Ursula Celano

What is your own background/ethnic heritage?
I live in Dublin and am a native of the city. My name before I met Mr. Celano was Ursula Sheehy. In my twenties I lived in London and came back to Dublin when I was expecting my first child who is now nearly 8. My professional qualifications are in management consultancy and specifically IT. I studied art history and English in trinity Dublin then computer science in Queens Belfast before emigrating. I had always wanted to be an artist or designer. As I have no relevant work experience I decided to set up my own business designing and producing stationery and textiles. I used to wonder why there were very few contemporary products which expressed Irish landscapes or culture designed to appeal to a feminine market. There were lots of great aprons and bags with roses and pretty dots around which looked English or American – and I wanted to see if I could design something that people would like to buy which was distinctly Irish. I spent a lot of time thinking about what ideas or themes would work and even more time travelling around the country sketching ideas.

How long have you been with the company, and what is your position there?
Ursula Celano is my own business and I have been trading since November 2011 though I started work on the business in 2009 once my younger son was in playschool.

What are the challenges of the profession?
My business is gift design and my USP is that my designs reflect modern Ireland. The challenge is to make money in this market which is distinctive but also small as my products don’t really make very much sense out of the context of the Irish community or visitors to Ireland. There is also the challenge to keep designs fresh and relevant. As my business is very young – this isn’t that difficult yet as I still have lots of different ideas to explore.

What are the rewards?
The sort of people who work in the homewares/gift industry are lovely, considerate friendly and they pay on time. This is a great change from the world of management consultancy which was ruthless. I love when I design something and people understand what I am trying to say and want to pay good money to buy it. I thought that much of the distinctly Irish design was very old fashioned and poorly executed – with too much emphasis on masculine and alcohol related imagery. My first design was a very colourful pattern based on Irish dancing and it was immediately taken on by the most sophisticated design shop in Dublin which was wonderful. I have loved that other Irish women have understood what I was trying to say – that there is a very vibrant, female Irish culture which should be expressed in pattern design. I like to think that I am capturing an Ireland that is humorous and sweet rather than crudely humorous.

What is the company’s core mandate?
The company is just myself at the moment. I hope to sell things which are always good quality and based on observation. I want everything I design to be durable and practical.

What are your key products?
My key products are notebooks, cards aprons and tea towels.

What is your marketplace?
The marketplace for my work is the gift category and my customers are generally women between 20 and 50.

How do you differ from your competition?
Most of my competitors are large businesses with their eyes set on international markets – therefore their designs tend to be generally attractive florals rather than specifically regional designs.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Irish economy?
While there are green shoots – the debt burden carried by individuals and the state and the drawn out procedures for debt resolution are huge handicaps.

Are we doing enough to preserve & promote Celtic culture generally?
I have thought that we were very successful at communicating our culture in the world of dance and music but have been weak about promoting of our culture otherwise – for example – consigning shamrocks and harps to the realms of tourism merchandise rather than using our emblems and culture to inspire high quality fashionable and desirable products. Ask an Irish person how they feel about harps shamrocks and you will get a very different answer to an American asked about the stars and stripes and cowboys.

What can we be doing better?
Here in Ireland there should be more interest in support for cultural and heritage preservation and I would love to see the Heritage Council’s work to support the maintenance of vernacular architecture promoted. The whitewashed outbuildings, small cottages and quiet barns are worth preserving. When I came back to Ireland I used my management consultancy training to work on strategic tourism investment projects so I could write for hours on this topic.

What’s next on the company agenda?
My business is just over a year old and in this second year I will be concentrating on making a profit! In June this year some new designs will be available and I am taking a risk by trying a design based on the shamrock – putting my money where my mouth is. I would like to collaborate more with factories in Ireland to develop new products.