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Fashion designer Orlagh McCloskey: 'People think I live a glamorous life'

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to Orlagh McCloskey (30), co-founder of the Rixo London fashion label. She is originally from the Dungiven countryside, but now lives in London with the label's co-founder Henrietta Rix and their friend Rebecca

Booming business: Orlagh McCloskey, co-founder of the Rixo London fashion label
Booming business: Orlagh McCloskey, co-founder of the Rixo London fashion label
Fun times: Orlagh with twin Gemma at a Halloween party in primary school
Close family: Orlagh McCloskey with sisters Kathleen, Sheena and Gemma at Kathleen’s wedding
Orlagh with mum Angela and sister Gemma
Orlagh on her graduation day with parents Angela and Dermott
Rachel Dean

By Rachel Dean

Q. Tell us about your childhood.

A. I lived in a very rural area outside Dungiven, so I grew up outdoors. I've got three sisters and we're all of a similar age. There's my twin sister Gemma, Sheena (31) and Kathleen (33). We were all really close. We all played camogie and took part in Irish dancing. Because we are so close, we've always been part of the same circles.

My dad Dermott had his own business in property development and my mum Angela was a stay-at-home mum. She used to be a hairdresser, but when she had four kids all under the age of three, she had a lot to manage.

My mum wasn't hard on us, but she's always been a very 'hands-on' parent and has always made sure we were on the right track in life. Every day after school it was nice to come home and know she was there.

I was always very creative when I was younger which sparked my interest in fashion. It definitely happened at an early stage - I would always be in my mum's room, taking all her shoes and jewellery out and trying on her dresses. From no age, I was able to chop and change everything and decide what I wanted to wear and how I wanted to wear it.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I used to say getting our brand on Net-a-Porter (a world leading shopping website for designer labels), on bigger brand's websites or being in magazines, but actually, the more we get to interact with our customers, I'm most proud of the fact that normal people spend their money on our clothes and feel amazing.

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You feel like you have made their event or their day with something you have designed. Yeah, it's great when a celebrity wears your designs, but their stylist has dressed them. It's different when you see random people walking down the street wearing your dress that they have spent their hard-earned cash on.

Also, we are part of the London Fashion Week schedule in September for the first time and I would definitely say that's up there with my proudest moments, too.

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. There are things I would like to change but, in hindsight, I've learned from them as well, so I wouldn't say I have any major regrets.

Generally, I just wish we had trusted our instinct a little bit more. Henrietta and I were quite young when we first started our brand, and we assumed that people who were older would know better than us. When someone gave us advice, we would almost doubt ourselves first. I think that going with our instinct and saying, "Maybe, there's a new way to do it" would have been better. I think that's a very important lesson.

Q. Do you have any phobias?

A. Aside from absolutely hating snakes, no. I've had this discussion before and someone said, "Surely you have snakes in Ireland" and I said, "No, St Patrick got rid of all the snakes!" There are some in England but thankfully I haven't seen any yet.

Q. The temptation that you cannot resist?

A. Going on sites such as 1stdibs, Etsy and eBay at 12 o'clock at night. I have to tell myself, "Do not look at your laptop tonight" because as soon as I see ideas, my brain goes to a million other realms.

I'll search something like, "vintage Mexican wedding dress with floral borders" and then I'm off on a tangent for two hours.

There's always about 100 pages or more and I have this thing where I have to go through every single page - I have a fear of missing out on something that might tick a new idea.

I suppose it's not a bad temptation because it does help with work - at least I'm telling myself that!

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. My mum gave me loads of her old charms for Christmas. She had them while I was growing up and I have always admired them. If I was running out of a burning building, I would definitely grab them.

Q. The book that has most impacted your life?

A. I recently read Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the creator of Nike, Phil Knight.

It's all about how the brand Nike started and how the company works.

In business, you have so many ups and downs, and I think when you have a bad day, it's good to be able to reference a brand that had been through it all and has come out the other side - it's quite comforting.

Now whenever we have a hard day, instead of getting overly stressed, I think, "It's just another day, there will be something else tomorrow".

I would say that Shoe Dog has helped me cope with negative situations.

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. I would improve the education system and give people the tools to open their minds and understand their surrounding environment. I think that the more education people have, the quicker that issues can be resolved, and we can move on as a society.

Living here in London, I find it so strange that so many people are uneducated about what really goes on in Northern Ireland - I'm like, "How could you not know"?

I believe that when you're educated, you have more empathy.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. Badly fitting garments make my blood boil - I have a real thing about that.

Another thing is negativity. Me and Henrietta are pretty similar in that we always try to see the positives and we try to make something out of nothing. We both believe that nothing is impossible, so people with negative outlooks really bother me.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My parents have been a major influence on my life, of course.

As a designer, people have a certain perception of me, thinking that I live a really glamorous life and they are always surprised when they realise how grounded I am.

That's down to my parents and how they raised me.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. I would love to have the fashion designer Gianni Versace - I think he would be a fascinating character.

Then, I would definitely invite someone from politics, like Barack Obama.

I find it really interesting to hear what goes on behind the scenes and the reasons why people do certain things.

Lastly, I'd love to have Amancio Ortega, the owner of Inditex (a fashion group that owns the chains Zara, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius and so on).

I would love to pick his brains and find out more about the industry.

Q. What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

A. Manage your cash flow. I know a guy from home, Garry Gordon, whose brothers are the founders of Gordons Chemists. Obviously, he is a fount of knowledge so when I started at Rixo, I rang him and said, "Just give me any advice that you think I need" and he said, "Your biggest thing will be managing your cash flow".

Every day for the first two years of our business, I was obsessed with using money wisely.

We weren't taking any investments which meant we had to be careful with spending.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I love going to vintage fairs. I also really love running - I run every other day down by the park. It has to be outdoors though, which I think goes back to my childhood. I could never run inside on a treadmill.

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. I'm not a poetry person, I don't think I could name one poem. I've just never been interested in it or even studied it. In my spare time, I was more interested in politics or fashion.

I think the song Longshot by Catfish and the Bottlemen has great lyrics.

We were so young when we started Rixo and we didn't have that much experience, so it was kind of like taking a long shot.

The fashion industry is a fickle business and you can never know if something is going to work or not, so it's all about taking the long shot - and I love that song.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. When my twin sister moved to London. Gemma lived in Australia for a few years and now she only lives five minutes away, which has had a massive impact on my life. We almost don't function properly without each other, so I was unbelievably happy when she made the decision to move closer.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. Probably Gemma moving to Australia. I remember that feeling at the airport when we just couldn't stop crying and I would say that was one of the saddest moments in my life.

Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?

A. When I moved to London to do the Fashion Management course. I took a year out to do it and it was the best decision I ever made. I could have settled and studied architecture, which wasn't for me, but I took the risk and it has paid off immensely.

Q. What's the one ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. There's just so much more to do. I want to continue to inspire people to wear nice things and feel good about themselves.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. To always be positive and open-minded.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. First and foremost, I want to be remembered as a nice person, but it would be great to make an impact on the fashion industry, too. I would love to be remembered as someone who made people feel good about themselves just by wearing a dress. It may sound materialistic, but I think it's so important to feel good within yourself because it generates a positive energy and outlook.

Rixo will present their fashion show at London Fashion Week on Saturday, September 14

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