In a beautifully restored cottage on the border of Waterford and Tipp is an entrepreneur who looked for the job she wanted, couldn’t find it and instead created it. Edel Lyons describes how she recently found a notebook with her vision clearly stated — “I want to sell sustainable clothes online”.
Several years later that woman who wrote down her dream in a gold notebook sits here as the founder of a sustainable, responsible business bringing high-end occasion wear to people through a fashion-changing rental process: “Looking back I always wanted to be my own boss, and I’ve always had a love of fashion but at that stage, I didn’t know how that vision would eventually materialise”.
Edel is passionate about fashion, but found herself feeling conflicted. “I didn’t want to buy into fast fashion but I wanted to experiment with clothes and I love that joy you get when wearing something new”.
She sought out alternatives to hyper-consumerism: “I remember looking at a dress online, wanting it but knowing I would only wear it once or twice. I looked around for a business in Ireland where I could rent a dress but options were limited, there were some but they weren’t nationwide, and weren’t necessarily what I liked in fashion.”
“I started to work on an idea on the side, playing around with the brand, doing some market research but still not really thinking I’d go through with it. But little by little as I pulled it together I realised there was something there”… Rag Revolution was becoming more than just an idea.
It became real life when Edel found herself at a crossroads, she had the option to forge out her fashion career in London or stay in Ireland and set up her own business. She describes feeling vulnerable and exposed as she moved closer to launch day, niggling doubt and a sense of imposter syndrome kicked in: “I didn’t necessarily think it would be a success, I hoped it would but I was also prepared to take the risk and fail forward”.
Edel sought out ‘cheerleaders and supporters’ by going to people in the business that she respected and trusted, many of whom shared advice and also offered to wear her pieces giving the business an important boost. These included Louise Byrne, Clementine MacNeice, and Rachel Purcell. Support from these women helped her to push through the fear during the start-up phase.
Rag Revolution celebrated its fourth anniversary in June.
“It takes deep industry knowledge, and an understanding of our customers for this business to work. We need to closely follow fashion and accurately predict trends. It is a heavily logistical business, it’s not one product that you develop and create to sell over and over again. Behind the scenes is a solid infrastructure that keeps this business running.”
Edel is acutely aware of the sacrifices that you have to make to build your own business, especially in the early days describing it as a mix of “heartbreak and learning’.
“The business took a toll on my relationships, I knew I was disappointing people but I had to prioritise the business.”
While it is often said that women are more risk averse than men and that can contribute to the figures for those starting their own business, Edel highlights that women aren’t always in a position where risk is accessible. She describes it as a position of “luxury” to be able to invest and make the necessary sacrifices to start your own business.
Edel always has an eye on the future with plans in the pipeline to expand the categories on offer, and is potentially looking at a reselling service for pre-loved items. The Rag Revolution is only getting started.
I met Hannah at her shop in Kinsale, an expansion of a horsebox that she set up in April 2021. While up and down the country coffee was being served out of horseboxes this one was different. It wasn’t a temporary pop-up from an existing business, nor a project for someone during the pandemic, this was a carefully considered business and part of a plan that Hannah had been dreaming about for many years. She wants to give people more than just a perfect coffee (although she does that too!).
Hannah’s customers walk past the window as we chat, they smile and wave but don’t try the door knowing that she closes at 3pm and opens at 8am. Hannah attaches great importance to committing to opening times and showing up. Her business began at a time when there were so many unknowns, yet Wild + Tame was a constant. People saw that pink, orange, navy, and white box as a beacon and a destination when they didn’t have many reasons to leave the house.
As she describes some of her first customers, the moms who had ‘lockdown’ babies for whom the box was an important social interaction, she wells up for the first time in our interview. Hannah wears her heart on her sleeve, speaking openly about everything from her Dad who helped her find the perfect horsebox (he also tows it into position every morning before 8am), how she struggled with her mental health, and how this business was her own lighthouse too — guiding her to exactly where she needed to be.
Hannah moved from Dublin to Kinsale at the start of the pandemic, as she was going to be working from home for the foreseeable. In that new environment, she started to question her working life: “I asked myself if this was what I wanted, I was stressed from overworking and my mental health was suffering. I made the decision to leave my job and step back to figure out what I really wanted and what I valued in life”.
As Hannah walked around her two-kilometre limit she started to explore a long-held dream and prepare a plan for her own business. “I always had a vision of working for myself but I didn’t think it was something that I could do. Walking around Kinsale I found myself inspired by the number of local businesses in the town, many of them female-led and owned.” These same women supported Hannah as she explored her options: “When restrictions started to lift I got to meet and speak with these business owners, they openly shared their stories, there was a real sense of ‘we’re in this together’.”
Women opening up businesses in Kinsale isn’t a recent phenomenon, many businesses have been female-led for decades and in some cases for generations. There is a strong matriarchal force in Kinsale. A stone’s throw from where we sit, Bib Gourmand-awarded restaurant, Saint Francis Provisions, shout out what it takes via a neon sign that reads GUTS. And that’s what all of the women I spoke to have in spades — guts, grit, determination, and a passion that drives success.
