Textile designer Liz Christy weaves striking scarves in vibrant hues spun from all the colours of the irish countryside.
Below, she speaks to House of Ireland about the determination and positivity it takes to run a business, being authentic and keeping production in Ireland and why escaping on her husband's motorbike keeps her enthused and invigorated.
What inspired you to take that initial leap into starting your own business? How did it come about?
I studied textile design in college in the 1980’s. As part of the course, we had to physically produce our designs, be they printed, experimental or woven textiles. As a result our creativity had to be matched with a determination to perfect the skills ourselves to produce our designs. My introduction to hand-weaving was book study accompanied by trial & error, all the while aiming to produce beautiful fabrics. I realised that the time I’d spent actually learning the skills was equally important to me as the design work. I was lucky enough to gain work experience with a hand-weaver in Galway city and I liked it. Deep down I sensed that I could do this for a living and so the seed was planted. I then did a ‘Start Your Own Business’ course and took the first tentative steps into the world of self-employment with the aim of making my living as a textile designer and hand-weaver.
“Somehow through all the noise, I have to stay focused, dig deep and find the determination to run my business successfully and make my living from what I know. Positivity and gut instinct should never be underestimated.”
How do you balance the creativity and design element of running a business with day to day finance, sales and marketing?
I feel that the creativity and design work is the easy part and the part that sits most naturally with me. It is the running of the business that makes the creativity possible, and every day I learn something new. I never thought that I would be able ‘to sell’ but after our first tradeshow, my husband told me that I ‘lit up’ when I was speaking to potential customers. I have used that as a positive image and built on it as the years have passed. I now really look forward to the tradeshows and popping in to say hello to my customers when we are out and about on ‘the bike’.
Do you feel there is enough support for aspiring businesses in the design industry? How can this be improved in your opinion?
I think it is a different world for aspiring design businesses today compared to the Ireland of the pre -internet 80’s & 90’s. I did not know where to start when I first began to look for a loom. Today resources are easily accessible, as is help and support from The Design & Crafts Council and the Local Enterprise Offices.
“I am proud of the fact that I stuck to my resolve to keep my production hand crafted in Ireland when the big push was to outsource production to cheaper labour markets.”
What is one thing you have learned as a small business owner (and woman in particular) that has served you well over the years?
Very early on I learned that there will always be global issues and challenges, over which I have no control, that will affect my business. Somehow through all the noise, I have to stay focused, dig deep and find the determination to run my business successfully and make my living from what I know. Positivity and gut instinct should never be underestimated.
What achievements are you most proud of? What challenges have you had to overcome?
I am proud of the fact that I stuck to my resolve to keep my production hand crafted in Ireland when the big push was to outsource production to cheaper labour markets. It was not enough to simply sew the label on in Ireland, I wanted to be authentic. I built Swallow Studios in 2003, having started the business from our home and scary times followed, but survival and innovation were the order of the day. I launched the LizzyC Sheep gift range in 2009 and it is a fact to say that the sheep have kept the wolf from the door through the toughest times.
How do you manage your wellbeing while simultaneously running your own business?
This is something that needs continuous work alongside business development and I do not always get it right. I work with a great team of people and flexibility is the order of the day. I am a great believer in ‘sleeping on it’ when there are issues to work out. I love and appreciate the simple things in life. My husband whips me away from time to time on the motorbike and this is my opportunity to rest my mind and feel invigorated and enthused.
What advice would you give to young women with similar aspirations?
Find your path and go for it.
What other Irish women in business are inspiring you right now?
Rita Shah, Shabra Plastics Recycling. Sammy Leslie, Castle Leslie. Sarah Mc Kenna, Ceramics. Martina Hamilton, Jeweller & The Cat & The Moon.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To keep up the determination not to be beaten.
What is in the pipeline for your business in the next few years?
Growing the business with my team and working in a positive, happy and very colourful environment.