April O’Meara in conversation with Mary Cate Smith
April O’Meara is running late. It’s the perfect excuse for me to nab a latte at my favourite coffee spot in Waterford. Run by Christians, Portico has me ruined with their delicious Badger and Dodo coffee and properly trained baristi who know the difference between a latte, a flat white and a cappuccino (what’s in the foam, you ask? It’s ALL in the foam!). April has just turned thirty and she’s had a pretty hectic weekend, what with a surprise party and trip to Amsterdam being planned unbeknownst to her. When she arrives in the Waterford Vintage Factory, she’s all nervous energy and shocking pink hair. She’s never had photos done before: In fact, I had to convince her to take part. When I start to snap her, I realise why. April is a bit of a local celebrity; all the other business owners are popping heads out of doors, egging her on, offering us a slice of cake or a coffee.
S.O.S. SEW – APRIL O’MEARA FIRST BUSINESS VENTURE
April’s personality is as vivacious as her hair. She’s bursting with energy and tells the most wonderful anecdotes, like the time when she ran away to Paris on a whim after a bad day at work. She is someone who really embraces life. It is this risk-taking attitude that informed a lot of her business decisions from establishing a sewing business to setting up Dublin Vintage Factory and subsequently the Waterford sister company.
How I had a sewing business is a total mystery. I swear to god, I cannot sew. My Mum is a dressmaker: She taught me how to sew a skirt so automatically, I assumed I could start a dressmaking business.
It strikes me that when April O’Meara sets her mind to something, there’s no going back. So how did this infamous sewing business come to fruition, I ask? Seamlessly (sorry, bad pun)? Her first port of call was to call up her friend Terri Murphy (co-owner of The Dublin Vintage Factory) and shoot the shit. ‘Terri had a shop in Temple Bar at the time called Golly Gosh and he kindly agreed to give me the upstairs for my sewing business.’
Although April describes herself as ‘fluking her way through it,’ within several months of trading she had made 8 pairs of 4 metre black leather curtains for Toni and Guy and making costumes for Dublin’s drag queen community. Not bad for someone who can’t sew.
‘Oh, it was all done with wonder web and tape,’ she tells me, ‘I still can’t put a zip in something. But somehow, I started doing a lot of work for drag queens. I was making clothes for Candy Warhol – costumes and stuff. It was crazy, I still can’t sew!’
Risk Taking and Mischief Making
Maybe April wasn’t meant to be a seamstress but she certainly has the business acumen to make even the riskiest venture work. In fact, she tells me that she had no financial support or loans when she set up the Dublin Vintage Factory with her partners Terri and Dave. That’s relatively unheard of, I say and she nods furiously. Her parents were a huge help.
‘We did it gradually, starting off with the office in Pearse Street and we ran an online store from there. That actually paid for itself. We were literally living on beans and my mother was paying my rent. Our Mums and Dads all chipped in and gave us a hand with the deposit – we were really lucky.’
What’s in a name? Everything, according to April and she credits the name of the Dublin Vintage Factory as a huge part of their success. ‘I think Dublin Vintage Factory was a clever name because you Google Dublin, you Google vintage and straight away, it comes up.’ In its first iteration, the store traded from South William Street. Finding the premises was quite serendipitous, says April. Newly pregnant, April and the guys had lost the lease in Temple Bar and were told to leave within a week. Sounds a bit bleak to me but April’s positivity meant that she never doubted they would find another building.
I was actually due and we were walking down South William Street scouting for premises when we found it. They were putting up a to let sign as we were walking past so we rang and we got it – I was actually in labour transferring the money. The landlord was obviously eager to get paid and I was trying to explain to him I’m actually in Holles St. We actually opened the shop when Millie was two weeks old. We had her in the buggy when I was painting the walls and it was brilliant. I just had to get on with the fact that I had a new baby.
New baby, new business
It was difficult with a new baby but April’s parents were a huge emotional, financial and practical support; putting up shelves, creating signage, tagging, pricing and whooping and hollering while unboxing. April’s Dad got a big carried away, in fact.
I’ll never forget when we ordered all our stock for the South William shop and it was the first time we’d gotten boxes and boxes of stock. My Dad was up and he’s quite burly – he’s a real man’s man – drills stuff and hammers things. A box of sequinned stuff came and we were tearing it open like it was Christmas morning. My Dad got caught up in the moment and he was ripping open boxes of gowns screaming Oh my god, look at this – it’s fabulous! It was so exciting. That was the first order. We spent about a thousand euro and the shop was bare. Then we sold that and my Dad came back and gave us the money to buy more stock and gradually it built and built.
Trial and error
Was it difficult to find the right stock, I ask? It was a matter of trial and error, says April. Initially, they thought their customer would go for the 40s and 50s dresses but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
What people wanted was 90s, which technically isn’t vintage but we sell what there’s a demand for. We travelled around some of the main stores like Topshop and River Island – even Penneys and Zara – and looked at their trends. Because our price points are so low, we do a different kind of vintage. You can get a t-shirt for €8 so you’re matching Penneys and we find it sells fast – people get a year out of it and then it’s something else. This year, it’s Baja hoodies – I can’t keep them in stock and last year I couldn’t sell them. We do try and keep it cheap and cheerful.
Their price point is amazing for vintage with t-shirts for under a tenner, track tops for €15 and Levis jeans for around €30. And in a couple of weeks time, April is adding retro gear (which she informs me is vintage-inspired pieces, often made from upcycled material as opposed to second hand) with Harrington jackets and Pop Boutique dresses arriving.
From Dublin to Waterford
So, how was the move from Dublin down to Waterford, I ask? It was the most logical solution, she tells me, ‘because it turns out it’s impossible to have a baby without your Mammy.’ So while April still orders stock with Terri and Dave, she is now the sole owner of Waterford Vintage Factory. There was a time, she tells me, that she would have run back to Dublin but she has really found her feet in Waterford, renting a house for much cheaper than the ‘shoebox’ she lived in in Dublin for €1250. When the opportunity came up to take a bigger premises in Waterford, she didn’t flinch it’s been one of the best decisions she’s ever made, she tells me.
Was it hard to come home after spending so many years living away? Quite the contrary in fact.
Life completely changes when you find out you’re pregnant and you just have to grow up. The most sensible thing for me to do was to move down to Waterford. To be honest, we didn’t think that there was going to be much of a market for it here but I was bored and a little shop came up by New Street Gardens. It was €100 a week and I thought surely I can make more than a hundred euro a week.
April is no doubt a real grafter and the Waterford Vintage Factory is known for having friendly service. They tend to get repeat customers, a lot of whom have become friends, she tells me with pride. In fact, when I arrive to meet April there are two ladies in their 60s/70s trying stuff on. And they were both here yesterday, she tells me.
What I love, what I absolutely love is that those two ladies were here yesterday and one of them had just gotten good news. She had had a mastectomy and she had just finished her last course of radiotherapy and she was in buying new clothes. She’d never been in here before. They’re not the customers you’d expect. They had some craic trying it all on because they’d worn it all before. People like that are a real surprise customer for me down here because that’s not something we had in Dublin. I’ve got this guy who comes into me – he’s definitely in his 70s – and he buys a blazer every two weeks. I think he just comes in for the chat.
If it’s chat you’re looking for, April O’Meara is your go-to woman. I could have sat and bantered for hours but she’s jetting off to Amsterdam later that day. She still made time to chat to me though which is pretty damn cool.
Pics and words by Mary Cate Smith.