way we decided to do it a bit differently was doing the Afternoon Teas. People can have a bit of fun, they have a glass of wine, they have lovely treats from downstairs [Dolce Sicily], and they go away in three hours’ time with a finished product. So people coming from abroad for a few days can just say, “I’ve two or three people, can we come to a class?” because they can book in at any stage for that. There’s also been an increasing demand to create courses that award people with a diploma qualification, as opposed to doing workshops just for those who see design as a hobby. Our existing classes already teach key aspects from third-level courses – such as garment construction – so we are definitely going to be developing them for aspiring professionals.
What is your current stance on Ireland’s fashion and design industry – do you think there are specific ways in which we can help to expand this industry evolution?
Well, it would be great if there was more open-mindedness about it and helpfulness, to be honest. [It would help] for government bodies to be more pro-active about it. One thing that just came to mind is that there are an awful lot of buildings belonging to NAMA at the moment, so if they did, say, a reduced rent for pop-up shops and so on, that would be brilliant for young designers. They’re not making any money from redundant buildings, so if some section of the government came in and set that up, it would be brilliant – for everyone involved. I would do it myself, if I had the time to!
How would you envisage the Design House further developing over the few years? As it stands, it has dimensions that are extremely rare to find under one roof within Ireland, let alone in Dublin itself.
Yeah, it has evolved, very quickly, and sometimes my manager has to go, “Relax, it’s only been two years!” though I’m always saying, “This needs to be in place! This isn’t up where it should be!” But, you know, it is only two years and we have come on leaps and bounds. We’ve learnt that there are certain areas that do and don’t work, you know, but that’s all part of business – you have to learn those things through experience.
We rent out and utilise every inch of this building – we have somebody now that wants to be able to have space on a wall for a bespoke bike, so that he can get orders from that. It works perfectly for us, as we have a girl that makes this really cool bike gear called Georgia in Dublin, so we thought, “This ties in very well!”. But there’s such extremes; you can have bike gear and then we also have wedding dresses. What we’ve tried to do is have a price-point that suits everyone. So you can pick up something for a few euro, then there are other things that are a good few hundred – it’s important to have it that way, to promote diversity.
I can imagine your typical day at work must be very hectic!
Well, you have to wear various different hats during the day! So yes, I’ve been advisor, seamstress, manager, accountant.. various other things, but they’ve been the main ones today. Oh, and mummy too! I actually went into labour the day I signed the lease on this building. So I have a two year old at home – when we first started out, on the top floor where we have all sorts of offices and desk spaces, that was where my office/playroom was. So I had bouncers, and cots, and stuff in there – oh, and the desk!
Piece by Piece by / Amelia O’Mahony-Brady