Designer Aoife Mc Namara on sustainability and rewilding fashion

When asked what kind of woman she designs for, Limerick fashion designer Aoife Mc Namara could be describing herself: “She’s a change maker. She’s a dreamer. She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.”

“When I’m thinking of that design, it’s really how can I empower the women to feel like they can really change the world and what they’re wearing.”

Mc Namara started her label in 2019 and in three short years has become both a staple on red carpets and fashion lovers’ must-have lists, and an example of the popularity of a truly sustainable homegrown brand.

Her designs are immediately recognisable, once you know the trademarks: the sunset-bright pinks and oranges, the serene blues; the structured blazers and Victorian puff sleeves; Irish wools and linens.

Having dressed everyone from Roz Purcell to Suzanne Jackson and Vogue Williams, Mc Namara has turned Limerick into one of the country’s leading fashion hubs, if only because of her thatched cottage atelier in Adare.

It’s a refreshingly unpretentious base for a young designer who interned with Marc Jacobs in New York and worked her way through the rungs of the fashion world in Paris, but one that continues Mc Namara’s true focus in her work: sustainability and the natural world.

She recalls realising that “fashion was the second biggest polluter behind the oil industry, which I never knew. And I still think a lot of people don’t know”.

“I was like, Why are people doing this? Why are people wearing clothes that are chemically dyed and it’s even harmful on their skin? It’s harmful on the environment. Why would someone put that on their body? How could you represent something so horrible?

“I was upset. I was really upset and quite angry. But it also inspired me to be the change.”

Mc Namara believes in “Earth logic and not growth logic”, she says. “I’m not looking at the margins. I’m looking at, OK, how can we do better for the planet? But I believe in return, that will be the choice that consumers will make. And that’s also part of my job, is to help educate the consumers in why I’m charging X amount for my garment.”

Shoppers have become more aware of the environmental cost of their choices, from fast fashion to beauty and even to the food we buy. Recent years have seen a spike in interest toward greener options, with many endeavouring to buy less and better quality.

Still, there is, Mc Namara says, a “disconnect” between what we should do, and what we actually do.

“It reminds me sometimes of Ryanair and Aer Lingus”, she says. “Everyone loves Aer Lingus, but everyone flies Ryanair. It’s like they love sustainability, but they choose fast fashion. It’s got to do with money. People love the idea, but they’re not saving up to invest. They’re like, I want more and more, whereas you need to bring our mindset back to if we save for this, we’ll have it for longer.”

With her pieces retailing for between €100-€600, Mc Namara’s clothes are definitely investment pieces, but she’s committed to using them to also educate her customers.

Take for instance her latest collection, Season 8 Rewilding, an 11-piece collection that was inspired by The Burren in Co. Clare and nature’s ability to regenerate, which launches 10 November. As one of the country’s most biodiverse eco-systems, it’s a case study for what happens if we let nature take its course.

“That’s really what got me, was, wow, this is what nature could be around us. It also left me with a feeling of hope, because if this is the Burren, imagine if we left somewhere else rewild, if we left certain areas in parks and cities rewild, what could they look like?”

The collection is filled with nods to the rich and enchanting setting of the Burren, from the grey of the weathered stone pavements to handmade wool coloured with the shades of wild flowers found there. Grey Irish tweed is flecked with green, a collaboration with John Hanly Woollen Mills in Tipperary, while one piece – the Wilding dress – is made from ivory cruelty-free pea silk inspired by native Fionnscoth Orchids.

In this sense, it seems the collection is Mc Namara’s own attempt at rewilding the fashion industry. “I really want to go back to that soil-to-soil process and even look at regenerative farming”, she says. “It’s like reconnecting fashion and farming again, or fashion with nature.

“Using the natural fibres around us, which come from the soil, so it came from a sheep in Ireland. This garment needed nature to even get made. So I’m always trying to reconnect all of that into what I do.”

Connecting in with the sensory experience of clothes is important to her, too, she says. “It’s so important what we put on our bodies. I don’t think a lot of people realise that. It touches your skin. Your skin is your biggest organ on your body, which sometimes people can forget”.

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