From Dublin to San Francisco, SíosBóx is putting a new stamp on the ancient art of Celtic clothing design. Recently we spoke with co-founder Patricia Downey about the cross-continental company.
What are your own roots?
I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland and when I was a teenager my father decided to do our family tree. At that time in Ireland he had to write to various offices to get copies of birth & death certificates – it was very labor intensive! After a few years he had managed to obtain a lot of records and had traced our family back to the early 17th century – we were 100% Irish with no other cultures mixed in which is quite weird if you look at it from the perspective of life in 2016. After I finished school I moved from Dublin to San Francisco. I dreamed of traveling from an early age and planned on traveling the world but I ended up loving San Francisco so much I stayed and made it my home. I was able to fulfill my dream of traveling by working at a travel agency for many years leading tours to Ireland and other countries. So far I have traveled to 31 countries and hopefully a lot more in the coming years. This thirst for traveling came from my father, from an early age he had this game he would play a game when we traveled on the bus or train. Every time it would stop he would ask me – Which country we were in now? What was the capital? What were the people like? Where on the world map was it and what countries surrounded it? If I picked a country that was too easy he would say nooooooo…. And come up with something like The Kingdom of Tonga. He taught us about many places in the world this way and made it fun.
How and when did you get involved with the company?
In 2015 while watching the global St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on TV, I was again dumbfounded by what people were wearing. Each year the Irish natives who live in the US cringe at the derogatory t-shirts all around us. “Irish I was Drunk” or “An Irishman walked out of a bar, No really” are two examples that just really send us all over the edge! It’s the humor equivalent of a hockey stick to the head. I love Ireland, I found it so easy for many years to lead tours to Ireland as I was passionate about what we were doing and the wonderful places we visited. So, I set about turning my passion for my homeland into something tangible that would promote the Irish story. We created the SíosBóx clothing brand that we can relate to and that reflects our real culture, not the begorra, top of the morning stuff. Our t-shirts show the many facets of Irish life including pop culture, GAA sports, nationalism, quotes from famous Irish authors and the wonderful Irish humor in all its’ glory. To celebrate the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the 1916 Rising we created a section that we hope many people will appreciate. My great uncle John Traynor fought and died in the 1916 rising, just two days before his 18th birthday. He received a medal of honor from the first government of Ireland some years later. As I was growing up in Dublin I heard many stories about what happened at that time and about John. Each year the relatives of the men who died were invited to attend the ceremony at Arbour Hill and I was able to attend many of those with my grandmother. I am traveling back home to Dublin in March to attend the 1916 events that are being held and am excited to be able to experience it again.
What are your roles and responsibilities there?
My partner, Joe Cowan and I design t-shirts together. I design from a strictly Irish perspective and he designs from an Irish American perspective but some of our rules are that there are no fighting leprechauns or any leprechauns’ for that matter! No references to being drunk, no shamrocks anywhere in sight – the harp is the symbol of Ireland for hundreds of years so I still find it odd that it never made it over here. The name of our company, SíosBóx is actually a combination of our names – Síos is the Irish word for down and my last name is Downey – Bó is the Irish word for cow and Joe’s last name is Cowan – the X symbolized our dream to work for ourselves.
What are the challenges involved?
Our main challenge is marketing our company and getting our name out into the world. Everything else we have found very easy and really a lot of fun. We are learning by trial & error what works and what does not in terms of marketing. It can be overwhelming the list of avenues you can choose from and when you are on a tight advertising budget you have to get really creative.
What are the rewards?
As we were coming up with ideas for our t-shirt designs we thought, let’s not just do the typical quotes and things that people may already know about Ireland, let’s add some interesting off the wall things. I randomly came across an article about Irish inventors and found it fascinating – an Irishman from Co. Clare created the first working submarine that the US and English navy first used. An Irishman from Co. Mayo started the Argentine Navy. The Irish also created the armored tank, the aircraft ejector seat, rubber soles for shoes, milk chocolate and color photography! Since I live in San Francisco and have lived through some big earthquakes I was amazed to discover that it was an Irishman, Robert Mallet (1810 –1881) who coined the term epicenter. As I’m sure most of you know there are no earthquakes in Ireland so this Dublin man who was the son of a factory owner studied at Trinity College and became a geophysicist, civil engineer, and inventor. He carried out blasting experiments to determine the speed of seismic propagation in sand and solid rock. In 1857 an earthquake devastated Padula, Italy killing 11,000 people – Robert Mallet went there to study what happened and the resulting report was of major scientific importance. Some days my research into all things Ireland leads me off into mad directions and I don’t design anything because I’m so engrossed in reading everything. Since I love to read and could do it for days without talking to anyone this is definitely a great job!
Who are your core clients?
Since we are an online t-shirt company we hope to appeal to the Irish Diaspora throughout the world. So far we have shipped t-shirts to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States and a lot of countries in Europe. We hope that we can extend our reach to more people through word of mouth and creative marketing.
How do you differ from your competition?
We have built our business on personal passion for what we do and this also translates into our customer service. We intend to provide our customers with the best online shopping experience from beginning to end, with a smart, searchable website, easy-to-follow instructions, clear and secure payment methods, and fast, quality delivery. We want to build a community around our brand and have people trust and believe in us. Since we are a small company it’s easier to have a hands-on approach to everything and to make sure we deliver the best service possible.
What are the company’s future plans?
Our future plans are to explore the possibility of a brick-and-mortar store and to create strategic partnerships with other stores to sell our product. And if it takes off to the point that we make loads of money we are going to move to Ireland and buy a house that looks over the sea.