It started as a small hand-weaving business selling blankets (mostly to Americans) in the 1970s and even this was almost accidental – the harebrained idea of solicitor Donald Pratt, to prevent the old woolen mill he had just purchased from being demolished. Donald’s wife Hilary and four of their children have worked in the company ever since and now Avoca has ten Irish stores (and ten cafes to boot), exports its wares to a heck-load of retailers internationally, and is (well, let’s face it) Yummy Mummy Mecca. Many say eldest daughter Amanda is the force behind the success story – as Creative Director, she is certainly responsible for the unmistakable Avoca aesthetic, from store design to its two fashion labels, Origins and Anthology, the new jewelery line Finders Keepers Guild, and everything home and and beauty in between.
Was the plan always for Avoca to be such a big lifestyle brand?
Honestly, there was never a plan, at all. When I joined the company it was because I wanted to move back home from London and there was a job going. I had no ambition beyond that. Then my brother Simon and I figured that if we were going to do this, we wanted to make it something we really enjoyed, so bit by bit we began to extend the scope of what Avoca offered, him on the food side of things and me in fashion and home brands.
Was your work in fashion design born of Avoca’s needs, or did a longstanding love drive the company’s direction?
I have always loved fashion. I have scrapbooks from when I was about seven, with very bad drawings and detailed instructions on how to do outfits. But it never transpired into anything in my early career, basically, because no one in school ever told me that I could get a job in it. So I studied History of Art and Architecture at Trinity, where I was the costume mistress for Players and it was then that I realized that fashion was what I wanted to do. Despite advice that this was not a good career move, I went to London College of Fashion and studied Clothing Technology, only to return home ‘unemployable’, and grateful of a job at the mill, working with the yarn.
How is it designing multiple collections in Ireland?
Well it’s a totally different ballgame to designing in a fashion capital and sometimes it does feel a bit like trying to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. If you’re in Paris and you need a very specific type of button in a very specific shade, you call up a supplier in the morning and it will be delivered to you that afternoon. We just don’t have anything like those resources… we quite often have to paint our sample buttons with nailpolish or spraypaint, Blue Peter style.
How does the inspiration for each collection come about?
I never have any grand plan. Creating a collection for me is very much a treasure-hunting expedition. So, like when a music-lover walks into a shop and finds a rare LP, I’m at my happiest when I find a fabric or a button or a detail that I fall in love with and can’t eplain why. And most often, a collection begins with a tiny detail like this.
Do you live the Avoca life?
Well, I’m not sure what that is, exactly. But what I do do is … exactly what I like, which I know is a pretty big statement to make, but Avoca has always been about trying to see the positive. It’s non-cynical and straight-up and that’s me too. Going into Avoca, whether it’s a store or a café, is about leaving difficulties at the door and just enjoying nice things for twenty minutes or an hour, and I try to do that every day.
Visit www.avoca.ie for Amanda Pratt’s collections
Words: Kate O’Dowd