Alumni Stories - Clare Grennan Irish Design Shop
'NCAD has always been considered the best art college in the country, so it was my first preference. The location, the variety of courses, it was all so appealing. In addition, I had completed a summer portfolio course there at 17 and felt so comfortable and at home on the campus'.
Name: Clare Grennan
Current Career: Craft retailer and designer.
Graduation Year: 2002
We caught up with Clare Grennan, NCAD graduate and co-founder (with Laura Caffrey) of the Irish Design Shop, to chat about her business and career.
What career path did you want to follow as a child?
As a child, I wanted to be a marine biologist for Greenpeace until my brothers informed me I needed to excel academically for this career path! I started doing portfolio courses in art colleges from the age of 15; and attending weekly lectures in the National Gallery. I became very focused on an artistic career and immersed myself in learning more about the history of art and design, and developing my own drawing, painting and design skills.
Why did you decide to study at National College of Art & Design?
NCAD has always been considered the best art college in the country, so it was my first preference. The location, the variety of courses, it was all so appealing. In addition, I had completed a summer portfolio course there at 17 and felt so comfortable and at home on the campus. When the letter of acceptance came to my house, it meant the whole world to me.
How did you develop your career towards your current job / practice?
Following graduation, I did an MA in Design at Brighton University. What I gained most was learning more about other design disciplines and working in a contemporary jewellery shop which had a shared workshop. Brighton was a town brimming with independent design shops and flea markets, stocking the work of young, British designers. It seemed fresh, new and accessible.
On returning home, I joined Laura Caffrey, NCAD classmate and Irish Design Shop co-founder (read Laura’s alumni story here), selling at her jewellery stall at the weekly Cows Lane market. From there, we started meeting fellow designers and growing a network. Our market stall was profitable, we were able to rent a city centre studio and invest in equipment. The idea of establishing our shop grew from our experiences on the market and in our part-time employment. We combined our skills to open the Irish Design Shop, which gave a platform to newly emerging Irish designer makers.
What is the one experience – during your time at NCAD – that has informed you most in your career / work to date?
Without a doubt being part of the NCAD community. From the first week, I felt I had forged lifelong friends. On our course, we had such varied projects. I loved the workshop, experimenting with materials and equipment. The tutors and technicians were always attentive and helpful, I felt so inspired and driven in final year to really get the most out of my degree. On a more practical note, we had also formed a directory of contacts. We kept in touch with fellow graduates about opportunities on the creative scene and stock the work of others from different disciplines such as textiles, ceramics and glass.
If you were chatting with current NCAD students today, what is the one piece of advice you would offer?
Embrace college life whole heartedly! Take full advantage of all the opportunities, the workshops, lectures and tuition. Become aware of the creative community and scene outside of college, go to all events, openings and exhibitions.
Given the global turmoil and change, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, what – in your opinion – are the opportunities for those in creative industries?
The pandemic has had a massive impact on the craft sector. But for those who think creatively, opportunities are to be had. There is a growing market for handmade products. Those who market themselves successfully on social media, who create a unique identity, coupled with a strong, user friendly website, will develop and grow a loyal customer base. I think designers/ makers often forget about marketing when developing their product/brand.
We are very focused on our brand, relaying our story and the stories of our suppliers to our customers. Most customers to our online shop come from our social media pages. It is important to know your customer and have a strategy to grow your market.
Portfolio Links: https://irishdesignshop.com/
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