Love Irish Crafts

story 1Nestled in the shadow of Ireland’s beautiful Mourne Mountains is Love Irish Crafts, a ceramics studio that is producing some of the finest and most authentic artworks on the Emerald Isle. Recently we spoke with owner Stephen Hanna.

What are your roots?
I was born in Co. Down in 1974 into a traditional Roman Catholic Family. I spent my childhood in a small village called Strangford, located on the shores of the beautiful Strangford Lough. This is an area rich in Irish tradition and heritage. Irish music, sport and culture were a big part of my family upbringing. After graduating from University I spend some years learning the traditional art of stone masonry, before moving to Dublin in my mid 20s. My various jobs have allowed me to visit all parts of Ireland and further afield. My love of Irish culture and tradition has continued to flourish leading me to eventually establishing my business.

When and why did you start the business?
I set up the company back in 2012, initially as a gift shop stocking exclusively Irish made products. My travels across Ireland brought me into contact with many amazing craftspeople, but I was always disappointed at the lack of authentic products in gift shops, which lead me to opening a shop and website dedicated to Irish Crafts. It soon became clear that there was a gap in the market for porcelain gifts, handmade in Ireland, which led me to move into manufacturing. This is where I felt at home, allowing me to express my heritage in a creative and unique way – back in a sense to my roots where I created beautiful structures from stone. The ceramics business was established in 2014 and is quickly going from strength to strength.

What is the company’s mandate?
We are a new company but very much one based on tradition and heritage, we do thing the old way, actually handcrafting each piece, no shortcuts, no machinery, just a steady hand and an eye for detail. You will see we have the Shamrock incorporated into our logo. To use the Shamrock, which is one of the National emblems of Ireland, legally you need the express permission of the Irish Government and need to show a strong traditional link to Ireland and its heritage and this permission is not granted very often. We were delighted in 2015 to gain this permission.

story 2What are your roles and responsibilities?
I am very hands-on with every aspect of the business, from product design, sales, website to actually handcrafting the actual products. I have a very small but extremely talented team working with me. While sales and marketing are critical functions for any business, I’m most content when actually creating the products and designing new ones. Being a small team we are very adaptable and flexible and love designing new products such as our recent products to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Easter rising. Our plaque of the GPO which was the focal point of the rising is my favourite product to date as it is so detailed. Another new product recently added is our Guardian Angel birthstone range which again, I believe, are very beautiful and so different and are proving popular as birthday and baby gifts. I am very proud of what we create and knowing anyone that purchases one as a gift is getting a real Irish crafted product that is unique.

What are the challenges involved?
For me the biggest challenge is competing financially with products that may be Irish-themed but are not authentically Irish-made products. We have to work very hard to keep costs under control, but I believe the quality and uniqueness of our products shines through and our continued adaptability and customer service will ensure we can continue to compete.

What are the rewards?
I am rewarded each and every time I handcraft a product knowing it will hang proudly in a home anywhere across the world, knowing that people who buy my products can tell a story with it, that is reward for me, that is job satisfaction and what makes me so proud and driven. When people receive my product and email me saying how happy they are with it and when people appreciate the work that goes into each and every product that makes the long hours worthwhile.

story 3Who are your core clients?
We sell into a small number of gift shops in Ireland and US, but mostly sell directly online. We have customers from all over the world – particularly people of Irish decent in North America, Europe and UK, as well as good core support in our local Irish market. I particularly welcome new stockists in North American as this is the market I want to focus on going forward.

How do you differ from the competition?
We make a 100% authentic product, everything is handmade in Ireland right down to our packaging and wooden box frames. We don’t outsource and part of production and every single piece is handcrafted, hand cleaned and hand glazed in house. What we produce is unique, we design our own products using traditional hand tools. I consider our products as great Irish gifts but also as pieces of art.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
I believe the Celtic Marketplace is getting stronger. There is always a very strong interest in Irish tradition and heritage particularly within the North American communities. I believe it is important that when people are buying Irish products it should be made very clear as to whether it is an authentic product or not, so that people can make an informed choice. For example someone buying one of our Shamrocks knows it’s a genuine product and if it is sitting beside a shamrock in a shop that is made in China people should know this and then they can decide which Shamrock they want to buy. There is definitely a move to people buying crafted products and quality gifts rather that cheaper Irish-themed products. This, along with a continued improvement in the general world economy, will help ensure small Irish businesses can continue to survive and hopefully thrive.

What can be done to improve things in this regard?
I believe it should be mandatory for labelling on products to tell the true story of a product, its source, quality, heritage and authenticity. I would also like to see the bigger more commercial retailers supporting Irish crafters more. There is a place for all products, but sometime quality and tradition can lose out to cheap imported products. Also more government support to help new businesses get up and running. Ultimately however I believe that quality shines through and as companies such as my own get more visible through websites and social media people will choose to buy these genuine products that they can actually hand down through their families, products that they can be proud to have in their homes.

story 4How has the internet changed the way you do business?
The internet and associated social media are essential to any modern business. It allows me as a small company to reach potential clients across the globe. It allows me to keep people up to date with what we do but also gives me a platform to tell a story about my company and our products and allow people to appreciate our workmanship.