INTERVIEW WITH MOON + MELLOW FOUNDER CLIONA AND THE STORY OF HOW THE IRISH SUSTAINABLE SLEEPWEAR BRAND CAME TO BE
Why did you decide to work in fashion?
From a very early age I loved to create pieces. When I was young, I would make costumes, change up and alter my clothes, paint and bake. I loved making things and I would try selling my bits to friends, family and neighbours. So, I think I always had that entrepreneurial spirit and people in my life always viewed me as a creative person and a go to for advice on fashion and interiors in particular.
Looking back now I think about how much I would have loved to have studied at one for the Design Colleges. But that’s not how it all played out. I went on to achieve a Degree in Marketing and Business Management and worked in various business-related roles over the last twenty years. Experience that has really stood to me.
The desire to set something up myself was always there. However, for various reasons - financial commitments, young family and most of all ‘fear’ it has taken me until now to just go for it. Really the decision to go out on my own and to start building a brand came first. I wanted to draw from all the great experience I have accumulated throughout my career in marketing, product development and responsible sourcing. When deciding on the direction of the brand I recognised how much work and commitment would be involved. I knew that I wanted to establish a business that I was passionate about. One that I could grow in and that I could see myself happily working in and building for the long term. So, I decided to keep it very simple and stay true to my personality and just focus on the things that I love. I reckoned that this would be the best formula for happiness and success and it would allow me to be me and to focus on what I am passionate about.
I have always had a thing for good pyjamas. I am very aware of my senses and love the feel and texture of crisp fresh cotton on my skin. I believe that indulging our senses with luxurious textures, relaxing scents, soft lighting and stillness can elevate our sense of calm. I am a mum of three gorgeous boys and have always worked in busy environments so life is “all go”. I really savour time to relax at home and good night sleep. I love my bed, I love my sleep and I love nice things. For me, something as simple as a great night’s sleep can change everything…. It had to be pyjamas.
Tell us about your background in fashion, where have you worked?
I think that my background and progression into working in the fashion industry is probably quite different to most designers. Like a lot of aspects in my life I got into the fashion industry in a back to front kind of way. Before setting up Moon + Mellow I spent ten years working in responsible sourcing, developing products for some of the world’s top-ranking global brands and finding ethical factories to produce them. During this time a lot of our big clients were looking for more transparency in their supply chain. They wanted assurance that the products being made for their brands were produced ethically. I became really interested in this aspect of my job and decided to back up my experience with an MA in Business Ethics from DCU. As I continued to focus on responsible sourcing and became educated in best practices in various industries, I recognised that more and more people were valuing brands that embraced sustainable practices, offering customers the finest quality, ethically produced products and transparency in what they did. When I decided to start my sleepwear brand, I was very clear that I wanted to dream big and keep creativity and ethics at the core of what we did.
Why pyjamas, and what makes Moon + Mellow Nightwear so special?
I have always had a thing for pyjamas. Every Christmas my mum would have a pair for us under the Christmas tree. Over the years I found myself gravitating towards certain ones and have been known to fast track the nice pj’s though the wash so that I can wear them instead of others. I have always been interested in textures, colour and design and would consciously think about what I loved about each one. That’s really how it all started. Trying to imagine my ultimate pyjamas. Beautiful fabric, comfortable feel, looks great and has that little bit of extra style and magic. As I have gotten older my shopping focus has shifted to thinking more about everyday luxury pieces that I can feel good in all the time and get lots of wear out of. We wear pyjamas every day of the year. So, to have a good quality pair makes so much sense.
Moon + Mellow create everyday luxury sleepwear consciously. We are all about high quality fabric, exclusive unique prints, detailed finishes and ethical production using natural and sustainable materials. Our pyjamas are designed in Ireland and produced in Portugal using 100% cotton from a Portuguese mill. We make fabulous pyjamas, for lovers of bed, great sleeps and dreaming big.
What inspires your collections?
Our first collection is inspired by a desire to savour the simple pleasures in life. It is such a lovely feeling to take off all your layers and step into crisp, fresh cotton pyjamas. This marks the point in our day when we can relax, slow down and take time for ourselves. We want our pyjamas to elevate this ordinary moment into something special.
Our brand story is all about dreaming big. I wanted the prints for the first collection to embrace this and to also give a nod to our brands Irishness. So, I decided to draw inspiration from Irish legend. Paired with beautiful detailed packaging, these pyjamas make a lovely gift celebrating women, family and friendships – the legends in our lives.
How would you describe your current collection?
