Anne Hailes: The local designers being ripped-off by fast fashion and what would change if Anne ruled the world...

 Hope Macaulay modelling her in-demand knitwear

THERE is little recognition given to St John Ambulance volunteers for the work they have been doing during the pandemic.

Take this New Year's Eve, for instance: 16 fully equipped ambulances manned by at least two, more often three, trained members working with and alongside the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. Thank you for the difference you are making.


It's ethically, and probably legally, unacceptable that young people here are pressurised by big firms who want to steal their ideas and deprive them of the business they are building up. Zara McLaughlin, for instance.

She was trading as Zara Ceramics, working from home in Ballymoney and building a clientele. Then the 23-year-old was approached by fashion and furnishings company Zara insisting she stop using her name as it was an infringement of their trademark.

Could this little business threaten a global company? Our young entrepreneur has made changes and is now trading as Zara McLaughlin Studios which hopefully will protect her from being bullied by the 'big boys'.

Here in Northern Ireland a lot of talented young people are making a name for themselves on the international scene.

Take Hope Macaulay, for instance. Hope is hitting the big time with her bespoke fashion garments: her customers include Grace Chatto from the music group Clean Bandit, Spanish singer songwriter Rosalina and pop star Anne-Marie – young people wanting to dress to impress.

Hope's fashion has been highlighted in Japanese magazines, Vogue and The Irish Times to name but a few – her 'classic colossal knits' are hitting the headlines.

The problem is, at least one other manufacturer is copying her style and advertising them as its own.

Hope's studio is in Coleraine and she has a team of 15 knitters all over Northern Ireland and five seamstresses. Her granny taught her to knit and her mother's colourful take on fashion and her love of dressing up instilled a sense of drama in the child.

When she was very little she made clothes for her teddy bear. Gradually, her love of creating grew, taking her to Rochester University where she studied fashion, textile and print. Her graduation show was included in the prestigious London Fashion Week.

"Holidays give me inspiration, especially Italy for the vibrant colours, beautiful art and architecture – and I especially love Isola Bella, one of the Galápagos Islands," says Hope.

This is where she paints and draws, work which is eventually printed onto fabric for dresses, shirts and trousers. And, like her knitwear, there is always a story behind the designs.

She uses chunky Marino wool from Uruguay, works closely with dyers and has an exclusive range of her own: obviously, this 25-year-old is making such a name for herself that she's given inspiration to other manufacturers.

Her mother, Leslie, is far from happy: "Hope works so hard to create gorgeous and unique knitwear and to see these being sold at a questionably very low price is not only disheartening but possibly unethical. This makes me so angry."

:: Taking Action

SUCH is the feeling of frustration, Hope posted a public statement on social media last week.

'My designs constantly get ripped off in mass production. Not only is it frustrating and hurtful that fast fashion giants think they can blatantly copy from young designers and small businesses, they use unethical and unsustainable practices to retreat them.

"I rarely speak up when it happens to me because if I did I would be speaking up about it every day. Instead I want to use all my precious time to focus on running my business as best I can and creating my designs as best I can."

However, she is not staying silent this time.

"It's a disgrace. How do we stop them?"

That's the question. Watch this space.

:: If I ruled the world

WHAT would I change, given the chance? This was a question I was asked over New Year. I had to think.

I'd ask presenters on television not to stand with their legs apart. Coming up to Christmas and the final weeks of Strictly Come Dancing, Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman were most unladylike in their posture.

On Master Chef, the three judges – including one woman – all stood with their legs apart: there is no excuse for women to adopt this attitude of dominance.

Worst of all are the young men at the Formula One racetrack with their white trousers so tight they actually have to stand with their legs akimbo. Just watch on March 20 and see them strut their stuff at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

I would also insist on all toilet fixtures being raised three inches so you know you will land safely. A hook on the door for handbags and no overhead lights in the ladies. At posh dinner parties you'll never find candles in tall candle holders casting shadows downwards, they will be low on the table so the light shines upwards and women's wrinkles will not show.

Mirrors are important, best not to dust them. I remember having lunch in a Roux Brothers restaurant in Barnes, The Waterside Inn. It was important that I impressed but I was nervous. Just before we settled to eat I excused myself and went to the 'ladies restroom'.

There the lighting was perfect, there was fragrance in the air, but above all there was a huge mirror above the basins – it was so old the glass was blown, so the reflection it offered was soft and warm.

I looked soft and warm and went back to the table feeling charming: a mirror image can make or break a woman's confidence.

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