“Come look at this! It’s preppy Ireland!” These were the words of an excited Irish lass as she grabbed her friend to check out the shirts at the Ireland Shirt mobile store at the 2013 Great Irish Fest of New York City earlier this year.
“That market feedback really made us smile and feel like we had delivered the brand image for Irish heritage clothing that we had envisioned,” said Jason Darby, Co-Founder of the apparel company Ireland Shirt.
Since Ireland Shirt’s inception in July 2011, IrishCentral has done two discovery pieces on this interesting entrepreneurial enterprise. We checked in again with the founders of Ireland Shirt at their New York office to see how things were going.
What began as a single men’s navy polo shirt simply created to counter disingenuous stereotyped “Irish” apparel offerings (a.k.a. “Drunk Irish Yoga” or “Kiss Me I’m Drunk or Irish or Whatever” shirts) has blossomed into a full scale clothing operation. “We always thank the Irish for believing in our offering and actually purchasing the shirts,” says Co-Founder Mike O’Brien.
“The Irish and the Diaspora are extremely powerful when they get behind something.”
Powerful enough to convince the founders to invest in further expansion of the company.
Darby and O’Brien have provided 100% of the investment capital for the company and have overseen the transformation from an idea to a product to a multi-dimensional growth business. Ireland Shirt now boasts a full suite of men’s and women’s apparel with a sharp eye on a styled approach for their Irish clientele.
“The big key for us when deciding on future investment was whether there really was a brand image to cultivate,” says Darby. “We knew that our logo of the silhouette of Ireland resonated well with Irish folks, but people also have to look good to sustain a clothing business.”
Ireland Shirt set out to demonstrate a different approach to reflect Irish heritage.
“We wanted to portray an image of sophistication, class, and creativity as there are so many people that are fiercely Irish, but who are unwilling to wear loud, campy clothing. To help those people see themselves wearing Ireland Shirt, we turned to a singular focus on presenting a style guide for our clothing.”
With heavy investment in photography, style consultants and professional models to bring the visualization to reality, the result of that focus has evolved into the brand identity for Ireland Shirt: sophisticated Irish.
“Some folks have referred to us as ‘Preppy Ireland’ or ‘Ireland Lauren,’” kids O’Brien. “That works!”
What’s next for the Ireland Shirt guys is already well underway. Entrepreneurs at heart, the founders quickly rolled Ireland Shirt under an umbrella apparel company aptly titled Shirts of the World. Shirts of the World now houses eight live apparel companies (Ireland, Italy, Great Britain, Greece, Brazil, Mexico, China, and Japan) that each operate as separate entities. “It’s been fun to see the business expand so fast and to see people want to come work with us,” says Darby. “We are just a couple of guys with an idea and some determination basically.”
While the Ireland Shirt guys want to keep things understated when it comes to their brand, they become extremely aggressive when it comes to the competitive landscape of apparel. Evidently, having landed on the radar screen in some board rooms, the guys are starting to get pressured by companies that see them as a threat. “We are Irish so we are not the type that gives up and just goes away,” says O’Brien. Darby and O’Brien seem to know the odds are stacked high against a small business succeeding but express gratitude in the support of the Irish. “Ireland got us started, Ireland bought shirts from us when we had but one shirt to sell, and Ireland is where we will always be loyal.” And they have a final message for their competitors, “We are just getting started.”