'My friends talked about how hard it was to use the loo in your wedding dress... it got me thinking'
An ingenious Newry woman is taking the business world by storm with her wedding dress slip, designed to spare the blushes of brides when answering the call of nature. Stephanie Bell talks to Lisa McMahon Winters (42) about her knack for clever inventions
Thanks to Newry woman Lisa McMahon Winters, brides in big dresses no longer need to face the embarrassment of having to ask their bridesmaids to accompany them to the loo.
The mother-of-three has created the Save the Dress Slip, a simple garment worn under the wedding dress which allows brides to easily scoop up their gown when they need to visit the Ladies' Room.
Like most of Lisa's original ideas, her tulle wedding slip is already creating a sensation in the bridal world, not just here, but across the Atlantic. Although just launched this month, she has had interest from a large multi-national company in the US and is set to fly to Los Angeles for discussions in August.
At home, local bridal shops can't get enough of it and, with a price tag of just £21, it is also one of the more affordable bridal accessories.
Lisa (42), who runs the online shop www.IrishGiftsForYou.com, has a reputation for coming up with original products.
Her most successful invention to date is an inflatable pub, which has taken the US market by storm.
The blow-up bars, which are popular for festivals and special events, created such a sensation in the US that it brought their creator, Lisa, to the attention of business bible Forbes magazine - which then flew her to America for an interview last year.
Lisa, originally from Limerick, lives in Newry with her husband, Tony, and their three boys, Scott (20), Louis (9) and Tony junior (6).
She says she has always had a strong work ethic going back to her childhood and spent most of her working life as a sales representative before finally launching her own business 10 years ago.
Most of the ideas for her inventions came from living in New York for four years in her late teens and early 20s.
She says: "I know what it was like being in New York and away from home, you really did cling to anything that was Irish and that gave me ideas. I finished school with a Leaving Certificate in 1993 and went to New York for the summer with my best friend for three months.
"We decided New York was for us, so we applied for a Green Card, went back and lived the American dream for four years.
"I worked from an early age in a business belonging to a family friend, doing everything from newspaper rounds to tending the shop and then in my teenage years, I did bar work.
"My dad was a bookmaker and he used to bring us to help out at his pitch on the dog and horse tracks. I'm not sure if we were much help, but for sure we learnt a lot.
"I've was always interested in any new trends or business ideas.
"I worked in senior sales and multi-national key account management for a telecommunications company in Dublin for about 12 years and then moved to Northern Ireland eight years ago.
"The 6am starts were getting to me, so I had to come up with something to allow me to work from home.
"I have a good balance now, where I spend more time with the family and can work from anywhere in the world as all my business is online."
Initially, Lisa started a party hire company online, with lots of products made in Ireland, which were mainly shipped abroad.
A few years ago, she came up with the idea of an inflatable pub to hire out for festivals and events and to drinks companies.
Lisa started the design and manufacturing process in 2011. It took almost two years to get it perfected and in the summer of 2014, it was tested before very quickly becoming a global brand.
She even created an inflatable Moe's Tavern from the hit TV series The Simpsons, which became a huge international best-seller.
A social media post showing pictures of her first inflatable pub went viral and was viewed more than two million times.
She says: "I started with the inflatable pubs idea first and haven't looked back since exporting them worldwide.
"The US market went completely crazy for it and I ended up selling the rights to a multinational company in America."
Building on the success of her inflatable bars, she is currently developing a new pop-up pub product in conjunction with an American multi-national company, again aimed at the events market and also rock festival audiences. Last Christmas, she cleaned up with a unique sport-themed Irish Christmas jersey and the company is already taking orders for next Christmas, as well as making bespoke jerseys for local clubs and organisation.
Lisa says: "I was trying to think of an alternative to what the Americans refer to as 'the ugly Christmas sweater' and I was thinking of people from here living in hotter countries like the United Arab Emirates and Australia.
"We came up with the 'Irish Christmas Jersey', which is a lighter material and we made a Lapland Rugby Club jersey and Lapland soccer and GAA jerseys and they just took off. There was nothing like them on the market."
While Lisa's products are all based on her own original ideas, once they hit the market, she has found one of her biggest challenges is the threat from copycats.
She says: "The jerseys are already being copied and that is the hardest part of what we do, people stealing our ideas. There isn't much you can do about it, you just have to get on with it and I take it as a compliment."
Her latest creation, the bridal slip, came about last year when she was at a friend's hen party.
As the conversation came round to the challenges of going to the loo in a large bridal gown, Lisa's mind went into overdrive.
She soon had the idea for her new product and within just six months had designed, developed and manufactured the Save the Dress Slip.
Launched just weeks ago, she is already tweaking the design to suit Holy Communion dresses and there has also been interest for a similar slip to wear under formal dresses and ballgowns.
She says: "At the hen party, the girls were talking about how hard it was to go to the toilet in a wedding dress. Some were saying they couldn't do it without having their bridesmaid there to hold the dress and that got me thinking and it developed from there.
"I tried to think of something that would allow the bride to easily pull the dress up herself.
"It was a very quick turnaround from having the idea for the slip to getting it designed and manufactured. The whole thing took about six months."
Lisa also came up with a novel idea to make the slip even more appealing to the US market by offering to have it made with a piece of Irish lace sewn into it.
And the piece of old Irish lace has cleverly solved another bridal dilemma - the something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue tradition.
She explains: "I wanted an Irish feel to it, and Kate Middleton had Carrickmacross lace in her veil (left), so I decided it would make the slip a little bit unique to the buyer to include whatever lace they wanted.
"It gives the bride something old to wear on their wedding day."
Lisa never launches a product without finding out first if there is a demand - and for the bridal slip, she carried out her usual market research. This included testing the product on people of all ages, including an eight-year-old girl wearing a communion dress, which has led to her designing a slip for children.
A prolific inventor, her ideas just keep coming and for St Patrick's Day this year, she again cleaned up with a new product - again for ex-pats - called the Irish Gift Box.
Designed to fit through a letter box to keep postal costs down, customers can fill them from a range of beloved local products which aren't available in their adopted countries.
These include things like Tayto crisps, locally-made cheeses and chocolate, which she is shipping worldwide. She has now taken this idea one step further with the launch of an Irish concierge service called Irish Stuff to You.
She explains: "The gift boxes were my idea for St Patrick's Day and it went crazy.
"The demand really is there and so we started the concierge service, offering to find items people from home want, but can't get on the internet.
"We've been asked for things like a pair of shoes from Primark or favourite cigars, tubs of Sudocrem, packets of curry sauce, whatever it is they miss from home."
Like most businesses, she has her eye on the Brexit negotiations and the future of the Irish border and has already taken cautionary measures by having her wedding slips and many of her other products manufactured both here in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
She adds: "I'm passionate about Irish-made items and supporting local business and trades. Everything we sell is made here.
"I am concerned about the impact of Brexit, which is why some of my products are made in the south and some in the north. Everything can be bought on our website."
To view this extraordinary inventor's full range of innovative products and services, go to www.irishgiftsforyou.com