The aeronautical engineer using her science skills to create £700 lingerie that gives brides a fab figure
Aeronautical expert Mary Murphy combines her mathematical prowess with a lifelong love of sewing to create stunning bridal lingerie. She talks to Stephanie Bell about her unique business, which is solving wedding dress dilemmas for brides worldwide
Bridal lingerie evokes thoughts of pretty silks and lace, but one local woman is conquering the market with a range of unique underwear.
Mary Murphy, an aeronautical engineer and - thanks to her mother - a talented seamstress, combined these skills to launch Sioda Lingerie.
The brand is like nothing else on the worldwide market in that Mary uses her scientific skills and knowledge to design bespoke lingerie that perfectly suits the shape of the bride and the style of her dress.
Her underwear is among the most flattering you will find on the market because it is designed to make the bride look as beautiful as possible.
Mary, now dressing brides worldwide after working as a bus engineer, says: "I love what I do and get such a lot out of it.
"I love helping people, especially on the biggest day of their lives.
"I don't make anything pretty - in fact, it can be quite ugly - but it's invisible and that's the beauty of it."
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You've only got to look at some of the reviews on Mary's website to get an idea of what customers think of her designs.
One of her many satisfied clients describes her as "the fairy godmother of bridal underwear", while another says: "You made me feel so much happier in my dress... every bride should have a Mary."
The 40-year-old lives in Magherafelt with her husband, Adrian (43), an engineering professor at Queen's University, and their two children, Sophie (7) and Johnny (9).
Although she has lived in Northern Ireland since studying for her degree at Queen's, Mary grew up in Co Wicklow in a creative family. Her dad, Jimmy, is a retired artisan welder, engineer and craftsman, and her mum, Marian, has a successful soft furnishings business based in her hometown, Redcross.
Mary's older brother, John (42), is a cabinet maker and horticulturist, while younger brother Michael (34) is an electrician and welder who "has traditional Irish music in his soul".
Mary's mum has been a huge influence. "Mum can put her hand to anything - she put a sewing needle in my hand when I was very young and I haven't let go since," she says.
"My mum is my business adviser and my rock. My nanny, Jordan (Anne), always made me feel that there wasn't anything that I couldn't do. It was her initial encouragement that set me on a path to becoming an aeronautical engineer.
"After graduating from Queen's with a master's in aeronautical engineering, I progressed in the engineering industry to finally achieve chartered status in 2007.
"At the same time, I was continuously sewing and making special pieces of soft furnishings for the interior designers my mum worked for."
Mary met her future husband while studying at Queen's.
She graduated in 2001, the same year as the Twin Towers atrocity in New York, which had a huge impact on the aerospace industry. Initially unable to find a job in her field, she started working in a bank.
Her first job in engineering was with a local company that designs lifts. After that, she moved to Wrightbus in Ballymena, where she helped design an airport bus.
In 2007 Mary decided she wanted to work for herself in a business that allowed her to combine her love for maths-based design with her sewing skills.
"I just knew I could turn a pound working on my own," she explains.
"I began filtering through my engineering skills and craft skills and decided that I could merge the two disciplines somewhere in the world of fashion.
"In September 2008 I enrolled for the City & Guilds creative techniques (fashion) course at Belfast Metropolitan College.
"I started at first making silk underwear, then out of the blue I got a call from a girl who wanted bridal lingerie but said that nobody was making what she needed.
"She had bought two bodysuits - one that worked at the top, one that worked at the bottom, and a bra that worked but not on its own.
"I told her to post them to me and I would work it out. I ripped them apart four or five times, put them together and finally it worked.
"She was so thrilled she sent me pictures of her wedding day. She told her bridal boutique about me. They told other brides and it started from there.
"I realised that there was actually a business in it and, in December 2010, Sioda Lingerie was conceived by combining my many years of sewing experience and skills in sewing difficult fabrics with my design and engineering knowledge."
The magic in Mary's designs comes from the fact that each item is crafted for the customer's body so that it fits like a second skin, allowing the fine fabrics of the wedding dress to flow without unsightly lines or lumps and bumps.
"There are an astonishing 720 variations in the combinations that each of us needs to have considered in an all-in-one piece of underwear," Mary says.
"Your bust size, your body length and your dress size have to be considered.
"Commercially, to produce this range of sizes, it is impossible for a ready-to-wear piece.
"I can work with 40 different bust sizes, six dress sizes and three body lengths.
"I work as an aircraft manufacturer like Boeing or Airbus does - I create a sophisticated, specialised product by carefully engineering the combination and through manipulation of the highest-quality and best-manufactured base products.
"Issues arise when you have a bride with an F cup and a backless dress and you need backless support. That's where the engineering comes in - it help you anchor the bra while keeping it backless."
Other issues include visible knicker lines and even belly buttons showing or bones sticking out because of the fine drape of many bridal gowns.
Mary tackles it all and her pieces are designed so that underwear marks disappear, allowing the dress to take centre stage with no unsightly lines.
"Every piece of underwear is strategically and carefully designed in areas of delicate shaping. It will complement the bride's body comfortably and invisibly, allowing them to have a smooth silhouette without the problems commercially available products leave you with, such as bulging," she says.
"The underwear is designed to be forgotten about whenever the bride is wearing her dress, allowing them to enjoy the beauty of their dress and have the confidence of knowing that they look their best."
A world-first, Mary's designs are in demand across the globe, sought by desperate brides who can't find underwear to complement their dream wedding dresses.
Most of her international customers use a remote service, but she had a bride who flew in from Nigeria for a personal fitting.
"One girl, who was African, flew in with her husband-to-be," Mary begins.
"We all know not to wear white knickers with a white dress - that they need to be skin-coloured - and it was amazing because her version of nude was black.
"She wore black underwear under an ivory dress and she looked amazing.
"I have also had brides from Mexico, Bermuda and Spain.
"For overseas customers, I get them to buy two bras and one bodysuit.
"I send them a bag of pins with instructions to put both on and look in the mirror and take pictures, then do it with the other bra and then take pictures of their wedding dress over it.
"I ask them to put pins in where they need to remove fabric. I get the pictures and I work from them.
"Because a lot of brides diet coming up to their wedding, I usually make the pieces six to eight weeks before the wedding.
"Some are fortunate to be local and can come in for fittings."
As it can take three days of work to produce one piece of underwear, Mary's items don't come cheap. A backless body costs £750, while a standard body is £495 and backless under-bust shapewear comes in at £350.
For the designer, it is all about the joy of knowing she has helped her clients to look and feel beautiful on their big day.
"Seeing a client confident in the dress of their dreams is why I genuinely love what I do and why I put so much time into each piece," she says.
"It's about working to enable a bride to forget about her underwear and allowing her to focus on more important things."
Find out more about the company at Siodalingerie.co.uk