An organic farm in Tuam has found a unique way to use sheep wool in pillows, which are as light as clouds. He calls his innovative product the Woolow.
Often the most obvious answers are right in front of you and for one Galway farmer, the answer to his future was right there in his field. Michael Burke’s family has raised sheep on their family farm in Tuam for more than two decades now, and in recent years, the has diversified. Michael has retired from his “day-job” which was in healthcare and he has taken over the farm. He took decision to convert it into an organic operation, as he felt it was the best way of remaining sustainable into the future.
“I am passionate about sustainability, biodiversity and natural products,” Burke explained, continuing to say: “When I was a growing up, we raised sheep and honey bees. I used to help shear the sheep and my dad made me a pillow out of some of the wool from the sheep I sheared. It was the best pillow I ever had. I loved that pillow!”
His idea, is one which knits together his passions for both farming and healthcare. Michael sees it as his way of doing his part for the environment in the wake of climate change. To that end, the Woolow is completely biodegradable, and recyclable. It involves no plastics or synthetics in manufacturing or shipping. This is new method of putting an old resource, the wool from sheep, to a whole new use, in pillows. Each Woolow pillow is filled with soft wool from the farm in Tuam, and they are wrapped in a soft 300-thread cotton casing. They are generously filled and finished with a hand-stitched label. A Woolow pillow is as much a craft item as it is a product to enhance your day-to-day life.
Sheep’s wool is a natural fibre designed to breathe. This means it adjusts to your body temperature, keeping you warm in winter, and cool in summer. It regulates your body temperature, so you won’t overheat or get cold during the night. “Wool is a natural fiber that repels water, mould and mildew and dust mites can’t survive in wool,” explained Michael, continuing: “It’s hypo-allergenic which is great for anyone with asthma or allergies. And it adjusts to your body’s temperature so you don’t get too hot or too cold. It’s supportive but not stiff and it’s recyclable.” Scientific testing has demonstrated that dust mites cannot survive in wool, which is why natural wool has been internationally awarded Allergy Seal of Approval. Ideal for asthma and allergy sufferers, our wool pillows conform to international fire regulation standards and are chemical free. He calls his wool pillow the Woolow. Michael realised just how much such a pillow was needed during his career in healthcare, and this inspired him to produce the Woolow.
Burke spent years considering the Woolow, but it wasn’t until this past year that he met business developer Ciaran Sheridan. In under a year the duo has developed a prototype, found manufacturing partners in Dublin, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the business development. Currently, they’re offering two types of pillows, natural wool, and natural wool infused with lavender; which is said to promote restful sleep.
While using wool is an age-old idea, their marketing strategy is all modern. They don’t plan on having or using traditonal retail stores. Instead they plan to show off the pillows at selected environmentally-friendly home shows, and do business online. “It makes sense, it’s the future of business and it gives us a global marketplace,” Sheridan explained, continuing: “We will take the Woolows to shows and let people see them and feel them and get feedback. But we already know once you try a Woolow, you’ll never go back.”
The experience of Michael Burke is not uncommon nowadays, in order to see a future out of his farm, he has had to look at alternative methods of revenue generation. In doing so, he has been successful in starting a new, innovative business. More and more, young farmers in particular, will have to diversify and find a niche market to help sustain their farms. Now, this is perhaps not how it should be, but it is a reality of modern day living. No more can the income from the humble small farm raise a family.
A question I get asked a lot is how did Jacqueline Dowd Designs start? Really the answer is by chance!
Back in 2015, my year as the Roscommon Rose of Tralee had come to an end, and I thought to myself how am I going to keep myself busy? The year as Roscommon Rose had taken up a lot of my time and I am a person who dislikes being idle. One Friday night, while watching the Late Late Show, I was messing about with fabrics and stick on pearls. Eventually, I put together a small neckpiece; I thought I was the bee’s knees! My Mother’s words to me were “Jack you’re not half bad at that.” I wore the piece the following night to a Rose of Tralee event and got many compliments, which of course spurred me on to make another piece. I borrowed my mother’s singer sewing machine and got to work. In school I wasn’t really into art, I loved academia but under the guidance of Ms Hestor, I learned how to sew, a skill that has since stood to me.
