How Irish Designer, Riona Treacy Took A Passion For Textiles and Turned It Into A Fashion Brand Committed to Sustainability

Every so often in the fashion industry, you come across a total gem of a creative, someone whose passion for their craft comes alive before they’ve even opened their mouth to talk about it. Riona Treacy is one of these people. 

The Irish designer immersed herself in the world of design and making clothes long before she likely understood the significance of the skills she was learning. Taught to sew by her grandmother at four years old, Treacy was making anything and everything she could from cushions to dolls clothes. Little did she know this would lead to a successful career in the fashion industry, taking her on a journey that saw her working with industry icon, Alexander McQueen and launching her own brand. 

Following her fashion show as part of The Style Edit and Drenagh House Midsummer Afternoon Tea and Garden Party, we caught up with Treacy on where her career in fashion all began, her commitment to building a brand supporting sustainability and the biggest lessons life as a fashion designer and entrepreneur has taught her. 

What drew you to the fashion industry?

Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted to be a designer. At school, I was always sewing little things and making projects with fabric, so naturally, I went on to study Fashion & Textiles for both my BA and MA.  

Tell us about your first fashion-related memory.

My granny taught me how to sew when I was about 4 years old, we used to make cushions, purses and dolls clothes. I remember when I lost my first baby teeth I made some clothes for the tooth fairy and measured her trousers on my fingers.

 “I remember when I lost my first baby teeth I made some clothes for the tooth fairy and measured her trousers on my fingers.”

How do you feel about the future of sustainable fashion?

We consider ourselves a slow fashion brand and our garments are built to last. I am so excited about sustainable fashion, it has taken so long for people to realize how much waste fast fashion produces, and I think now as consumers we are becoming much more conscious about what we choose to buy and wear. There are so many sustainable fibers and textile available which we are currently exploring for our AW20 collection.

All of your garments are either sourced or manufactured in the UK and Ireland. Can you tell us more about the importance of investing in local resources and manufacturing to you as a brand?

As we manufacture everything in the UK rather than abroad, it reduces our carbon footprint, but we are also proud to support local manufacturers, and most of the pieces are made right here in London. I love building a working relationship with my manufacturers, there is always a lovely atmosphere in the factory. I visit them a few times a month which helps with quality control, but I also like it when the seamstresses get excited about a new design, which is great because we get to share a passion for a new garment, they are very much part of the design process. 

You’re known for the beautiful but almost forgotten shibori hand dye technique. How did you discover this technique and what drew you to adopt it as part of your overall aesthetic?

During my degree, I was exploring different printing techniques and learned how different chemicals reacted with different textiles and got a bit obsessed with dyeing fabric. During my masters, I learned the art of shibori through one of my tutors who was a doctor in indigo dyeing. I almost went on to do a Ph.D. in textiles myself but figured having already spent 7 years at university it was probably time to continue on my creative path elsewhere. 

What are you most passionate about within your role?

As my roots are in textiles, the quality of the cloth is key. Often the fabric will drive the overall design of a garment. 

Having trained under influential design house, Alexander McQueen what fuelled the decision to establish your own womenswear brand?

I always knew I wanted to be a designer but wasn’t sure if that would be with a fashion house or within my own brand. After my internships, I struggled to find the right role so decided to create my own one. I have learned so much over the years and only now do I feel I have started to figure things out, but still have a long way to go. Luckily there is lots of support available in London, so am always enrolling in different courses. Being a designer and running a business are two massively different roles, so I wear a lot of different hats in my job.  

“After my internships I struggled to find the right role so decided to create my own one.”

What do you feel has been key to making your brand and business success?

Having worked as a bespoke womenswear designer for 5 years before launching my label, I learned what women really want to wear and how they want to dress their bodies. I always use my own body measurements in the sample fittings, (I am 5”5 and curvy) so this gives us a realistic gage on how the garment will fit and look on a real woman’s figure, rather than on a tailor’s mannequin or a runway model. 

As my roots are in textiles, the quality of the cloth is key. Often the fabric will drive the overall design of a garment.”

Where do you find inspiration for your collections?

Each collection is different, and inspiration can honestly come from anywhere, like a special place I have visited or something less visual like a relationship or a memory. Sometimes it might just be a colour combination that triggers an idea. Once I have a concept, I will explore it as much as possible before actually putting pen to paper and designing the garments. I’ll often spend a few weeks visiting fabric shops and collecting hundreds of fabric samples before making any decisions. I have files and boxes full of fabrics I have collected over the years. 

Who is your style icon?

I used to love Mary-Kate Olsen; classic lines, arty and a bit messy but more recently I’ve been following an Instagrammer called Maja Wyh who has a similar aesthetic. Tilda Swinton and Solange Knowles are also great.

“Being a designer and running a business are two massively different roles, so I wear a lot of different hats in my job.”

How has your personal style influenced your brand and collections?

When I first started, I used to create evening wear primarily, and even though I always wear my own pieces to an event, I wanted to create pieces that are versatile enough to be worn casually during the day or dressed up at night. Living in London, I am always thinking of busy city women, commuting to the office in an outfit in their flats and then adding heels for an evening event, so I like to design garments that can to be worn for any occasion. 

What’s your favourite item in your wardrobe?

I love the Clan Dress from our collections, we do different versions each season and I have it in about 4 different colours, It is perfect for a wedding, it’s really comfy and fun to wear as there’s loads of fabric to play with, and sometimes I wear it over jeans and heels for more casual look.

“I always use my own body measurements in the sample fittings, (I am 5”5 and curvy) so this gives us a realistic gage on how the garment will fit and look on a real woman’s figure, rather than on a tailor’s mannequin or a runway model.”

If you were starting all over again in your fashion career, what would you do differently?

If I had the chance, I would have done so many things differently, but then I wouldn’t have learned from all my mistakes, I have learned lots of lessons the hard way, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  

What does style mean to you?

Being completely comfortable in your own skin, confidence is style to me. 

What excites you most about the fashion industry?

New textiles and new technologies. 

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

I would have to say my tutor from my MA, they introduced me to so many designers I had never heard of and they encouraged me to explore a more paired-back aesthetic which I hadn’t done during my degree. My whole MA collection was completely colourless which allowed me to focus on the manipulating the textiles and creating texture rather than a pattern.

“Being completely comfortable in your own skin, confidence is style to me.”

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned and how have you overcome it?

Recognising my weaknesses early on and learning how to outsource to overcome these obstacles. It was a hard lesson though because I’m very practical and like to do everything myself, but getting the job done right is more important than attempting to do it yourself wrongly. 

What are your top tips for shopping sustainably?

Don’t buy too much, only buy what you need. And buy better quality items that you can own for years rather than throwing things away after one season. 

What’s next for the Riona Treacy brand?

We are excited to show our SS20 collection this September at London Fashion Week. This will also be the first season we are going to the Paris Showrooms, so we hope to reach more international buyers and expand our customer base. We also have plans to develop our products into interior textiles and are already collaborating with furniture designers for next season. 

Niamh Crawford-Walker

Niamh is a full time fashion and features writer at The Style Edit. Her work has previously appeared in IMAGE magazine, image.ie and Emirates Woman.

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