We meet Sonya Lennon, co-founder with Brendan Courtney of fashion label Lennon Courtney, to discuss clean design, classic styling and taking risks.
Lennon Courtney was established in 2013, by Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney, co-hosts of RTE’s ‘Off The Rails’ television programme.
Widely regarded for their unique personal styles, their first collaboration is Irish designed and includes a full knitwear range produced by leading craft-makers and producers in Dublin.
Their designs are informed by a shared philosophy that focuses on developing clothes and styles that are uniquely tailored to the shape of modern women.
The fashion label recently moved to new premises in The Central Dairy, Stephen Street, Dublin 2 and has just launched its Autumn/ Winter 2014 collection.
Sonya, you’ve been in the fashion industry for over 25 years now, how did it all start?
When I left school I decided that I wanted to learn by doing, not studying. I’m a very practical person with a low boredom threshold and I was keen to just dive in. I didn’t really know what I was diving in to, except that I knew my interest lay in fashion.
After my first job, in Blarney Woollen Mills, I moved on to Kamouflage, an avant garde boutique, set up by the wonderful Vivien Walsh. That was the start of seven years in retail, every minute of which I loved.
When Dublin’s few stylists came in to prep shoots at the time, I remember thinking that they had the most wonderful job in the world. It wasn’t long before I realised that I too could be a stylist. I went freelance, got some really good gigs, proved my worth, and promptly became unemployable.
Things really evolved when I started my working relationship with Brendan (Courtney) on the RTE show ‘Off The Rails’. From that point on everything grew in both potential and complication.
Tell us about Lennon Courtney and your recent move to the Central Dairy on Stephen Street?
Lennon Courtney is clean and contemporary but with a definite nod to classic styles. We like to imagine it is the thinking woman’s choice, a woman who is not a slave to fashion but knows the importance of being current.
We have met the most incredible women since we began, women who build their wardrobes from our collections season after season. We firmly believe that a woman wants consistency married with newness. Who wants to be wearing tribal fashion one season and gothic the next? That’s just not how women dress.
Since we launched the label last year, we had been using a variety of spaces (starting with Brendan’s apartment) from which to dispatch our online sales. We experimented with for example, hard to find pop-up spaces, but when we saw The Central Dairy, we fell in love.
What can your customers expect from Lennon Courtney for the season ahead?
This season the collection very much draws inspiration from strong women with a new category, Hero dresses, acting as an ode to all our female heroines, including mothers, friends and teachers. With long lines and beautiful contouring this collection of dresses aims to compliment and empower women, our everyday heroes.
Which designers do you admire most and why?
We are big fans of modern minimalists such as Jil Sander and Celine. Our sense of the absurd is always piqued by Prada, and slightly back down to earth we can’t help but admire the organic empire building and aesthetic of Acne Studios.
In term of Irish designers Simone Rocha is a phenomenon as is JW Anderson. Slightly under the radar but no less fabulous is the magnificent Tim Ryan.
As a dynamic duo, how do your skills and Brendan’s skills complement each other?
We are chalk and cheese in terms of our personalities but always aligned in our aesthetic. We love clean design, devoid of superfluous detail. It has to be about the woman, not the clothes. We often take a risk; if one of us has an idea that the other is unsure of, we sample it and see what happens and it usually works.
How has the LEO Dublin City helped your business so far?
LEO Dublin City gave us our first taste of business building for Lennon Courtney. By receiving the Priming Grant, we came out of the traps, firing on all cylinders. It wasn’t easy finding the money to match funding but being clear about our objectives and milestones set up a system of best practice in the company.
Thinking back, how did you find the first year in business? What were the greatest challenges?
Cash Flow is the black dog of the SME and this is magnified in the fashion industry, where you only sell to retailers twice a year. Running our own website and selling online has allowed us to mitigate against this a little bit. The model will only succeed, however, if we scale into the UK and beyond as the Irish market is so small.
It has been a great test model, helping us fine tune our proposition but we are keen to expand into other markets.
That is easier said than done though, requiring dogged persistence and an understanding that it always takes longer than you had originally thought.
Any ‘Top Tips’ for new start-ups?
- Assess your market and understand your competitors.
- Design locally, think globally.
- Have a vision for your future.
- Ask the question, what do you want life to be like in five years’ time? This will allow you to build your milestones and the strategies that you need to implement to achieve them.
And finally, what business trends should we be looking out for in 2014/2015?
The customer has always been king, but a new march of power belongs to the consumer. It starts with meeting their needs, delivered through excellence in customer service and facilitated through technology; that is the luxury of the future.
Our thanks to Sonya Lennon for taking part in this Case Study.
The full Lennon Courtney range is available from www.lennoncourtney.com and from the Dublin Store, The Central Dairy, 19 Stephen’s Street, Dublin 2.