The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life.
The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.
I first met Charmaine Kenny about 10 years ago when she volunteered for Suas in India (I was working with the charity at the time). She stood out then, as she stands out now; with a brilliant mind (she was a Scholar in Trinity), fiery ambition, and a big and beautiful heart which warms any encounter. One of her targets back then was to raise 3k for Suas. Charmaine raised at least 12k through a clever auction in her hometown of Athy, and by enlisting all the help she could from friends and family- in abundance. For Charmaine is someone you just really want to support because no matter what she does, she does it with passion, intellect, charm, humour and a fine innate grace.
When her boyfriend, now husband, entered her into the Rose of Tralee a few years ago we all knew she would win. How could she not? And so she did, which led to a wild year of travel around the world representing Ireland. It was then that the seeds of her current project were planted. Since then she has coupled her experience with an MBA from Standford University and has now been led back to Ireland to develop her own business- The Irish Workshop, a new online marketplace to showcase, promote and sell Irish art and craft internationally in collaboration with her business partner Fearghal Mulvihill.
By her own admission Charmaine does not term herself ‘creative’. But if creativity is innovation, and if creativity is having an idea, surmounting challenges, finding ways around obstacles, and seeing that idea through to fruition, then Charmaine epitomises it. And I think it is so brilliant to see people like Charmaine taking root in Ireland. She is ridiculously smart and with a strong business focus and rooted values, I have no doubt her new venture will be successful and will open international doors for many more of the traditionally deemed ‘creatives’ in Ireland. It is early days yet for them (they just launched last month), but so great to see such platforms being developed and who knows where it may lead too…
As you can see, I am a huge Charmaine fan and so am delighted to introduce you to Creative Islander, Charmaine Kenny…
What keeps you in Ireland?
My grandfather calls me the wild bird. I fly off for periods of time but always find my way home. I’ve lived abroad in London and California, but Ireland always calls. The people call, the community calls, the humour calls, the outdoors call. I love that I can live close to the heart of a bustling city yet only be a 20 minute walk to the sea and a 20 minute bike ride to the mountains. I love that I can drive home to my hometown in an hour. I love that I bump into people I know randomly on Dublin’s streets.
What makes you tick? What motivates you?
Steep learning curves. When I’m not learning, I’m bored. As child growing up, bored was a word that was banned from our home. The use of the phrase “I’m bored” was nearly considered worse than swearing! Our parents always said that bored meant that there is nothing to do, but went on to explain that that’s impossible, because there is always something to do and if we couldn’t think of something to do, they’d give us something to do (this usually involved picking stones off the lawn, mowing the grass, or working the bog). And so, I’ve learned to make sure that I don’t get bored – maybe out of fear of someone else giving me a job to do! When my learning curve begins to flatten, it’s time to make a change.
Real Turf Fire Candle by The Bearded Candle Makers
What do you do just for the love of it?
Walking for miles and miles. Sending nice greeting cards. Wednesday date nights with my husband. Working on The Irish Workshop (genuinely).
What does the creative process teach you?
This is where I begin to feel an imposter. The truth is that I am surrounded by people who live, breathe, and exude creativity – that is the 60 makers that are our partners on The Irish Workshop. But I don’t necessarily associate the word “creative” with myself. I suppose building The Irish Workshop has pulled us through a creative process, and this has taught me to unearth talents I didn’t know I had, accept that it’s ok to lean on the people around me for support, and to become more patient for results.
Why do you do what you do?
I’m passionate about craft and about Ireland – I get real energy from discovering and seeing the incredible work the makers, designers and artists of Ireland are producing. I’m fascinated by consumer psychology and using data to guide how we can influence shoppers. And I’m rooted to a core value of fairness. The Irish Workshop pulls these three things together: we are creating a fairer way for small creative Irish businesses to get their work into the hands of shoppers.
How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?
I usually get unstuck by emptying my head of all its noise. And the only way I’ve found to do this is by doing high intensity cardio exercise; exercise that requires so much energy that I have to give it everything, concentrating so much on moving my body, that I let go of what’s in my noisey head. A series of good spinning classes usually does the trick. But of course, when I’m stuck, going to a spin class is the last thing that I want to do!
Blue Rose Collar by Aine McConnell
Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?
I find a lot of inspiration from other people – hearing their stories often makes me realise that they aren’t too different to me and that I can also achieve. My old classmates from Stanford University are a source of inspiration for sure. It is an incredible bunch of people and I felt like a fraud in their midst for the two years that we did our MBA. There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit in the class, and in the last year many of them have launched companies ranging from biowearable sensors for athletes, a subscription of artisanal teas from around the world, back-office operations for dental practices, and smarter mobile deep linking technology. Only yesterday I received an email from another classmate who is creating a line of dolls whose characters are smart, ambitious, and opinionated. I love their drive, their ambition, but most of all their sincere attitude of believing that they can change the world.
How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?
A Stanford professor once said to us that “regret for what you’ve done is tempered with time, but regret for what you have not done is inconsolable”. This deeply resonated with me. I know that if I didn’t try my hand at creating a business, a piece of my soul would mourn forever. It is during the tough times that doubt can creep in and make you question why we’re doing what it is that we’re doing. Reminding myself of this quote helps me get through the tough times, and when I get a more permanent office this quote will be framed above my desk – currently I have the quote scribbled on a sticky note stuck to my computer screen!
James Joyce by Vincent Keeling
What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?
I used to get really disappointed when a maker I was excited about didn’t want to list on The Irish Workshop. I found it difficult to understand why because if they sold through us they retained 80% of the sales price (versus <50% in ordinary retail), we don’t charge signup or listing fess (so no financial risk) and we are giving them a window into international markets where they didn’t have a presence at all. In my head, it was a no-brainer. Now, I view it differently – the disappointment gets replaced with energy. It’s as if they have thrown down the gauntlet to us to prove ourselves worthy of their time and their work. I am happy to take on that challenge!
Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?
I listen to the radio. I like how efficient it is; I can get up to speed on world news as I brush my teeth. I don’t like to leave the house without having a fresh smoothie. I can be a bit of a workaholic so I have a little mantra that says “do two nice things for your body every day” – these things can be having that fresh smoothie in the morning, getting some exercise, eating extra healthily. They can be little things like walking further to get my lunch so that I can just move. The little mantra makes me measure albeit in a pretty crude way if I’m taking care of myself.
What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?
I’m a natural introvert so I’m happy in my own company but I wish that someone had told me how lonely starting out can be unless you consciously check that you have daily human interaction. I remember when I first kicked off research from which The Irish Workshop was born; my husband would arrive home in the evening to be greeted with a 20 minute burst of non-stop chatter because I may not have spoken to anyone else that day!
And what advice would you give to your future self?
I sometimes look back at things I have done and things I have achieved and think “how the hell did I do that?”. I think that as we get older we become more risk averse and that can put constraints on our dreams. I advise my future self to not only assess the practical/logical risks but to also assess the risks in giving up dreams.
Peek a Mooh by Kelly Hood
What is coming up next for you?
The Irish Workshop has my 100% attention for now. Working closely with my business partner, Fearghal Mulvihill, we will continue to focus on building out our community of makers to offer shoppers a richer product range. We will continue to partner with makers who take pride in their work, who are ambitious to grow their creative businesses, and whose products have a strong Irish narrative. In parallel, we will put considerable efforts into building up our customer base and experiment with different marketing channels – so many ideas, so little time!
Lynchmob Hats by Davina Lynch
And again, the link to The Irish Workshop – just in time for Christmas! Thank you Charmaine x