I was self-thought, finding ideas for pieces on social media, mainly Pinterest, and eventually, I plucked up the courage and created bigger bespoke pieces. The following year, I took a class with Laura Hanlon, a Roscommon based milliner who thought me easier ways of creating pieces and really gave me the confidence to keep working on my passion.
Once I started creating bespoke pieces, my grà and appetite for my new-found talent grew. Sharing photos of my works with my family and close friends gave me the confidence to set up my Facebook page, Jacqueline Dowd Designs. The support I received from my Rose of Tralee class gave me the extra boost I needed to make something of my designs.
All of my pieces are custom made and one of a kind; I believe we are all unique in our own ways, so I will never make two pieces the same unless I am specifically asked to by a client. My pieces take two-weeks to make, allowing time to source materials and deliver the piece to the client. Making a piece itself can take between 8 and 12 hours, depending on the size. I source my materials from Irish businesses such as Frances’ Finishing Touches in Roscommon and Dublin based Dink Design. All of my pieces are hand-sewn and designed to suit the client's outfit or their preferred colour. To date, my clients range from wedding guests, mothers of the bride, and lady’s day racegoers to most recently; brides to be. To this day, my Mother sees nearly every piece I create. Having a fresh pair of eyes and her encouragement gives me the confidence to know that I am happy with my finished piece. It doesn’t matter what age you are… You will always turn to your mother for advice!
During this last Summer, I undertook a course with Laura Kinsella, an award-winning milliner, at the Dublin School of Millinery. Here I learned how to create bespoke bridal wear. My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to push myself out of my comfort zone. This happened when I created my first bespoke bridal belt and hairpiece for my friend’s wedding. It was a challenge, I greatly accepted and it has since opened a new client base of brides for me.
Getting involved in local events and initiatives such as Christmas fairs and the Strokestown Enterprise Town presentation has helped me to get my name out there. Social media has had a massive impact and is a simple, effective way of marketing my pieces. Word of mouth and referrals have also helped. I have collaborated with many bloggers and style influencers in the past including bloggers such as: Get Glam with Gret; Sinead De Blogger; and Roscommon native Paula Gannon, who is a seasonal ladies day contestant at the races. Having collaborated with these ladies has fuelled my passion for design. I get asked a lot: "Where do I get my patience from when making pieces." To me, my hobby is therapeutic; it’s a form of meditation and living in the present moment. I can only focus on one thing, creating a neck piece, or bridal wear, and more often than not time flies by. I often set the alarm on my phone to remind me to leave my desk, move about, and of course to put the kettle on!
Having a talent is a gift, and creating bespoke jewellery is a gift I can share with others. Seeing a lady’s face light up with delight, knowing I have helped her feel extra special and confident for her occasion is the part I love most.
So, what’s next? Who knows. I have so many pipeline-dreams and aspirations. Recently, bridal-wear has become my new passion and I will continue to upskill in that area, as there is an abundance of courses available in design and millinery in Ireland.
As Christmas season is around the corner, I would urge you all to take the opportunity to shop local and support our small businesses with big dreams. I would like to take this opportunity also to thank all of my clients who have supported me to date and who have given me the encouragement to carry on.
I’m looking forward to seeing what I create in the coming months and what lies in store for 2019. If I could give one piece of advice “As you think, you shall be”. If you have a talent, passion, or gift pursue it, give it a go, if you don't; you will always regret not doing so!
I was interested to see this bit of news come out recently. As most of you will probably know I owned and operated the Purple Onion restaurant, during my tenure it was known as Crosby’s, in Tarmonbarry many years ago. Well, one thing is for certain, things have changed significantly since then in the food and beverage business.
This week saw the 2018 Irish Foodservice Market Insights Report published by Bord Bia. The report tracks trends in consumer behaviour when eating outside the home and also highlights some of the challenges the industry faces. This report has shown that restaurants are increasingly seen as a form of entertainment and consumers are willing to spend money on something "unique and different". Essentially indicating that price is no longer the key deciding factor for customers when they are deciding to eat out. The trends in the report also reveal that Irish people are eating on the go more, and three meals a day are no longer the standard. The report predicts that Ireland’s foodservice market will grow by 6.1% this year to reach a total value of €8.2bn.
