Ireland’s recent economic downturn has forced many Irish people abroad. Over the last few years, Derek Mulveen and Michelle Melville, a married couple from Galway on Ireland’s west coast, have had to watch loved ones move away. Determined to remain at home themselves, they created their own company — Eire’s Kids, a business that produces Irish-themed souvenirs, gifts and books for youngsters aged three to ten.
“Both my husband and I were in the construction industry and, like many people, we found ourselves facing an uncertain future,” Melville told Celtic Life Intl. “At the same time, many of our friends and family had to travel abroad for work. As a result, they have begun their families abroad.
“Because we all married at the same time, a lot of my friends have children of a similar age and it would have been nice to have shared with them experiences such as play dates, birthday parties, Christmas and helping out when needed.
“We had always struggled to find perfect but inexpensive children’s gifts that would give the recipient a little memory of Ireland, and we decided we would like to address this issue with a business of our own.”
While holidaying in the south-west of Ireland in April 2011 with their young daughter, Mikaela, the couple started work.
“We began researching the market and designing characters and products that would be recognisably Irish,” Melville said.
They came up with souvenirs and gifts, such as picture frames, clothes hooks, necklaces and bracelets and mugs. Their contemporary-looking products are decorated with pictures of the compelling Irish characters they have created, including Oisin the Brave, Princess Eire, an Irish Dancer and Girl and Boy Hurlers.
All Eire’s Kids products are bright, colourful and, where possible, educational.
“We wanted always to invoke, at the heart of each product, our Irish heritage, culture and language,” Melville said. “While the look is distinctly Irish, we have ensured that the design does not create the perception of a transient product aimed at the tourist market. Our products are designed to address all markets, especially the recently emigrated, so that their children can keep in touch with their Irish roots.”
The couple first presented their designs at Showcase Ireland in Dublin in February 2012 and began manufacturing the following month.
“From Showcase, we secured top clients such as Dublin, Shannon and Cork Duty Free, Shannon Heritage, Bunratty Castle, Blarney Woollen Mills and various North American and Irish gift stores,” Melville said. “In June 2012, we delivered our first finished products. We have now secured another 50 stores nationwide, and agreed terms with a North American distributor. In September 2012, our website came online and we had our first on-line sales by the end of the month.”
The couple are also creating books in the Irish language and have recently launched their first children’s book based on Oisín the Brave, Princess Eire and their dragon, Orane of N’Scaul. Oisín the Brave – Moon Adventure is the first of six books based on the characters’ adventures.
“We introduce the Irish language slowly into all storylines with visual Irish learning at the back of each book,” Melville explained.
Eire’s Kids faces considerable competition from within the gift market but has no direct competitors, Melville said. The couple has chosen to widen the appeal of their products by keeping prices low.
“As with any new company, finance is tight and getting our message across without a large marketing budget is hard work, although we have found our products are hitting a nerve with customers who are then spreading the word. But there is still a lot of work to do.
“In 2013, we hope to break the U.K, American, Canadian and Australian markets and have books picked up by a publishing house. We also want to develop two further ideas; these are our range of Love Irish Dancing products and Making Irish Easy, which is the method we will use to develop our books, web pages, and hopefully apps. We want children abroad to stay in touch with the Irish language in an easy and fun way.”