Jennifer Rothwell | Joanne Hynes | Natalie B Coleman | Lennon Courtney

Second Skin commissioned four of Ireland’s leading fashion labels - JRothwell, Joanne Hynes, NATALIEBCOLEMAN and Lennon Courtney - to design, source and produce a garment or range of clothing on the island of Ireland and to document the opportunities and challenges which the process presented. The commission may sound like a simple proposition, but the reality of sourcing and making clothing in Ireland is not straightforward.  Their journey, which brings to life their inspiration and process through to the finished pieces, forms the basis of Second Skin which opens at The Playhouse in Derry~Londonderry on Monday 8th June and runs until Thursday 16th July.

The exhibition is being presented in Derry~Londonderry by Derry City and Strabane District Council in partnership with the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland as part of the Irish Design 2015 (ID2015) programme which sees Irish design being celebrated and promoted throughout the island of Ireland and internationally this year.  This project is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland. 

Curated by Louise Allen, Second Skin was first shown in the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland’s National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny (7th November 2014 – 25th January 2015) and also toured to City Hall, London earlier this year (16th – 25th March 2015). The designers featured in the exhibition were encouraged to work collaboratively and a number of partnerships were forged with producers Fisherman Out of Ireland and Magee and with the Northwest Regional College in the North West; with DMS Knitwear Solutions in the Mid East and with the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.  Several individual designers, pattern cutters, machinists and suppliers were also involved, resulting in works that fuse skills, creativity and process.

'Many of the challenges to manufacturing and production in terms of cost competitiveness and skills are mirrored in high earning European countries,’ says Louise Allen, curator of Second Skin. ‘Other countries campaign to bring manufacturing back, recognising the value of production in terms of job creation and the development of local economies. In Ireland much can be done to redevelop the skills base that will allow a level of production to re-emerge.’

Brian McGee, Acting Chief Executive at the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland said:

‘Ireland’s textiles traditions north and south are very strong and it is fitting that we work together in design and innovation, forging collaborations. Many of the connections made through the designing and making process for the exhibition have developed further in recent months, reflecting the appetite for working across disciplines here on the island of Ireland.   We look forward to seeing further collaborations evolving in the future and are delighted to be presenting Second Skin in Derry~Londonderry as part of the exhibition’s touring programme.’

Deirdre Harte, Craft Development Officer, Derry City and Strabane District Council, said she was delighted to welcome Second Skin as a key highlight of Council's Craft Development Programme.

‘This is a golden opportunity for people from across the country to come and see the exhibition, especially as this is its only venue in Northern Ireland which puts Derry~Londonderry firmly on the map as a premier craft and fashion destination. The Fashion & Textile Design Centre will also be running workshops to link to and complement the exhibition,’ she said.

Joanne Hynes’ vibrant knitted capes in partnership with Fisherman Out of Ireland and 3D Dave set certain parameters around what was feasible from a production point of view. 

‘I was more than happy to work in this manner,’ says Hynes. ‘The knit machines and the 3D printer allowed a certain look and feel, so we worked within these parameters for all four pieces. From a production viewpoint, the limitations became the guide to my designs.’

Jennifer Rothwell, who for many years has designed and produced her collections in Ireland, collaborated extensively utilising the expertise of Magee Weaving Donegal, three textile designers, pattern cutters and the digital print facility at the Northwest Regional College to create a stunning range inspired by Harry Clarke’s iconic stained glass windows and artwork. In Jennifer’s experience, finding skilled labour can be a challenge.

‘The skill of technical sewing, cutting and manufacturing training in Ireland needs to be reignited once again,’ she says. ‘We need to promote and support manufacturing on the island of Ireland, to help maintain and create new employment growth in this sector.’

In many cases, collaboration was the only way to produce required elements and for certain processes there was no commercially viable option but to outsource abroad.  This was the case forNatalie B Coleman, whose work is inspired by the characters from Enid Blyton’s “The Magic Faraway Tree”. 

‘When digital printing is involved, it is not possible to do it in Ireland,’ explains Coleman. ‘There is no facility available here. This raises production costs especially if dependent on Euro against Sterling variables and you need to factor in courier fees with each delivery. Costs are high for small runs. Cheaper printing is dependent on minimum orders of 300 metres.’

In developing their signature piece, Lennon Courtney teamed up with DMS Knitwear Solutions, designer Andrew Burdock and wood turner Michael Fay to create unique evening wear with wood turned shoulder pads. The nature of the collaborations and proximity of producers was a huge asset according to Sonya Lennon.

‘It’s a very different experience, picking up the phone to someone down the road than is it being a faceless enquiry in a big facility,’ she says.

For all of the designers there were common challenges - the lack of a skilled labour force, in particular highly skilled seamstresses and pattern cutters, makes it difficult and costly to prototype, sample and produce here in Ireland. Labour costs are significantly higher than in other EU countries. The range of fabrics and yarns produced in Ireland is limited, resulting in sourcing of materials from other countries. However, there are also many benefits to producing in Ireland.  These include reduced lead times, quality control and significant savings on transport which can offset much of the costs.

The work of Irish organisations such as Re-dress, the Council of Irish Fashion Designers and the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland plays a pivotal role in raising awareness and offering a level of support to Ireland’s highly talented fashion designers who have gained, or are seeking to gain, international recognition and who wish to work, live and produce in Ireland.  Second Skin aims to create a dialogue and to increase awareness around the potential of living, designing and producing clothing and textiles in Ireland in order to encourage investment in the sector and in the fashion industry. 

Second Skin runs at The Playhouse, 5 – 7 Artillery Street, Derry~Londonderry from Monday 8th June to Thursday 16th July 2015.

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