Convenience is key for consumers who are looking to source food ‘anytime, anywhere’. A continued emphasis on convenient options such as takeaways and deliveries will drive growth and spread to other segments that traditionally don’t cater for this style of dining, including restaurants, pubs, and perhaps even hotels.
Consumers these days are looking for more of an experience when eating out. Occasions of eating out will increasingly be divided into those that are convenience driven and those in which consumer demand “something unique.”
Third party delivery services are possibly the biggest disruptors in the industry, as technology provides app-enabled ordering which is increasingly moving into sectors of that haven’t traditionally delivered such as full-service restaurants and even pubs. Delivery-only kitchens are starting to appear in other countries and will likely be an area of focus for delivery companies in Ireland.
The growing on-demand foodservice culture is driving the popularity of cashless, click and collect, and third-party delivery options. As more tech-enabled solutions enter the market, much of the ‘front of house’ experience between consumers and the operator could ultimately become automated.
Fresh is best
The changing palate of the Irish consumer has led to a rise in demand for ‘fresh and locally sourced’ food, not only to meet the growing consumer requirement for ‘health and wellness’ but also reduce food miles and environmental impact. Plant-based diets are no longer ‘fringe’ and while the percentage of consumers that are vegan or vegetarian remains small, consumers are increasingly looking for alternative dietary options.
Business which operate with a conscience is now the expectation of modern consumers, not the exception and this includes reducing food waste and reducing packaging. This trend can probably be seen more in the retail industry at present but is quickly making its way into every aspect of FMCG and F&B. While the most of the focus, heretofore, has been on the coffee cup, the demands of consumers have moved onto plastics and broader packaging (both consumer-facing and back-of-house). Consumers demand “something” be done but are often poorly informed on the broader infrastructure needed to recycle or compost foodservice waste.
Irish consumers nowadays are; younger, and older, and being ‘all things to all consumers’ is increasingly challenging for operators. These operators require tech-enabled solutions to appeal to younger consumers, while older consumers tend to be more traditional in their usage of their business's services.
The ‘foodservice market’ includes all food eaten and prepared outside of the home and includes restaurants, pubs, hotels, coffee shops, schools and colleges, workplace catering, hospitals, and vending machines. Bord Bia's findings were published in the report, and show that consumer demand for convenience and sustainable practices are "disrupting the foodservice industry" and that with more operators using food as a tool to compete, new channels such as forecourt food experiences continue to emerge. The report also highlights the fact that city centres have now come close to the saturation point when it comes to quick-serve restaurants and cafés, and that "a tightening labour market" has led to shortages in finding and keeping qualified staff.
Bord Bia Chief Executive, Tara McCarthy, said: “As the economy has grown, so too has the foodservice industry. Strong growth in income and employment, coupled with strong tourism figures, have been key contributors to the overall health of the sector. While we expect to see continued positive activity in the next three years, going forward overall growth figures are likely to be lower than previous years. As globalisation continues and Ireland remains an attractive location for expansion of multi-national foodservice operators, Irish provenance and its sustainability credentials remains a strong differentiator and something that Irish consumers see as unique and important to their decision-making process which is encouraging for Irish food and drink suppliers.”
Maureen Gahan, foodservice specialist for Bord Bia added: “The Irish foodservice industry continues to exhibit strength but with some cautionary signs on the horizon, it is important that our businesses continue to monitor and plan for Brexit and have a strong focus on cost control. We would also encourage companies to prioritise investing in socially responsible activity, particularly packaging and explore ways to differentiate their offering.”
In 2010, Padraic Cuddy had the vision to bring a real looking, artificial grass to Ireland, at a time when few others saw the potential in the “fake grass” market. He established a business called Class Grass. They provide their services to schools, creches, gyms, communities and homes across Ireland, supplying them with authentic looking artificial grass. The future seemed clear for Cuddy until a request was made some four years ago, by his son, Tommy.
