Frances Fogarty, founder of Lilymais shares her life and business lessons.
Fogarty is the founder of Lilymais Swimrobes, handmade in Dingle, Co. Kerry using repurposed towels. Each swimrobe is unique and made with minimal environmental impact.
What journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
I was talked out of studying fashion design when I was 18 (not the thing for a farmer’s daughter from Tipperary to consider!) so I followed my second passion – food – trained as a chef, became a hotel general manager at the age of 26, opened my own fine dining restaurant some years later, got burned out, sold up, moved to west Kerry, returned to college to study fashion design, launched my own fashion brand, now living the dream!
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
I design and hand make swim robes using recycled cotton towels. Each swim robe is unique, no two are the same and as sustainable as is humanly possible. Sustainability ranks highest in my value system and I have always known that whatever avenue I followed in fashion it would have to be true to that value. In terms of my USP, each swim robe is designed here in west Kerry, handmade by me here in west Kerry using old cotton towels that have had new life breathed into them!
“ Always ask if you don’t know and always shout out your mistakes immediately!”
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
I have funded the enterprise out of my own resources so far and by selling one swim robe at a time! I have been approved for some grant assistance by Údarás na Gaeltachta which will certainly help me grow and expand.
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
I have several years’ experience in business, and this is supported by the clarity around what I want to do, how I want to do it and my determination to be sustainable.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
A lady called June Duggan who placed her trust in me at the age of 26 to manage her hotel. She was for several years my mentor, my driver and ultimately my friend.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
Again from June Duggan – always ask if you don’t know and always shout out your mistakes immediately!
“I am inspired whenever I see someone take the plunge to set up their own business. I love meeting them, talking to them and listening – and learning from – the story of their journey”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
Honesty – being true to your values, calling things as they are, knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Getting traction on social media. Realising that social media is so important and that it requires a large time investment.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
The pandemic helped me – it slowed everything down and allowed me more time to do all the things I needed to do to get started.
“Identifying my customer base is becoming increasingly complex but it is the future, and as they say – the future is here to stay!”
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
Digital is critical for me as I don’t have a shopfront and it continues to be a challenge given the amount of noise on social media. Staying informed about the latest trends and latest technologies takes time for sure.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Rather than follow the design-build-sell model, I would have concentrated on the selling element earlier. Maybe even sell-design-build!
Who inspires you in business today?
Truthfully, I am inspired whenever I see someone take the plunge to set up their own business. I love meeting them, talking to them and listening – and learning from – the story of their journey.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
Three things: honesty, honesty and honesty! I nurture talent by fostering an environment where it is perfectly fine to try things, to make mistakes, and even to fail – so long as you learn from it. After all, some of the best ever designs have come from mistakes!
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I don’t read business books as a rule, preferring instead to read newspapers, magazines, online publications etc.
“Follow your dreams and passions, stick with your instinct, and seriously live in the moment! Mind your health – it is genuinely your only wealth”
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
My iPhone is rarely out of sight, not least because it monitors my Type 1 Diabetes.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
Instagram is my go-to platform as I believe it hits my market best.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
Technology is getting incredibly sophisticated in terms of profiling/tracking etc. Identifying my customer base is becoming increasingly complex but it is the future, and as they say – the future is here to stay!
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Follow your dreams and passions, stick with your instinct, and seriously live in the moment! Mind your health – it is genuinely your only wealth!