Handmade Irish Fashion: The Pick 'n' Mix Knits of Liadain Aiken
Liadain Aiken began knitting hats in 2013 for family and friends whilst working in the costume department for film and TV. “I was doing the odd order here and there but then I did the Dublin Flea Christmas Market in 2014 with my new designs and sold out over the weekend. In 2015 I spent three months making items to sell again at the Dublin Flea Christmas Market and people were coming back to me again to buy products a year on or because they’d seen my designs on other people. I realised then that perhaps I had something that was worth going with.”
It took Liadain a little while to commit to running the business full-time. While still working in the costume department, she spent much of 2016 developing new products and launched her website that same year. Scout boutique on Essex Street was her first retail stockist in Dublin, followed by Irish Design Shop in 2017.
The business has grown organically over the past three years and the knitwear designer now has five stockists on the island of Ireland, with another two coming on board next month alongside a store in the UK.
Most of her sweater orders come through her website or via email and it is Liadain's personal touch that really adds value to her brand and to her designs. She says that she greatly enjoys meeting her customers, many of whom come to meet her in the studio, where she can measure them accurately and discuss their personal requirements and tastes.
“If customers are in Ireland they can come to the studio for a consultation and try on various sizes, that way I can adjust the body length or the arm length accordingly," she explains. "If people are ordering from abroad they can choose from the sizes on the website and they also have the option to customise their garment in terms of choosing the colours of the different parts of the jumpers - the body, the cuff, the neckband etc."
“Usually people email me or meet me - it’s probably more tricky business-wise - but I love the connection with people that I get through my work and am looking at how I can develop the idea more for next year through pop-ups or open days in my studio,” she says
Every garment and home accessory passes through Liadain’s hands but she also has six knitters who work for her helping to produce the garments, some of them in her studio alongside her, others who work from home in a “cottage industry” style set up.
Liadain says that many of her customers are creative people or those interested in the sustainable aspect of her products, but there are also many who simply enjoy that connection with the designer and maker. She believes that her customers are concerned about how and where things are made and that they want to have an interaction with the people who produce the things that they buy.
In terms of sustainability, Liadain believes that consumers are becoming more environmentally-conscious, particularly in light of increased knowledge around issues such as the global plastics crisis, sustainability and ethics in fashion.
Liadain uses Donegal Yarns and Scottish lambswool in her designs which, if looked after properly, should last many years. The longevity inherent in her designs also comes from the fact that her colour palette is carefully chosen and is outside of any fast fashion trends.
“The colours are timeless - they are not in season or out of season. Particularly if a customer has chosen their own colour palette from my selection, they are really embracing something that suits their personality and something that is going to fit into their wardrobe and that allows that person to celebrate themselves and their own taste.”
Keeping warm is another driving force - the function as well as the form - for this practical designer. “I love wild and wonderful garments and I love fashion, but I am a very practical person, so to make something that is colourful and warm and functional and that can be worn again and again, rather than once for a photograph, is what it’s all about for me.”
“When customers send me photos of themselves wearing one of my jumpers after a swim or working outside I love that - these garments are made to be worn when you’re outside having adventures or working or whatever. When someone comes to me and tells me that their hat is filthy I’m delighted - it means they’ve been wearing it a lot, that they love it, that it’s useful to them!”
Liadain’s colour palette comes conversely from nature and graffiti and she regularly takes her camera on walks in the city or countryside. “You can see amazing colours together and as soon as I see these colour combinations I usually picture the yarns. I’ll then pull the yarns out and play around with the colour combinations."
In order to hone the vast array of colours at her disposal, this season Liadain has created four colour themes: Wild Land, First Light, Twilight and Party Pops. “Wild Land is nature-inspired - at the moment by the landscape beside the sea; First Light includes those lighter colour tones that you see at dawn, Party Pops are fun, giddy colours and Twilight includes those darker, moodier tones. When picking those themes I can envisage the type of customers that they might appeal to.”
So what are you getting when you purchase a Liadain Aiken garment? “I think when people buy one of my garments they are getting a unique service, they are getting something custom made that has a high amount of human effort involved. There is a lot of work that goes into each piece and a high standard of finish. The personal service is something that the customer really feels. I think when someone collects a jumper that they’ve ordered from me they feel that they’ve bought something that they will cherish for a long time.”