Finding Creative Flow with Irish Fashion Designer, Mary O’ Sullivan

It’s the magic in her eyes when I ask her questions about the first garment that she ever made that makes finding Creative Flow so worthwhile. To see someone light up as they speak about what they’re passionate about is heart-warming and inspiring.

Mary O’Sullivan is an Irish Fashion designer based in Limerick, and happens to be one of my closest friends for the past decade. We’ve often spoken about her college work when she studied her BA in Fashion Knitwear and Textiles at the Limerick School of Art and Design, and the ups and downs of being a young Irish Fashion Designer. Seeing Mary grow since she’s graduated, both as a friend and fan of her work, has been one of the most inspiring things to watch. Mary launched her own business in May this year, designing and creating bespoke face masks.

Our chat — which began with the two of us sitting on her bedroom floor with a cup of tea in hand — revolves around how she found her Creative Flow in the world of fashion and design.

I began by asking Mary what was the first garment that she made? Her eyes instantly light up as she described the piece.

“I designed and created a piece for a college assignment which I later called, the Limerick Lace Jacket. That was ‘the one’, it was the piece that started this drive in me to create.” Her brief was simple, to create a garment surrounding the title, Limerick Lace. “With lace it’s all about floral patterns but what I really wanted to do was recreate the Limerick that I knew through the design of the jacket.” 

Mary described what Limerick was to her, which she then portrayed in the jacket design. “I reflected on what a typical day looked like for someone living and studying in the city centre – going to Costelloes for a pint or pucking about with your hurley.” She incorporated the floral designs with ribbon embroidery which gave the jacket 3D textures — Mary also noted that she painted and saturated the satin ribbon to give this translucent effect which connected all of the design elements, similar to how the River Shannon runs through Limerick City and connects the people with the city. “That was the jacket that really set me off on my creative journey.”

Our chat started to move towards talking about finding that so-called Creative Flow. I asked Mary how she finds her rhythm when she’s designing, I was intrigued to understand her thought process of how she starts from conceptualising something to actually making a garment or piece of art. 

“Creativity is so different for everyone. It’s the initial thought, which becomes a seed that’s planted and then you start to explore it by doing research. For me, it’s looking at other designers pieces that inspire me and drawing on that inspiration to create my own garment. Creativity is very much a back and forth conversation that you have with yourself as an artist — a lot of it does happen in the sketch book, which you then hash out. It’s from that back and forth that you become ‘in the zone’ to create and find yourself within your Creative Flow.”

The Irish fashion industry is bustling with talent and creatives but of course, it doesn’t come without challenges. Mary graduated from her undergraduate degree two years ago and has done quite a lot of work on herself in honing her craft and putting her own stamp on designing. When I asked Mary what was the biggest challenge facing a young Irish Fashion Designer, she talked about that sense of being ‘lost’ after college – something I think resonates with so many of us twenty something year olds. 

“After college you’re just so lost, you’ve no idea where you’re going or what you’re doing – you start to continuously ask yourself, ‘what even is the next step?’. I think from conversations with friends or fellow designers, there just isn’t ‘enough’ in Ireland. I’ve never really understood why there isn’t enough within the art scene either. Of course, there are people in Ireland that are making waves with their designs but when you’re starting out it’s hard to find that sense of community. When you’re in college, you’re living and breathing creativity and when you leave you feel exposed having been left to find your path in the art and design scene. It’s something that I’d love to see changed in Ireland because there’s such a rich history here. Our roots are woven in design — for example there’s Irish linen, Irish lace, Irish knitwear… I mean the history is there.”

Mary continued to explain, “Especially when you look at the UK, the fashion industry is such a huge economic driver that you do start the question why it can’t be the same in Ireland. Why can’t we close that gap to make ‘more’ work? Creativity is coming out of the pores of our country and I think that that’s what we need to start focusing on to combat that challenge.” 

“Coronavirus has really highlighted that the arts is really where it’s at — everybody watches TV series on Netflix, listens to music and is looking at artworks like fine art and sculpture to connect with other people through art. It feels like people are really starting to appreciate it more… well, I hope that they are because that’s the only way we can combat that issue and create a better scene for young Irish Fashion Designers and creatives.”

Mary’s perspective opened my eyes to the struggle of being a creative in Ireland – although, we’re a small island we have so much to offer in terms of creativity, that often just isn’t seen. Our chat ended with me asking Mary what was the best piece of advice she’d give to someone starting out or leaving college with a fashion degree. 

“Don’t give up. I know it’s scary and at times it feels like you’re lost and alone – especially with some of the challenges I already mentioned but don’t just give up. Apply for grants or funding, the resources are out there. It seems daunting and scary starting on a creative path and hell, the nights will be long and you will cry (a whole bunch) but don’t stop. At the end of day, when you have a finished collection right in front of your eyes… it’s always going to be worth it.”

I came away from the chat with a greater appreciation for what Irish Fashion Designers feel, especially art college graduates. Mary is someone who continuously inspires me to do exactly what she said, not give up. Hopefully there’s something in our chat that you can take away as an insight — whether you’re a young Irish Fashion Designer or just someone interested in maybe starting out on a similar path. 

Give Mary a follow on Instagram and keep up with her as she continues to navigate through her path and find her Creative Flow. You can also read more about the Creative Flow series, here.

Till the next one,