In the first instalment of their new speaker series, Fashion Society hosted two incredible Irish industry talents: fashion designer Lia Cowan and stylist Adam Walsh. Together this dynamic duo co-hosts the Cramp Your Style podcast where they invite fellow Irish creatives to share their stories in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of home-grown visionaries. Guests on their podcast so far have included famed broadcaster and writer Louise McSharry, Irish Country Magazine’s Klara Heron and sustainable fashion designer Laoise Carey — whether you’re an aspiring journalist, wannabe entrepreneur or a fashion guru, Cowan and Walsh have got you covered.
The pair were interviewed by Fashion Society’s Juno McCluskey and Kinda Otieno, who kept them on their toes. Both Cowan and Walsh started by tracing the trajectories of their successful careers for the captivated audience in Regent House. Cowan’s education began in The National College of Art and Design where she studied Fine Art Sculpture and Education, leading to a stint in secondary school teaching. Speaking of how she got hooked on fashion, the designer explained that she just “fell upon it” after experimenting with a new sewing machine and making her own clothes. After a three-week sewing course in the Grafton Academy, Cowan recalls being “obsessed straight away”, prompting her to complete two years of Fashion Design in Sallynoggin College of Further Education.
The eye-catching, sculptural designs that dominate Cowan’s collections hark back to her years in NCAD and her characteristic “frothy tulle skirts” evoke a ballerina-esque style that embodies the movement of performance art.
One thing led to another and Cowan bit the bullet, leaving teaching behind to found her own eponymous luxury fashion brand, LIA. LIA already has a star-studded clientele; Cowan’s dreamy designs have been worn by none other than Nicola Coughlan, Aimee Connolly and Louise McSharry, just to name a few. The eye-catching, sculptural designs that dominate Cowan’s collections hark back to her years in NCAD and her characteristic “frothy tulle skirts” evoke a ballerina-esque style that embodies the movement of performance art. Originally aiming towards a career in journalism, Walsh was encouraged by his school’s career guidance counsellor to pursue other avenues as journalism was a “dying trade” (uh oh). His mother rightly predicted a job in fashion was on the horizon for Walsh, who after some consideration decided to do a Post Leaving Cert course (PLC) in fashion buying, styling and visual merchandising in Sallynoggin, where his and Cowan’s paths first crossed. Having since established himself as one to watch in the Irish fashion scene, Walsh has had the opportunity to work with comedian Joanne McNally, Normal People’s India Mullen, and country music star Nathan Carter. His work ranges from editorial and commercial to television and celebrity styling, and let’s just say Walsh makes it all look effortless!
Walsh echoed this sentiment, adding that you “make so many friends” working in fashion here, using his and Cowan’s close-knit friendship as a great example of this.
In response to a query from McCluskey about what has been the biggest challenge he’s faced working as a freelance stylist, Walsh honestly admits that it was the process of getting his name out and keeping it there as he started to build his portfolio. Everything starts to become a lot easier after that initial battle against the fear of rejection. Following on from this, Otieno asked Cowan what motivates her to keep going during the inevitable quiet periods every designer dreads. Cowan shared the value of the personal relationships she forges with her customers as she works on their custom-made occasion wear and how she gains a sense of purpose from injecting some fun into the moments shared together during fittings: “It’s so heartwarming. The experience and the personal feeling that I get when I make these kinds of pieces just makes it all very easy in the end. It’s so nice seeing the customers super happy and I think those experiences really help when you have quiet periods.” Walsh echoed this sentiment, adding that you “make so many friends” working in fashion here, using his and Cowan’s close-knit friendship as a great example of this.
Speaking of the insular nature of the Irish fashion industry, Cowan pointed to the lack of job opportunities for designers as one downside to being part of such a small community. On the other hand, however, the pair spoke positively of the “huge collaborative world in Ireland in fashion” and the “lovely sense of community that that brings.” Cowan described it as a “caring” environment to work in, compared to the “bitchiness” and “cut-throat” attitude one might unfortunately encounter in places like London or Paris. She added that entering the fashion industry as a newbie designer in Ireland “was like being swept up into this lovely kind of family.” Walsh echoed this sentiment, adding that you “make so many friends” working in fashion here, using his and Cowan’s close-knit friendship as a great example of this.
Facing towards the future, Walsh and Cowan agreed that they’re looking forward to Irish fashion moving past some of the “stale” designs and trends that have dominated the industry for a while and can see a shift into more modern and “cool” fashion starting to emerge already as a new generation of designers and stylists stay in the country. Cowan expressed her desire to lean more into creating designs with her signature tutu-like skirts for “the alternative bride” going forward with her brand. Having gotten engaged herself earlier this year, Otieno asked Cowan the question on everyone’s minds: “Should we expect to see you wearing one of your own dresses at your wedding?” Cowan explained that after firmly being set on making her own dress for years, she’s now “toying with the idea” of outsourcing a wedding gown due to the fear of her perfectionism “ruining the day.” She confirmed that despite this she would definitely still love to design the dress, simply leaving the making of it up to someone else.
This first instalment of the Fashion Society’s highly anticipated speaker series has certainly gotten them off to a strong start, with the committee facilitating insightful discussion from Cowan and Walsh on what it’s like to pursue fashion-centric careers in Ireland. We look forward to seeing what’s to come!