‘Legends’ features prints inspired by Irish myths. I wanted to keep our brands Irishness at the heart of our first collection. Old legends tie in so well with sleep, dreaming and rejuvenation. I also love the gifting potential of pyjamas. I think that they suit so many different occasions and are a lovely way to celebrate someone special. A legend in our life. The collection is designed with comfort and a flattering silhouette in mind. Each piece has a relaxed tailored finish with piping detail and French seams throughout. We have used the finest quality cotton printed with our unique designs. Our pyjamas feel beautifully soft on the skin and offers the promise of a great night sleep.
When you’re creating a design, what comes first?
I begin with choosing the fabric. I am very clear about the finish, feel and quality that I am looking for. So, I spent a huge amount of time searching for the best mills and running swatches of fabric through my hands. The feel of the fabric on the skin is so important to get right.
How do you feel seeing your designs in store?
Seeing our pieces hanging up in store is such a thrill. We are stocked in some stunning independent boutiques and hotels who have been extremely supportive of the brand from the start. I am so proud of what we have achieved so far. Meeting new customers, chatting about the collection and giving them a feel for what Moon + Mellow are all about has been a dream come true. Seeing our pyjamas being wrapped and boxed for customers is such an amazing feeling. At the same time my mind is always racing ahead with new ideas for styles, prints and products. So, finally seeing the first collection become reality has also made me so excited about building our offering and getting stuck into working on what’s coming next.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a fashion business?
For anyone wanting to start a fashion business or any business really, I think the best bit of advice I could give is encourage them to take the first steps. I definitely talked for too long about what I really wanted to do without taking the plunge. Fear is a huge part of that. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of giving up a stable job. Fear of not getting it right. I went to a career coach, Emily Casey, about two years ago and during that process I started putting a plan in place to take the first step, which for me was going to shows to meet with European mills and producers. Each step leads into the next and brings you closer to your overall goal and before you realise it, you are actually doing it! Life is too short for what ifs.
The other thing that I have learnt during the process of starting Moon + Mellow is how generous people in this industry can be with their time and advice. Talk to people that you admire in the industry and that you meet with along the way. For the most part people are good. Those that are already established in the fashion industry understand what that is like to be starting out so reach out to them and just ask – what is the worst thing that can happen! I have honestly been overwhelmed with the support I have received from industry pros that I have contacted.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I am doing something for myself. I have dreamt about creating a sleepwear line for so long and it is such an incredible feeling to have gone through the process of having an idea, assembling a team of suppliers and partners, setting objectives and making it a reality.
What is the most valuable fashion advice you have ever received?
The best advice business wise is to be clear about your vision and not be side-tracked by what other people are doing. Not everyone is going to be into what you do and that’s ok. You can’t be all things to all people. Think about who your ideal customer is and design for them.
The best personal fashion advice, simply to LOVE the clothes that you buy. Like most people, I have bought clothes in the past, to fill a gap or because they were on trend or great value, or on sale. I really believe that you feel at your best when you are wearing clothes that you love. Clothing is made to be worn and the pieces that you love are the ones that you reach for again and again. So, hold out for that special piece then love it and wear it to death.
What has been your proudest moment in fashion so far?
My proudest moment came on the day of our first photoshoot. I remember feeling incredibly nervous on the lead up to it. There had been a big rush to get all the samples ready and to secure a venue. I was so thrilled that Courtney Smith was on board for styling and Liam Murphy agreed to shoot for us. They were arriving early that morning with their crew and Leni Ivanishvili, our sensational model for the day. The ultimate dream team! I just wanted everything to go well. Liam took the first run of shots and scrolled through them with me on his camera. Seeing how they had captured the pyjamas was the first time that I really felt like everything was coming together.
Why is sustainability important to you and how do you try to work sustainably as a brand?
I have spent the last ten year working in responsible sourcing, seeking out the best ethical factories around the world and working on a wide range of projects. During this time, I also completed an MA in Business Ethics. During my studies I worked on case study assignments covering the sustainability issues in various industries from fashion to food, financial and IT. I think that sustainably is a mindset and once you are switched on to the issues surrounding labour standards, environmental issues and the importance of transparency in supply chains it is very hard to ignore the facts.
As a young business, we are definitely not perfect just yet, but we are working on getting as close as we can. Our pyjamas are produced and our materials are sourced in Portugal. The factories that make our pyjamas and packaging have been independently audited to SMETA, which demonstrates the highest ethical standards. Our pyjamas and packaging are made from natural materials so they will biodegrade in a few weeks as opposed to synthetic fibres. We have partnered with an excellent factory to ensure the very best quality so that our pieces stand the test of time. We keep fabric wastage very tight. We put a lot of effort into the design of our packaging so that it will be kept and reused. It is also all recyclable.
We believe that working sustainably is not just the right thing to do, it also makes sense for the long-term growth of our brand.