“I wanted my business to be outdoors, it is reflective of me and being out in nature had such a positive impact on my mental health. The idea of ‘Wild and Tame’ was born because I think we all have two sides — but not all of us feel comfortable or safe to let the wild side out! Designing a brand was key: I needed a clear brand and vision that would guide me through the business and keep me on track. I worked with Alan Dalton from Notes to Cork because I wanted to stand out from the crowded space of coffee from horse boxes that were popping up everywhere.”
More than two years on and the business is going from strength to strength, with the horse box thriving and a new physical shop in the town. Hannah is proud of what she achieved. She attributes her success to a strong vision that keeps her on track. Hannah clearly has a skill in making correct decision and judgements for her business. With the expansion to a shop front, she widened her offering to include products that she knew would appeal to her customers, and small releases of branded goods create a demand — with Wild + Tame beanies, jumpers etc selling out regularly.
“People ask me do I have moments that I’m most proud of, expecting me to say expanding the business into a bricks-and-mortar shop but what makes me proud is the positive impact and the connections that Wild + Tame creates. I knew what I wanted to achieve but I am blown away by the impact it has had.” Hannah shares stories of notes, and words of thanks from customers who are now friends. “I am so proud of myself, that I trusted myself…..there was fear and things that held me back but I had this belief that it would work and that got me to here. I love coming to work, I have incredible support and great people around me.”
All that is true, but I suspect that at the core of her success is more simple: you are what you attract.
When you think of Valentia Island it conjures up images of remote wilderness, but in reality, it has a long history of connection — Valentia Island was the site of the first transatlantic phone line, stretching through the ocean to Newfoundland. Orla and Anna Snook O’Carroll were drawn to Valentia Island, creating both a home and a new business off the Kerry coast. It seems like such a change of pace from their previous life in Bristol. They met, fell in love, and started their first business in that city. The couple are an absolute joy to speak to, they are full of love for their new home, the people in their rural community, their product, and each other. It sounds trite to describe a brand as reflective of its owners but it really is the case. In business and in life Orla and Anna celebrate the wins and look for moments of joy in the everyday.
“We decided to start from scratch again and move to our lovely home in Valentia five years ago. While it was pretty full-on, coming to this house was such a joy. This place brings us so much happiness and we were willing to work anywhere when we arrived.”
They left behind an immersive theatre and fine dining business that had run its course. Orla was struggling with that loss: “I was mourning the business in the UK. But coming to our little house here felt like a sanctuary. Everyone said, how brave a move it was — but to us it was more like ‘of course we’d move here’. It made complete sense.”
They had already started to hatch plans for creating an Irish vermouth. “The idea was in our head when we moved here. We went to a health food shop in Cahersiveen and started gathering the herbs and botanicals we would need to start experimenting.”
They foraged gorse from the island. “It took about 18 months to get our recipe. At the first lockdown, we had a really tidy garden, and by the second lockdown we started our business!” Orla and Anna talked about the valuable support offered to them in starting their business, support from the Local Enterprise Office, and the Supervalu food academy. But also from the business community: “People shared their experiences openly with us, providing mentorship — including Santina Kennedy at Powerscourt Distillery and Conor Hyde from Hyde Whiskey. We’ve had such a positive experience in people sharing expertise, even down to the tools and machines they recommend”.
While they are invested and passionate about their business they recognise that it works because of their ability to keep boundaries in place. The business started at their kitchen table, as they experimented with locally foraged botanicals. But business talk is banned from that same table at mealtimes.
Orla and Anna credit their success to their strong connection to the product, the label very literally tells their story and is a work of art — with their own initials hidden in the two mermaids; the lighthouse is where they were married five years agol the 20 ‘secret’ botanical ingredients are all represented by their flowers and leaves; even the famous Valentia Island tetrapod gets a look in. As they talk me through the secrets on the artwork, they lift up the bottle conveniently located on the table. It wasn’t there as a prop but because after a long day of travelling, they enjoyed a V&T the previous evening.
Their story is helping them break into global markets, Orla explains: “The personal is universal. If you have love and passion for something then other people can feel it.”
And they really do love their business. “We love adventures, and maybe this is what this is…another adventure, our vermouth adventure. Every day has peaks and troughs — but you need to be able to stop and celebrate those wins. We’re meeting so many people on this journey as we bring our vermouth to new locations.”
Orla makes it sound so simple: “What else is life if you’re not going to enjoy it. There are really hard times so you have to hold onto the wins and celebrate the good.”
When I ask them what’s next, they tell me of the two products in ‘experiment phase’ — the Ór vermouth will soon be joined by ‘Ruá’ and ‘Bán’, Orla proudly holds up a jar of cacao nibs soaking in alcohol, this will form the bitter chocolate taste that will be blended with rose and vanilla flavour (coming from the Valentia gorse).
Anna and Orla are the faces in front of and behind the brand, and this is intentional. They want to highlight their story for the next generation. Orla speaks emotionally about the lack of LGBTQIA+ community representation when she was younger, they are proud to be a wife and wife team in a supportive rural community.
So while there are sacrifices, sleepless nights, blurred lines between work and personal life, I ask ‘what is the best bit of running your own business?’.
They answer: “You get to design your own life” — and isn’t that what we all want?