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Business Challenge win allows Aoife to take Sass & Halo to the next level

10 August 2017

Derry fashion designer Aoife Doherty has barely had time for her feet to touch the ground since the elation of her recent win in Derry City and Strabane District Council’s £10k Business Start Up Challenge.

The Fashion Management graduate had only been selling her bespoke handmade ‘Sass & Halo’ floral crowns from her Craft Village base for a matter of weeks when she beat off stiff competition from a short list of 13 local entrepreneurs to claim the 2017 title but her plans on how to reinvest the £5,000 in prize money are already in full swing.

“It was amazing to win it,” admitted the 26 year-old. “An injection of £5,000 might be nothing to some businesses but to me it seems an extortionate amount of money and opens up so many possibilities and opportunities.

“I can now think about taking the business to the next stage and start exploring export markets in the UK and Europe which is a big element of my long term plans.

“At home the weddings market is a big one too and I am going to start exhibiting at wedding fairs from September.

“I’m also working on a pop up shop that will allow me to exhibit at markets and fairs all over Ireland.

“The crowns are popular at music festivals as well and I’d like to go bring the pop up shop to the likes of Glastonbury and Electric Picnic this year.

“I’m going to launch the pop up stall at the Drumcode Music Festival at Ebrington Square on Sunday August 27th which I am really excited about.”

With a degree in Fashion Management and a lifelong passion for the industry, Aoife was well placed to turn her hobby of designing and making the crowns into a sustainable small business model.

The decision to begin trading wasn’t one she took lightly however and she admits the support and expert advice she received from Council’s ‘Go For It’ programme was pivotal in turning her aspirations into reality.

“I’d always loved fashion from a young age and I studied Fashion Management at the College of Fashion in London which gave me a good grounding in the business side of the industry,” she explained.

“I worked in marketing for a year in London but I always liked the idea of coming home and starting my own business.

“The support I received from Go For It was really helpful and practical.

“I wrote by own Business Plan and I was able to e mail drafts to their business advisers so they could advise me every step of the way.

“I wouldn’t have a lot of experience in the financial side of things so the help and advice they offered for me to get my figures right was invaluable.

“The advisers also had loads of contacts locally to help with my start up and they would never turn you away no matter what you asked for.”

Aoife’s crowns had already built up a significant following locally before she took the decision to launch her business at the start of this year and a helping hand from Derry hairdressers RoCo offered her the perfect opportunity to dip her toe into the market before taking the plunge.

“Making the crowns came about purely by chance,” she recalled. “I made them for all the girls on my sister in laws’ hen do last year just for fun and it grew from there.

“I had no background or training in making them but everyone really liked them and when we got back loads of people were asking if they could get ones made.

“I got chatting to Ronan Stewart at RoCo and he really liked what I was doing and suggested selling them in their salon. That was a really good platform for me to test the market and see how things would go.

“I left the products in with him at Christmas and they sold really well so once I knew people wanted them I was able to confidently take the first steps to set up Sass & Halo.”

While Aoife’s long term ambitions for the brand lie heavily in the UK and European market, she is confident she can pursue that dream from her home town.

“Basing myself in Derry is something I am really passionate about,” she continued.

“There has been a perception that you need to be in London to pursue your goals in the fashion industry but we have everything you need here.

“So much of what I do is online now so you can do it from anywhere and it just wouldn’t have been possible for me to set up my own shop in a bigger city.

“It can be harder to build a life for yourself here when there are very few jobs but I feel that if you have a good business idea and a good product then it is possible.”

  • The The Go For It programme offers free advice and mentoring to people in the Derry City and Strabane District Council area who are considering self-employment or are interested in setting up their own business.

The programme provides a range of expert guidance and mentoring to help individuals create a business plan with market research and financial forecasts.

For more information call the free phone enquiry line on 0800 027 0639 or register at: http://www.goforitni.com.

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