Padraic’s then three-year-old son loved tractors, farms and all the goings-on of agriculture in Ireland, and he wanted a field for his (toy) animals to graze on. So, when Padraic’s wife asked if he’d make their son “some sort of little field out of artificial grass, “ he set to work, and a handcrafted mock-up was created of a ‘little field’ and Tommy “spent an awful lot of time” playing with the home-made toy.
Once Tommy’s friends saw it, the requests came flooding in. The more requests that were made, the more Padraic began to think of it as less of a side project. Looking online for similar items, Cuddy saw that there was a gap in the market, a gap he was willing to fill.
The Christmas of 2014 is when he began taking things more seriously. Basing new designs on the original prototype, Cuddy began adding wooden gates, and hedges, with enough space for children to add their own farm toys too. It was then that ‘The Field’ was born.
Cuddy launched “The Field” in earnest at the National Ploughing Championship in 2015 and received an extremely positive reaction from the public. Before he knew it, he was doing several television interviews, and the national and local media coverage exploded him onto the nation toy scene. From there on, Cuddy decided his next move would be to get in contact with the Late Late Toy Show. A response was thankfully forthcoming. Mr Cuddy recalled the moment he got the news: “The day RTÉ called and said they wanted to feature us on the Toy Show for the first time, I rang my wife and I cried down the phone.”
The lucky break came when Ryan Tubridy, host of the Late Late Toy Show, played with their toy as over a million viewers watched at home, the boost in the run-up to Christmas was invaluable. The hard work of the previous nine months had finally paid off and boosted their confidence to develop a wider variety of products to go on sale.
The following Christmas would also see ‘The Field’ on the Late Late Toy Show yet again after Cuddy received a call from RTE requesting information about their newest products. This occasion saw The Field given away as a coveted memento - “One for everyone in the audience.” In 2017 Padraic made another appearance on the Late Late Toy Show, which helped increase sales and convince him to, yet again, increase the range of products.
‘The Field’ ranges in price from €20 to €220, and the company now has six products for sale, including their original field, a grass role, paddocks, a half-acre field, a compound and a large farm. Not forgetting the “collection” and the “ultimate collection” also readily available to buy. Despite the continued growth and success of the range, the original “The Field” remains the biggest seller.
The field business is a growing success and Cuddy says managing finances is a challenge. Class Grass takes up most of the time, with it being their core business, but it helped the initial funding of ‘The Field’ which, in subsequent years, has expanded and developed.
With revenues of just under half a million euro to date, Padraic’s goal is to grow revenues to a seven-figure sum in the next number of years.
The Field has just launched two product lines in the United States. Hopes are high that the international market will take to the products with a similar enthusiasm as Ireland has. This expansion in distribution posses its own challenges, Cuddy explained: “Up until this year we would have financed everything ourselves. But now that we’re going into the American market we’ve got a business loan because we’d never be able to fund it otherwise,”. Like with any business, it’s not until sales start to come in, that they will see a return on their investment.
The Field has seen the sale of over 20,000 toys in just the three years and Cuddy hopes that with his expansion plans, they will sell at least 10,000 toys this year. The business is still operated from Roscommon, and products are being sold in stores all over Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as on Amazon, and www.thefield.ie. Most of the manufacturing is still done in Ireland, however, some manufacturing is being outsourced to China to facilitate sales in the United States.
Sales in the US are being done solely online, due to the size of the country, and the company are focused on sales in Texas first, due to the large farming industry in the southern state. Considering the success in Ireland in the short period of time, it is hoped that the toys will resonate with children across the world.
“There are no guarantees but we will do everything we can to make it work. If we could get a couple of lucky breaks along the way that might help. Noel, one of the guys who make The Field, says we have to get onto Ellen DeGeneres – he never shuts up about it,” concluded Padraic Cuddy.
The Democrat wish the Padraic and “The Field” team all the best in their US expansion plans, and continued success at home here in Ireland and in the UK. You can buy The Field toys from all good retailers and direct at www.thefield.ie.