Mallow College of Design and Tailoring
161, West End, Mallow, Co. Cork

Tel: 022 22768
City and Guilds

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Student Success Story: Debbie Maguire Of Yellow House

This article by Maria Moynihan originally appeared in The Farmers Journal

Cork mother of five Debbie Maguire gave up a successful nursing career to establish her own children's wear label. We meet the designer who really lives in the Yellow House. Her father may have been a tailor, but Debbie Maguire didn't exactly impress the nuns at St Aloysius Secondary school, Cork with her sewing skills.

"We had to make an apron, and I can remember having to rip it and rip it, because the nun would never be happy with it," she recalls mournfully. "The night before it had to be in, my dad sat up and stitched it for me. I was so bad, so bad. And then I go back into this!"

Indeed, the sisters were probably offering up novenas when they heard that Debbie - a highly qualified nurse and midwife - was giving up her successful career to start her own children's wear label from scratch. But if so, their prayers paid off. This year sees Yellow House celebrate its 10th anniversary as an Irish-designed, Irish-made clothes brand. And, just as it says on the label, it's a genuine home-grown success story.

In The Blood
For Debbie, fashion design was something of a late vocation. While her father Morgan O'Brien was a well-known tailor in Cork City, she admits to being "allergic" to sewing in her formative years. "It was a very tough life, because it meant long hours and working late into the night," she explains.

Instead, the Mayfield girl pursued a career in nursing, doing her general training in Cork University Hospital before specialising in intensive care nursing in Beaumont and midwifery in England.

But after returning to Cork and having her first son Arann in 1991, she found she was unable to secure job-sharing. Torn between career and family, she decided to give up work altogether and raise her young children, having her first daughter Meghan in 1993.

It was around this time that Debbie first heard about Mary Cashman's College of Design and Tailoring in Mallow. Looking for a challenge, she decided to sign up for a sewing class, but was so hooked that she ended up transferring into the three-year Fashion Design course. And not only did she win the City & Guilds medal of excellence for her studies, she also found time to have two more children, Jack and Callan.

"It was definitely a labour of love, in more ways than one," Debbie laughs. "It wasn't an easy course to do, because of the kids, but it was certainly a source of sanity, and I had a great time doing it."

Building Yellow House
Debbie can also thank her children for her business idea. Fed up with the children's wear in the shops, Debbie had started buying clothes by international mail order. She saw a gap in the Irish market. "I realised we could do exactly the same with an Irish mail-order catalogue," she explains. "It meant I could stay at home with the kids and see how I'd get on with the business."

And in 1999, Debbie launched her Yellow House label, named after the 1838 period house she shares with husband John and family under Shaw's Bridge near Blackpool. From the beginning, it was a home-spun enterprise. "There's many the night a pink jumper went over my boys' heads, when I'd be trying to see whether the arms were too long or too short," she laughs.

And while she admits that her business knowledge was negligible, Debbie had a clear vision for Yellow House from the start.

"The philosophy of the company was very simple," she states. "I wanted to make children's clothes that were good quality, stood out in a crowd and were synonymous with Yellow House, which was an Irish label. I just wanted to put a stamp on Irish design."

Irish Fashion
Yellow House caters for boys and girls, from newborn to 12 years of age. The collection is child and parent friendly, cute and colourful coats, sweet pinafores and rough 'n' tumble sweaters in soft, machine-washable suede and snugly fleece.

Especially enchanting are the Christening and Communion collections, which often feature hand crochet, lending them a timeless heirloom quality.

Yellow House recently also launched an adult range, which has proved especially popular with golfers, walkers and skiers.

While Debbie sources her fabrics in Paris, all garments are designed and made at her home studio. This allows her to offer a made-to-measure service for children who wouldn't fit the usual size categories, for a standard fee of just €5 extra.

"The parents would be distracted because the kids would not be streamlined into the average sizing, which is extraordinarily small and ridiculous. So if your kids like the styles, we can sort something out for you," she explains.

Most customers shop by mail-order catalogue, but Debbie also sells through stockists nationwide and recently opened a shop in the Market Parade off Patrick St. She has also dipped her toe into the international market by securing stockists in America.

Yellow House now employs seven people, something Debbie hopes customers will keep in mind when buying clothes for their children.

"I don't expect anybody to buy my product just because it's Irish," stresses Debbie. "I can see why people go to the likes of Lidl, but I like the idea that people would see that this product is keeping seven people employed. As long as people make informed choices, I've done my thing; I've put the product out there and it's a good product."

Style Success
Debbie's family has grown along with Yellow House. Arann is now 17, Meghan is 15, Jack is 13 and Callan is 12. She has also had another daughter since starting the business: Fiadh, now seven, who has accompanied her mother to the interview today.

We are walking up Patrick St when a woman pushing a buggy stops her and asks if Fiadh's coat is from Yellow House. Debbie smiles as she confirms her assumption. "You know I paid her to say that," she jokes afterwards.

But the incident echoes what Debbie says about the Yellow House brand 10 years on. "If a child is wearing a coat and a hat and they're walking down the street, I want people to say, 'Look at that, isn't that lovely?' That, to me, is success," says Debbie.

Fashion Design Course At The Mallow College Of Design And Tailoring
A 3 year accredited part-time course covering all aspects of fashion design.
Dressmaking Course At The Mallow College Of Design And Tailoring
Takes you from learning how to use your sewing machine to following a commercial pattern.
Millinery Course At The Mallow College Of Design And Tailoring
A practical one day course, suitable for beginners, covering a variety of techniques.
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