Lucy Nagle, Alex Class of 1997, is a fashion designer and creative director at Lucy Nagle Cashmere. Initially an interior designer in London, Lucy discovered a love of working with textiles and founded Lucy Nagle Cashmere after moving back to Dublin in 2013. We spoke to Lucy this week about entrepreneurship, fashion, and how to pursue goals without a roadmap.
When you were in school did you imagine being a fashion designer?
No I never did. I always had a love of clothes and fashion, but it never entered my head that I could choose it as a career. I did do Art for my Leaving Cert and I really loved it, so I guess I was always going to do something that involved creativity.
How did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I had been working in different jobs in marketing mainly, but I wasn’t really loving the work. I was living in London at the time. I was about 24. London is full of amazing Interior Design shops, and I used to walk past them on the way to my office job.
One day I decided I’d love to do a course in Interior Design. So I enrolled in the KLC School of Design and loved every minute of it. I was lucky to go straight into a job as a Design Assistant after I graduated. After a few years I set up my own Interior Design Business in London. Then the time came to move back to Ireland in 2013 and I decided to go into fashion, cashmere in particular, something I really loved. My mum always said to me, do what you are passionate about and you will be good at it.
How did you know what to do to get from idea to delivery? Was there a roadmap you could follow to set up and develop your own distinct business?
Once I decided to go into fashion, I researched trade fairs around the world. A trade fair is a huge event where all the manufacturers go to show their products and materials to potential customers like designers and shop owners.. It is so important to see the products to make sure the quality is good. You also discuss things like cost and minimum order quantities.
I travelled to a trade fair in Hong Kong, my Mum came with me which was so nice. It was huge. We spent 3 days walking through the convention centre and chatting to various manufacturers. I came home with a bag full of information, leaflets, samples etc. It then took another while to set up proper communication with the ones I liked best. Some were so bad at coming back to my enquiries that I was turned off working with them. Eventually after a lot more toing and froing I found a great place to work with and began sending them designs to make.
Was it scary?
It was very daunting as I really had no experience in fashion or retail to begin with. I was also on a very small budget so had to learn how to build my website myself to keep costs as low as possible. Sometimes it did all feel a bit overwhelming but once I decided to do it, I loved every minute of it, even the scary parts. I really do believe if you do what you are passionate about it will work out in the end.
What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur? How have you overcome them?
I’ve had loads! When I first started up the business, the country was still in recession, so business was very slow. I was lucky that I didn’t have many overheads, I worked from home at my kitchen table for the first 3 years and I didn’t employ anyone, I did everything myself and learnt from my mistakes as I went along. Keeping overheads to a minimum really helped get the business off the ground. I was always very careful with budgets in the early days and I still am. Finally all those Maths classes were paying off!
What could the corporate world learn from entrepreneurs about sustainable and healthy ways of working?
They could learn to be more mindful of production and to make small changes to reduce waste. Not to focus on profit so much, but to focus on quality and longevity.
You design beautiful long lasting investment pieces - in today’s fast fashion world, what made you decide to produce your collections sustainably?
Cashmere has always been a love of mine. When I was in school I didn’t have my own cashmere but I’d borrow my mum’s and loved it. I also didn’t want to go into high fashion, it was more a love of quality clothes that made me want to do what I do. I don’t follow fashion trends, I just make what I like to wear and hope everyone else likes it too. I think women like to treat themselves and cashmere makes us feel good. It is a luxury product but if you buy well you can buy less when it comes to our wardrobes. Cashmere will last forever if it is minded and cared for.
How did your education at Alex help you? Is there anything you took for granted or didn’t appreciate while you were at school that you appreciate now?
I loved my time in Alex. I feel it is a school that will let you shine no matter what your talent is, it doesn’t focus on one aspect of education. So whether it’s science, music, art, debating or sports etc. there is a place to do that in Alex. I really appreciate that even more now. So although I had no idea what my future held for me in Alex I was able to take part in everything and I was never made feel that I had to focus on one thing to succeed.
What advice would you give your schoolgirl self?
Try not to worry about your future, everything will fall into place. Keep working hard, playing lots of sports and enjoying the time with your friends. Listen more in class too!