A Belfast fashion designer who had a successful career with big brands but decided to make her own has won a prestigious award.
Síofra Caherty, originally from Armagh, worked with Adidas in Germany for years and other businesses before taking a leap of faith to start her own business back home.
She is one of five winners to receive a cash prize of €10,000 to support the development of their craft and business skills at the RDS Craft Awards 2022.
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The 35-year-old set up Jump The Hedges five years ago, which sells tote bags, fanny packs, stuff sacks and yoga bags.
Some lines even sold out in less than five minutes.
Síofra told Be: “I worked as a designer with Adidas in Germany and with some Irish brands too. After that I decided I wanted to have my own business, so I came back here and did a master and developed Jump The Hedges after that.
“It was really a way for me to create something myself that was really sustainable because I was going to be involved in all aspects of the business.
“It was a way for me to use all the experience I had gained from working as a designer for about seven or eight years. I was able to use the experience I had gained from living in Germany and America in my own business.”
She added: “I currently create bags from reclaimed materials or waste, then I also do community and educational workshops and teach around sustainable design.
“Because the bags are made from salvaged materials, each bag is individual, I’m currently using a truck tarp, it’s really heavy duty bags, then I do what I call ‘bag drops’ in line.
“My shop is closed most of the time and I only open maybe four times a year, doing a ‘bag drop’ I have maybe 100 bags that I spent the previous three months making .
“The last drop was for Ukraine and it sold out in five minutes, the last one was on Christmas and it sold out in half an hour. They sell out very quickly.”
Síofra said it makes her “thrilled” that her Belfast-made bags are popular and people are interested in buying sustainable products.
“They’re not necessarily cheap either, my cheapest item is around £70…but at the same time people are aware that they’re made here locally, they’re sustainably made and transparent.
“It’s good that people believe in what I do and support it,” she added.
Looking back since starting his own business, Síofra explained how far he’s come.
“It was really very difficult [at the start] Because I’d had a lot of high-paying design jobs and had a very clear career trajectory, it was very clear what level I was going to go to, so leaving and doing my own thing seemed almost pretty stupid somehow.
“I could see my friends around me and their careers moving forward, it was really tough.
“When I got my first sewing machine it was incredibly heavy and incredibly fast and I couldn’t use it at first. I didn’t have the skills and I couldn’t control it. I don’t see it go this way.
“I had this ambition of having my own business and created my own deadlines, like ‘if I haven’t sold bags in six months, I’m quitting’, but these bag drops are selling.. .when I started I was I don’t sell any bags.
“I was working part-time in stores, I was teaching part-time, I was doing all these other things. It’s really amazing now. It’s really positive,” she said.
The designer told how she received great support from NI, with her main market originally being in Dublin.
“Now it’s starting to balance out.
“I really get a lot of support in Belfast and the surrounding area, I’m not even talking about financial support, I get a lot of people messaging me saying ‘Oh I really like what you’re doing’ and ‘It’s really cool that you’re in Belfast’.
“I did workshops at Ardoyne, and it’s very important to me… I meet young people who don’t even imagine themselves being fashion designers.
“You can do whatever you want to do.”
The 35-year-old says she is now happy to have taken the plunge, but it has not been an easy journey.
“Perhaps the hardest thing is your own expectations. I’ve had these jobs you’d be proud to tell people, [they’d] being like ‘Ohhh, Adidas’, and then when you say you work for yourself, people kind of go, ‘Aww’.
“It’s not the fulfillment of the ego, it’s more a matter of [the fact] I do this because I get a lot of joy out of it.”
For others looking to start their own business, the fashion designer added, “Definitely go for it. There is no perfect time.
“There’s no better time than the present. Surround yourself with others who are doing similar things.”
The former Armagh woman says the RDS Craft Award is the country’s ‘most prestigious craft award’, with Síofra set to use her award to train and attend a leatherwork and bag-making course in Italy.
“There’s nothing really like that. To be shortlisted, you have to win a previous competition.
“I will have the opportunity to learn from the best in the world in what I really do, this will allow me to create a more artisanal and more luxurious product.”
Síofra said she was “really shocked” to have won the award, explaining that she didn’t think she would.
“I just thought my work was way too unusual, I felt like what I do was quite specialized and sometimes it’s hard to see the value of the waste, and I try my best to make people see [it].
“I was really happy, really surprised and really grateful.”
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