Niamh Kearney is the woman behind the Belfast based clothing line By Niamh, Niamh uses her knowledge from a background in theatrical costume design and her passion for sustainability and fashion to create custom made and sized pieces out of mostly pre-existing fabrics. Niamh spoke to The Jumble Magazine all about her inspirations, her favourite designers, and what made her start making such stand out clothing in the first place.
How did By Niamh start out as a brand?
I’ve had the idea to start By Niamh for so long! I’ve worked in costume for theatre for years and had always dreamed of designing my own clothes for everyday wear. To be honest I never had the nerve to just go ahead and do it, but when lock down happened I had so much time that there was no excuse not to! I had everything sitting ready for about two months before I actually posted online due to nerves, but I’m glad I made the start!
Lack of sustainability and inconsistent sizing are two major issues that stem from the fast fashion industry, how does By Niamh combat these problems?
I was in a fast fashion store one day trying on trousers, and I had to go up two sizes past my usual size in all my other clothes to get them to fit! Their clothing was TWO sizes smaller than what it said on their labels! It made me feel horrible about myself and upset that they clearly weren’t catering to all sizes. But the reality is, that was not ‘normal’ sizing. Brands need to take accountability for the sizing systems that they use. That’s why I wanted to introduce custom sizing, so that if people were ordering something they could tailor it to their body.
“In costume making we’d take an actor’s measurements to make their costume perfectly, so why shouldn’t I for my own clothing?”
Learning more about the impact of fast fashion is also why I wanted to try and make my brand as sustainable as possible. Not just on the environment but also on the people that work in it. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one cotton shirt-which is enough for one person to drink for two and half years! I’ve been working with a lot of organic cotton and deadstock fabric. My first shirt was made out of fabric from an IKEA display that they were getting rid of.
When up-cycling unused fabrics, what’s the process in turning them into a beautiful piece?
When choosing fabrics that I want to up-cycle I almost never have any specific garment in mind. If the pattern catches my eye I’ll buy it and let that inspire me for the piece. I’ll make a pattern for it and then test it out in my size so I can try it on. Any scraps that are left over I keep so I can make small things like scrunchies or, more recently-masks.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the fashion industry?
Naturally, working in costume my favourite designers are people who merge the theatrical with fashion. People like Wiederhoeft who had his first debut at NYC fashion week this year. He actually started out working in costume for theatre and I think you can really feel that in his clothes. I also love Florence D’Lee who has designed for many drag queens on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Most of all I look up to our local designers. There’s too many to even start naming but I’m being introduced to more and more every week and I love it!
What are the plans for the business from here on out?
I’ve just taken my first pre-orders for my shirts which have had such a positive response! From now until the end of August I’m planning on dropping a few new pieces that will create a mini collection for late summer/ Autumn. I’m also working on designs for a drop later on in the year which I’m excited about. I can’t wait to share it all!
You can check out more of the By Niamh pieces on Instagram.
Interview by Sam Dineen