Today, 3rd April, marks International Tweed Day, so we sat down with Kieran Molloy, a sixth-generation weaver with Molloy & Sons to find out all about Donegal Tweed and plans for the future.
Tell us about the history of Molloy & Sons.
Molloy & Sons was set up by myself and my dad Shaun 12 years ago. Prior to that, my dad worked in his father’s company ‘John Molloy’s.’ Throughout my childhood, summer jobs were always in the factory, working with the looms, folding jumpers, and generally keeping the place tidy. After school, I went to NCAD in Dublin to study Industrial Design and then began working in a design company. Unfortunately, the recession hit, and I was let go, so I decided to move back home to Donegal. The timing of that move coincided with an increased interest in heritage and authenticity in menswear. I really believed in the value of our family’s heritage and history, so I set about trying to create a possible future in it.
So, Molloy & Sons is a family affair?
It is indeed. I’m the sixth–generation of a family of weavers; the first two generations wove for the local area. My great-granduncle James Molloy started a Donegal Tweed business in the 1920’s. My great-grandfather Michael worked with him. They were trading internationally from a very early stage. In 1923, they had a showroom on 5th Avenue in New York and a warehouse in the Meatpacking District. They were exporting lots of fabric to America and they travelled regularly to the US. My grandfather John Molloy worked in that company when he was young. He set up his own business ‘John Molloy’s’ in the late 1950’s, initially as a weaving business then adding knitwear. He travelled widely including to Japan in the early 1960’s. We set up Molloy & Sons in 2011. We believe our success is in part based on all the knowledge passed on from the generations of Donegal weavers that came before us.
Where is your market?
80% of the fabric we sell is used in menswear clothing. We export to America, Japan, China, South Korea, Italy, UK, France, Germany, and the rest of Europe. We sell our fabric as a raw material to leading international menswear brands and fashion houses, who use it to make up their garments. Our fabrics regularly feature on the runways of fashion weeks in Milan, New York, and Tokyo.
Today is International Tweed Day. What is it about Donegal Tweed that makes it so sought after among international fashion houses?
Donegal Tweed is a traditional wool fabric woven in County Donegal. It is characterised by its distinctive flecks of colour. When you’re selling internationally, the story, heritage and provenance behind a brand is important, and the story of Donegal Tweed really resonates with fashion designers looking for a genuine and authentic fabric.
At Molloy & Sons, it’s important that we have our own signature aesthetic, using our own yarns, colours, and designs. The vast majority of our collection is Donegal Tweed with fleck; we don’t really focus on other styles, because we prefer to stick to our Donegal core. When we are working with a designer, for example, our most popular weave is a plain weave with black and white or grey Donegal fleck, but sometimes fashion houses want to see other weaves and patterns, and we try to mix up our use of colours to keep things interesting.
Tell us about Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Status for Donegal Tweed?
The European Commission is widening the number of European goods with protected status from food and drink to products such as Donegal Tweed. The new rules would mean only producers in specific regions using agreed processes could sell goods across the EU by the protected name to avoid cheap competition, in the same way that champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France, Parma Ham in Parma, northern Italy and Waterford Blaa in Waterford. This would be a particularly important development for Donegal Tweed, because without a specific designation, there’s nothing to stop products being made anywhere and sold as locally crafted items, so people have no way of knowing if the tweed they are buying is genuine Donegal Tweed. It’s similar to an intellectual property right, and it will increase trust and visibility for Donegal Tweed, guaranteeing authenticity and reputation. As a direct result, we also believe that an initiative like this will contribute to the creation of skilled jobs especially for SMEs and to the development of tourism across Donegal. We also anticipate that it will lead to an increased demand from fashion houses and bulk orders of fabric from consumer brands designing garments and other products.
Are you confident about the future of Donegal Tweed?
I am. I feel very lucky to be working in a job that I love, in the place I call home. Traditionally, we have always been an export-focused business, but we’re exploring new opportunities with the domestic market. We secured a grant from Local Enterprise Office Donegal to help us buy machines that allowed us to expand into making scarves and to help us make our throws and blankets more efficiently. In general, I think the opportunity around PGI status is an exciting one for Donegal Tweed and the county as a whole, because this is not a trademark for an individual company, it’s shared by a community. When legislation is passed, anyone claiming to be weaving Donegal tweed must be based in Donegal. Otherwise, they will be stopped by the EU, so it will benefit the whole craft industry here and help us to protect the authenticity of Donegal Tweed and sustain jobs in rural Donegal.
See https://www.molloyandsons.com/ for more.
Molloy & Sons is a client of the Local Enterprise Office, Donegal and a member of #CreativeCoastDonegal.
If you have an idea to start or grow your business within Donegal, get in touch to find out how the Local Enterprise Office can help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (074) 916 0735.
#CreativeCoastDonegal is a network of businesses within Donegal’s creative and cultural sector. See the online directory at www.creativecoastdonegal.ie. For more information email email@example.com