Studying architecture does not seem the most obvious launchpad to becoming one of Ireland’s top fashion designers.
However, while some of her peers were at art college, Castleconnell native Aisling Maher was learning about different design processes at UCD.
“My parents are in the construction industry and Dad was a bit nervous about me going to art school. He was convincing me that if I did architecture, it’s something creative, and you’d always get a job out of it. Ironically enough, when I qualified, there were no jobs,” says Aisling.
Finishing university in 2009, the recession was an incentive for Aisling to start dabbling in what became her real passion, and eventually her career as a milliner.
“I designed a hat for a family friend. Before that, I had been doing some beadwear and some smaller pieces. I just said ‘I’d figure it out’; that’s the way I always approach things,” she recalls.
“Over the course of the next couple of months, I came up with my own methods. Then, I went to London to learn the traditional techniques. Granted, I did take some stuff from it, but I also held on to a lot of the techniques I created.”
It is no surprise that she has been so successful in business. From a young age, as a student at Salesians, her entrepreneurial side was evident. “I had a business in second year and in transition year making and selling things. I’m the type of person that when I look at something, I imagine how it was made, and then try to recreate it.”
That ability to marry art and business was boosted when Hollywood star Catherine Zeta-Jones bought one of her headpieces from Adare Manor. This led to an appearance on TV3’s Xpose and the orders started flooding in.
“At that point, I realised that there was an opportunity here, that nobody in Limerick at the time was doing millinery or doing it the way that I approach it.”
The business grew with the opening of a boutique in Adare in 2013, with further expansion in 2016 when it relocated to a larger unit. “It’s getting stronger and stronger every year. I’ve five working with me, and we are a tight-knit team that get on really well. The boutique is out front with the workspace out back. It means that the retail and the design are very closely linked,” she tells Limerick Life.
Customers come in and out of the boutique as we chat, many buying items from the display, while others require more bespoke custom-made orders. Designing for weddings in particular is an aspect that Aisling enjoys, perhaps no surprise as her own wedding takes place later this month.
The looming of the big day was encouragement for her to adjust her work-life balance.
“Up until this year, I was really chasing my tail and not switching off. I said to myself that I wanted to take this year for me, and I’m working my five or six days a week and I’m not bringing work home as much,” she says.
However, she will not be resting on our laurels for long. “Next year, I’ll push it on again and focus on the growth of the business.”