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Wardrobe staples given new life

With less in the country’s collective pockets, Nicola Corless examines the rising popularity of clothes and shoe maintenance when it comes to looking good

Less disposable income is having a huge impact on all businesses but boutiques and shoe shops are especially affected by the recession. That said, not all industries are suffering. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of people conscious of belt tightening who are now looking at maintaining and repairing their wardrobe staples, rather than replacing them.

Johnny Murphy, in his workshop i the market, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Yvonne Flanagan, proprietor of Ennis-based Rainbow Laundry and Drycleaners and House Maintenance Services, has seen a huge swell in the number of customers looking for her services.
“I have seen a major increase in people coming in for clothing alterations and for dry cleaning. We see the same dresses week in, week out to be dry cleaned. A lot of people are repairing things too, rather than throwing them away.
“It is more the older generation that come in. The younger generation are a different kettle of fish altogether. For the younger generation, the clothes are being made in such a way that they don’t need dry cleaning or pressing. They can just wash them and put them on.” Yvonne says.
Although the recession has not had the same effect on her businesses as on others, it has left its mark on the nature of work she is required to do.
“Our dry cleaning work is a mixture of everything you could think of but we are seeing far and far less office wear because a lot of people are out of work. The amount of suits and jackets coming in has dropped dramatically. When people do bring them in they are a fair challenge but we rise to that. People are holding on to their clothes a lot longer than they used to before, bringing them to be cleaned and that is understandable,” Yvonne reflects.
The businesswoman has noticed another change too. Many companies that require their employees to wear uniforms used to pay for their staff’s dry cleaning, according to Yvonne, and this is something that has greatly fallen back.
A further change in business has been in the nature of alterations requested.
“In the past, alterations were only on new clothes, now they are on older clothes. If a person has lost weight, instead of throwing out their clothes, they are bringing them in to be altered. Everyone is being frugal these days,” Yvonne explains.
One particular repair has become very popular, she adds.
“We are seeing more and more zips. It is not something that most people can do themselves. They need a machine and there is a technique to doing it. While before they would rather go away and buy something new, they are now having them repaired,” Yvonne outlines.
And clothes are not the only things that are being mended in these lean times; footwear too is no longer being discarded and replaced quite so quickly.
Johnny Murphy runs a shoe repair shop in the courtyard off the Market Square in Ennis. It has been in his family since 1956, so he is no stranger to difficult times.
“It is a good business to be in during a recession. It is a recession-based business. You are never going to be a millionaire out of this but you will keep tipping over with it. We had the situation where I came here on a month-to-month basis thinking ‘would it last?’ It has and things are good,” he says.
Johnny points out that, like Yvonne, his customer profile has changed in recent years.
“I have seen all sorts of things during my time here. There were people going to New York to buy shoes and I would never have seen them before but now I am because their pockets are tightening up a bit,” he comments.
Surprisingly, young women in their early 20s is a demographic that has disappeared from Johnny’s counter.
“Obviously cash has disappeared. The Peugeot 205s must have been repossessed. These women used to have a pair of red shoes, a blue pair, a pink pair, a yellow pair. This year they are buying a pair of black patent LK Bennetts and they will work the outfit around them for as long as they can. All the older people who don’t have the distractions of college and cars and credit cards are the ones who are coming in now,” he reveals.
According to Johnny, there is an increased awareness of his shop and his trade.
“There were people who didn’t know where we were in the past, now they do. They know they don’t have to go out and buy a new pair of shoes every weekend and that is what a lot of people were doing; working at the job during the week, getting paid on Friday and then spending their wages on shoes on a Saturday,” he recalls.
The shoe repair business is cyclical but even the traditional busy times are changing.
In late spring, the shop is busy for Communions and Confirmations, followed in the summer by weddings, then the Willie Clancy festival. There is much demand for repairing step dancing shoes, according to Johnny.
In late July, the Galway Races and ladies day sees women coming in with their statement heels, then the local horse events take place before the Dublin horseshow. In autumn, going back to school and college sees another surge in shoe repair after which traditionally came the shoes for Christmas balls and parties, though Johnny admits the festive season is likely to be less busy this year.
Although the majority of his work is repairing shoes, Johnny also does repairs on luggage and in recent times a more unusual request has become popular.
“Necessity is the mother of invention they say and it is not always repairs that we get in here, sometimes it is a slight alteration. A lot of women are now coming in looking to have heels lowered to make a shoe more wearable,” Johnny outlines.
So whether it is your vintage Prada or your favourite pullover, wear and tear doesn’t mean they have to be consigned to the bin. Admittedly, some things are irreparable but there are others that with a little time and effort can be significantly restored. It is reassuring to know that there are some options out there when the stylish courts get a bit worn around the heel or when the zip on the LBD becomes unceremoniously stubborn.


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