Celebrities have been lining up to buy the striking knitwear designed and created by Derry woman Aine Clarke of Hansel and Gretel.
Famous fans include lifestyle and property guru, Kirstie Allsopp, big band singer, Michael Buble, best selling chick lit author Cecelia Ahern and Man United player, Darron Gibson.
Aine explains: “At his Dublin concert this year, Michael Buble brought a little girl on to the stage and said he admired her cardigan. He asked where did she get it and she told him she bought it in a shop in her home town of Derry.
“Kirstie Allsopp has ordered two cardigans for Christmas, while Cecilia Ahern has bought a few pieces out of a shop we supply in Dublin and Darron Gibson’s mum comes into the shop and buys pieces to send over to him,” she added.
Aine uses a blend of Irish traditional and contemporary techniques to make her chunky knitwear from a wide range of materials. Her range, which includes jumpers, cardigans, hats and booties, is perfect for children, toddlers and babies and her clothes have a unique, retro appeal.
Now she’s taking her work to London and hoping it’s as much of a success there. Aine is one of four Northern Ireland women exhibiting their work at the prestigious Top Drawer show in Earl’s Court from January 16-18. As the first retail trade event of the New Year, Top Drawer showcases the newest product launches, cutting edge designs and must-have products for the New Year.
The mother of two began knitting clothes for her first baby in 2003 and gradually moved on to making items for family and friends. Her colourful clothes are such a hit that she now has a team of family members working around the clock like Santa’s Elves to get Christmas orders out. Her two children Maisie (aged 5) and Oliver (7) love the clothes and can be seen modelling them on her website.
She began selling on a wholesale basis to around 30 shops throughout Ireland and a year ago opened her delightful Hansel and Gretel Shop in Derry’s Pump Street. People come from all over Ireland to buy her clothes.
“Children love coming into the shop. It is very colourful and we have toys for them to play with. We knit in the shop so people can see the work being made when they pay a visit,” she added.
It was Aine’s mum Mary, a former teacher, who came up with the name Hansel and Gretel for the business.
“The clothes are for boys and girls so the name reflects this and they have a distinctive, fairytale look about them that people love. My mum helps me make the clothes. She is my personal assistant, advisor, agent and bodyguard,” she joked.
She is self taught – her degree is in Town and Country Planning with a Post Graduate qualification in IT – but she has always knitted as a hobby.
“When I was ten I was given my first knitting machine and made woollen gloves, scarves and hats and sold them to my friends. As a teenager, I sold them in market stalls.
“It is my passion and I’m really happy that the business is going so well. We have been flat out with Christmas orders and I am here in the shop every night until 11pm,” she added.
Aine was supported by Craft Northern Ireland’s Trade Development Programme, an initiative supported by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Arts Council Northern Ireland and the Regional Development Agency; Invest NI through the Creative Industries Innovation Fund, The programme provides assistance to makers to attend commercial events and research export opportunities for their businesses.