I Built My Fashion Business During a Pandemic – Barbara Bennett Designs

Collage of hand painted shoes and designerBarbara Bennett Designs

Welcome to The Doers, a Clever-ish Magazine interview series. The Doers are those who have taken the brave step to ‘DO’, to step out of their comfort zone, pursue their goals, and bring their dreams to life.

Barbara Bennett is an Irish designer based in Galway who built her business during the pandemic. Having been forced to move home from Canada after COVID-19 hit, she settled back into the routine of Ireland and set herself the challenge of hand-painting Nike trainers. After much trial and error, Bennett found huge success in her unique fashion brand, with its bold, vibrant, and distinctive style modeled off her grandmother’s garden. Bennett spoke to Clever-ish about boredom sparking creativity, the therapeutic effect of an organized wardrobe, and the ups and downs of the fashion industry.

Tell me a little about yourself and how you came to start your business

Back in March 2020 I had been living in Canada, but due to the pandemic I was forced to move back home to Galway having lost my job abroad. With all the extra time spent at home, I decided to combine my love for eccentric prints and footwear. I studied Graphic Design in the National College of Art & Design and I had also worked in retail for over 10 years. I was always into colorful prints and funky footwear. So out of pure boredom over the lockdown, I thought to myself – hey why don’t I apply my own designs to footwear and make my own unique shoes? In April 2020 I decided to buy 10 blank Nike runners, set myself the goal of hand painting a unique pattern on each of them, and hopefully turn it into a business. Nearly two years on now I’ve painted 100s of unique shoes for customers, had my hand painted sneakers sold in Brown Thomas, the biggest luxury retailer in Ireland and I’ve even collaborated with a huge brand over in the States, LoveShackFancy.

Failure is a part of growth. No one is perfect

How did the COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent lockdown affect your business, and most importantly your creativity?

Boredom has the ability to enable our creative thinking. When we find ourselves being bored, we are often trying to find something to stimulate our minds and fill that void. That being said with all my spare time over the lockdown, I began to get creative and I know for sure lots of other people did too. My boyfriend read me a quote at the beginning of the lockdown and it really stuck with me ‘”After the plague came to the renaissance.” If it wasn’t for the pandemic I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d probably still be in Canada working a dead-end retail job. So in a way, I’m very thankful it did work in my favor. I know it was a very hard time for millions of people around the world but I think for introverts and creatives it opened a world of possibilities. I found so many people began to turn their passions and hobbies into businesses. The Lockdown really helped me to focus and express my creative energy for which I will be eternally grateful.


collage of hand painted shoesBarbara Bennett Designs

At some point, all of us have faced failures in some way. How do you handle these setbacks?

I think failure is a great way to learn, because “without failure, there is no success.” Failure gives us the opportunity to bounce back, to learn from our mistakes, and helps us appreciate success. For me there was a lot of trial and error at the beginning of painting shoes – there was a lot of figuring out that had to be done. What paints to use, how to make the paint last on the shoes, how to seal the paint, how to prevent the paint from cracking.. the list goes on! I’m not afraid to admit I did mess up a few shoes at the very beginning but I learned from my mistakes. I was able to recognize where I went wrong and learned how to improve my craft… and I’m still learning every day! Failure is a part of growth. No one is perfect.

Do you have any routines or crucial items that keep you going throughout the day?

I definitely can’t start my day without my morning fix of coffee… and a little dose of TikTok.

What do you love the most about your industry and what is one thing you would like to change?

I love how different it is. I love being able to work for myself and having flexible hours. I love how fun and erratic some weeks can be. The fashion shoots, fashion shows, styling days, fashion events, and meeting other artists and designers. It can be so much fun. The only downside I find is how lonely it can sometimes be working at home on your own. I wish there were more creative spaces for young designers in Ireland. When I attended The National College of Art & Design, it was so great meeting my classmates every day and bouncing ideas off each other. Outside of college, you don’t quite get that. There are very few creative hubs left in Dublin for designers to work closely together. That’s the one thing I’d change, I’d love more creative spaces here.

If it wasn’t for the Pandemic I wouldn’t be where I am today

Who has been a big influence on you, creatively?

Right now I’m hugely influenced by Richard Quinn. I think he is a fantastic designer. Everything he comes out with I absolutely adore. I want it all! Emilio Pucci is also another great influence. He makes the most amazing printed shoes.

If you were to follow an alternative path, such as a different career or move into another industry, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to be a dentist. I was obsessed with people’s teeth growing up. I even repeated my final year of school to do dentistry *insert a hundred laughing emojis here*. It wasn’t until halfway through my final year in school I changed my mind. I took a year out then and did an Art portfolio course. I always loved art growing up I just never saw myself having a career with it and now here I am 10 years out of school now hand painting custom shoes. All those Saturday morning art classes my mom made me attend eventually paid off!

I’m not afraid to admit I did mess up a few shoes at the very beginning but I learned from my mistakes.

Tell me about how you unwind. Do you practice self-care?

So recently I’ve started getting up at 6:30 am and going for a 10km walk before I start my work day. I then come home and spruce myself up with a really yummy breakfast to get me in a great mood for the day. I love making my meals look quite decorative, I like to pretend I’m some sort of artisan chef in a fancy restaurant when I make them – it makes it all the more fun! The morning walks I find are so peaceful and it’s a great way to get some exercise in too. Sometimes if I find myself very stressed, I’ll do some skincare, put a hair mask in and start cleaning the place. I find it so hard to work in a disorganized space so it really helps my mood when I declutter and clean. I find folding clothes incredibly therapeutic. I used to work in retail for years and I would always love folding t-shirts and pants for hours. I love color-coding mine and my boyfriend’s wardrobe – so sometimes I’ll toss everything out of the wardrobe just to re-organize them. I honestly love doing this. I always feel so great after and I just love looking inside a really neat wardrobe. I find it’s great for improving my mood. Weird sort of self-care but it definitely works!

And finally, what have you been enjoying lately? Is there something you have been watching/reading/listening to recently that you would recommend?

I’ve recently been watching loads of baking shows on Netflix. ‘Crazy Delicious’ is a great one at the moment. Everyone on the show is so innovative and creative, it’s amazing. It gives me great inspiration for piecing together my morning breakfasts!


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