Sara O'Neill

On the rugged north coast of Ireland, stylist and illustrator Sara O’Neill has combined her two passions- fashion and art- to create a range of luxury printed textiles. ÉADACH is influenced by Ireland’s cultural heritage and her grandmother’s stories and blends Sara’s signature pencil drawings with abstract imagery and coastal colours to create richly coloured contemporary patterns. The final outcome is a precious piece of wearable art - limited edition scarves, kimonos, dresses. Inspired by Ireland’s darker stories and history and heritage of strong women, the prints are luxurious with a rock n roll bohemian edge.  Sara was shortlisted as Accessory Designer of the Year 2016 in the Irish Fashion Innovation Awards and is shortlisted as Designer of the Year 2017 in the IFIA, which take place later this month.

We spoke with Sara about her experience as a designer and working up North!

How has drawing and sketching influenced your design work?

My illustrations form the basis of my print work so they are hugely influential to the final outcome of the design. All of my prints start off in black and white as pencil drawings which tell the story of whichever Irish myth I'm working on, I then scan the drawing and digitally work it into a wearable print, adding colour and positioning the illustration in a way that it will work as a print for whatever the final garment is due to be- a scarf, a kimono etc. I think of the different ways the garment can be styled and work the print accordingly to create a versatile garment. I've had to train myself to work with colour in my artwork, my drawings are all pencil based and I love the tones and texture that can be created, the effect of light and shadow. When I signed with an illustration agency a few years ago they advised me to add colour to my work which I resisted for a while but when my drawings become a wearable print I find it a bit easier- the stylist side of my brain knows the importance of colour in fashion, wearing the right colours, especially near the face. I keep the design of the garments very simple so that the print remains the focus.

What is the project you are most proud of and why?

I'm incredibly lucky to have worked on amazing projects over the last 12 or so years as a stylist and as an illustrator but I think Éadach as a whole is the thing I'm most proud of because it's very personal. It brings everything I've learned as a stylist together with my artwork and being inspired my the stories my grandmother told me as a child and my surroundings on the northcoast means there's a piece of me in every single print. The love my customers have for Éadach is amazing, I love that they really become attached to the pieces and get the whole ethos and authenticity behind it. Even online I try to give as personal boutique style service as possible- rather than have an 'add to basket' online shop I encourage customers to email me with orders and queries so Ican be sure they are choosing the right print. I'm very passionate about the idea of 'buy less, choose well', after working through the last decade or so of cheap disposable fashion as a stylist I feel I'm now in a place as a stylist and designer where I want to equip people with the information and knowledge they need to create a wardrobe that works well for them and their life, rather than mindlessly consuming just for the sake of it. That's why my scarves tend to be so large- I want them to be as versatile and hardworking as possible.  I'm delighted that in its second year of business Éadach went into both Create and the Marvel Room at Brown Thomas. My mum is from Dublin so I spent a lot of time there over the years, and to have my designs in BT was really special, especially when i brought my granny in to see 'our' designs. (She is not shy at claiming ownership!!)  One aspect of Éadach I'm really proud of is that a percentage of direct sales go to the amazing NI animal shelter Lucy's Trust. I'm a massive animal lover and the work these guys do is phenomenal and I'm so glad that I can help, even in a small way.

What is the design community like up North and why should designers set up their studios there?

After 15 years in Belfast I decided to move back up to my native north coast almost three years ago. I was a bit anxious at first- I didn't know if it would be possible for me to run my business outside of Belfast, or if I’d miss city life, but it's been amazing. To be honest, if it wasn't for me relocating I don't know if Éadach would exist- it's so influenced by the coastline, and being beside the sea has inspired me so much, I genuinely think I've become so much more productive since moving back. Thanks to the Internet, being outside of a city hasn't been a problem at all. I don't think there is a massive design community up here, but there are more and more small businesses popping up which is great to see. Whilst I do most of my design work up here on the coast, I'm in Belfast or Dublin at least once a week for various work related things- shoots, shows, meetings, checking out my new garments which are made in Belfast- and I catch up with pals, exhibitions, events or whatever while I'm there. For me, I just hop on the train, it's only an hour and a half to Belfast, four to Dublin, so really it's not long at all- I think there's a bit of a mental block to travelling any distance to work in NI, but if I lived in London an hours commute would be standard, so for me it's a small price to pay. I can be shooting all day in Belfast but still be at home in time to go for a walk on the beach that night, which is pretty much the dream for me anyway.