Belfast Telegraph

Obama'a favourite Derry linen firm sets sights on Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

Brand's designer clothes worn by a spaceman as well as heads of state

By Maureen Coleman

A Londonderry designer who made a bespoke linen shirt for Barack Obama has created an out-of-this-world gift for Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Joan Morrow-Ghali, who works with Northern Irish linen, made Hadfield a light green shirt bearing a logo of the Hills of Tara.

The talented entrepreneur – who has been inspired by her home city's textile industry heritage – is also seeking new business in the Middle East and China.

Chris Hadfield, famous for performing David Bowie's Space Oddity on board the International Space Station, was appointed Tourism Ireland's ambassador after tweeting pictures of the country from space, along with messages in Gaelic.

His daughter is currently studying at Trinity University.

Joan, who set up JoanLido Irish Heritage Designs five years ago, was delighted to meet the astronaut when he was in Derry for a book signing at Eason's.

"Because he loves Ireland so much and has a daughter studying in Dublin, I thought it would be nice to make Chris his own bespoke shirt," she said.

"It's made from the best Irish linen, Ferguson's of Banbridge."

Last year, JoanLido Irish Heritage Designs sent a shirt to US President Barack Obama while he was in Fermanagh for the G8 summit.

The shirt, which bore the crest of his Offaly-based ancestors, was made at Hunter's factory in Derry.

Joan has also designed two shirts for Prime Minister David Cameron, both carrying the logo of the Titanic Museum in Belfast.

Joan, who worked as a town planner for 25 years, was always interested in fashion from a young age.

Growing up in the shirt-manufacturing city of Derry, Joan watched her mother, an expert seamstress, design her own clothes to be shipped off to New York.

"She taught me how to sew and how to cut garments," she said. On the advice of her father, who wanted her to have a 'sensible job', Joan went to university, where she studied town planning.

But she later took a career break and moved to New York to study fashion and interior design.

On her return to Northern Ireland, she and her husband Lido set up their own company, specialising in interiors. But when the market collapsed, they decided to branch out into fashion and Joan was thrilled to return to her first love.

"Our fashion range is very high-end and therefore fairly expensive, with linen shirts starting at £300 and our dresses at £1,000," she said.

"We export around 99% of our designs. Interestingly, the luxury market is outperforming all other markets at the moment, despite the global recession."

And while investors in the Middle East have weighed in to back the growing business, Joan says she'd love to see more local support.

"The creative industries are very important and Ireland is renowned throughout the world for our arts and crafts.

"I'd like to see more support for companies like mine and to see local people employed in this very important sector."

Background

Joan Morrow-Ghali's fashion ranges all bear logos of famous Irish landmarks, such as Giant's Causeway, the Fermanagh Lakes and Derry's Walled City. A separate line of soft furnishings, made from linen and Aran wool, is sold in Dublin store Brown Thomas. Her cousin Jen Kelly has also designed for top models.

Belfast Telegraph

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