How are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Triona Spellman: Maintaining a work-family balance is hard enough at the best of times. When the COVID-19 pandemic entered the equation, we were all completely thrown a curveball. At first, it was a welcome break from ferrying children from one activity to another, but with restrictions and not being able to see elderly family members, the reality started to set in. Our kitchen tables became our new workspace to conduct our business, and we also set up a studio to showcase our products. Both working Mums, we certainly didn’t sign up for the job of homeschooling our children. Hopefully, in years to come, we will not be picking up the pieces of their fractured education and that there will be no devastating effects with our children and that they won’t hold a grudge. Whatever the circumstances, the work-family balance has become increasingly challenging, but we will keep moving forward.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Darcybow.
Triona Spellman: As the designer & founder of Darcybow, I am a highly driven designer and entrepreneur with a creative flair, capable of creating new innovations to drive the brand into international markets. I founded the brand in 2016 and since then, I have created two collections each year. After traveling the world working as a cabin crew, I created the business, having spent a lot of time in the USA and Asia in particular. My love of design and textiles has grown and developed, and I formed excellent contacts for sourcing fabrics and formed business relationships with international fashion houses and craftspeople. A lot of my skills have been self-taught.
During my business journey at networking events, I crossed paths with Edelle Mellett. Edelle was in a partnership and operating an online fashion accessory store – Darcy & Grey. The coincidence of the two, Darcy’s passion for design and business seemed to align, and a business relationship was formed.
Edelle has vast marketing experience from working in the fast-moving Mobile Telecom Industry as a Brand Manager. She found her passion and moved away from Telecoms into Retail and was founder and owner of Bridal Wraptures, Dublin 2. She has 10 years of Bridal experience working with exclusive Designers and Design Houses in the UK, Europe, and the USA.
How does Darcybow innovate?
Triona Spellman: Like so many businesses in Ireland and around the World, we were unable to meet with our customers. That didn’t sit well with us, as we love to get out and about chatting with our customers. So we had to rethink how we are reaching out to our customers? How could we engage with them in an innovative way?
- We identified a NEW NEED for our customers: We put our thinking caps on and decided to create a fun experience online. Through our Social Media Channels, we started promoting our Virtual Styling Appointments, which would allow us to connect with our customers and give us the opportunity to present our “Once in a Lifetime Collection” (Communion & Occasionwear Dresses – 100% designed and made in Ireland) to them. In normal times, we would meet our customers in person at one of our “Darcy Day Out” one-to-one personal appointments. We started filling our online appointments, and we were delighted with how receptive our customers were to our online consultations. We felt we wanted to take the experience to the next level and offer them a little more interaction and experience. We realized that the missing piece to the jigsaw was the ‘touch and felt’ of our products, so we introduced our “Dress-Up-Try-On Box.”
- The Concept – The Solution: It’s a simple concept – we select our customer’s favorite dresses factoring in colors, sizes, and styles, 2-3 styles of shoes, and some hair accessory pieces suitable for each dress’s style. We sampled it with a few customers and sent the products out in a cardboard box. The concept was well-received by our customers, and they loved the idea, helping them to make their decision. We realized early on that the box was only suitable for sending and receiving ONCE, and then the box would need to be binned! A waste of a box! So we put our thinking caps on again and did a little digging. Why do we need to send our dresses in a cardboard box? Could we use a reusable container suitable for posting? We hopped on the internet and found a re-usable container suitable for sending repeatedly and sustainably by Post. Once it met all the criteria for posting, we couldn’t see why it wasn’t a viable option for sending our pieces in a sustainable way.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Triona Spellman: Yes, reluctantly, we canceled our Spring/Summer 21 Collection. With the uncertainty of the virus and its effect on sales, we wanted to eliminate the risk of unsold stock and concentrate solely on our collection of made-to-order Occasionwear – Communion, Wedding, and Special Occasions only. We will continue to keep tight control of our stock and monitor it against demand.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Triona Spellman: Like many other businesses, we transitioned the business to focus on our customer relationship and business development to virtual appointments. We introduced a new CRM system to help support new appointments while keeping records and notes from interactions with our customers. We also relied on each other’s management skills of working independently, keeping a calm head, and collaborating and innovating new business ideas and practices to keep us moving forward.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Triona Spellman: Just before Covid hit our shores, we started to notice the exit and closure of some larger Department stores, Debenhams, House of Fraser, Monsoon – all mass-produced garments. Our customers are looking for a more customer-focused experience which we deliver at our “Darcy Day Out” events or via our “Virtual Styling Appointments.” They are looking for more bespoke, unique, high-quality, limited edition products that are sustainably made. Our Occasionwear dresses are designed and made in Ireland, and we are seeing a trend and a move towards supporting local businesses.
Your final thoughts?
Triona Spellman: While things are still very uncertain across the globe, we remain optimistic and are using this time to dig deep and lay solid foundations for our business that will allow us to plan and build for the future. Rather than a complaint about how we conducted our business in the past, we decided to look at the business through the eyes of our customers and what their current needs are for the here and now. Customer feedback to date has been very supportive and welcomed.