Having started her business in 2009, Jude Cassidy credits The Merchant as a key player in her success story – her first major commission was for a collection of cushions for the iconic five-star hotel, as it prepared to open its art deco New Chapter in 2010. Five years on, Jude Cassidy has been commissioned by the five-star hotel for a second time to create a fresh, new bespoke collection of cushions as part of a refresh of The Merchant’s bedroom interiors.
Since her first collaboration with The Merchant, Jude has worked with other worldwide hotels as well as Christian Dior retail shops and well-known interior designers, including Peter Marino, David Collins and Helen Green. She has even been asked to design bespoke baby blankets for the Royal Babies – George and Princess Charlotte (cuteness overload).
As the Merchant Hotel has once again joined forces with one of Northern Ireland’s leading textile designers, we sat down with Jude to find out the secret to her massive success, her tips for those wishing to pursue a career in design, as well as her exciting plans for the future…
“I think it was a bit of arrogance on my behalf!” laughs Jude, on deciding to set up her own business.
After becoming a First Class Honours Graduate in textile design from the Glasgow School of Art, Jude developed her design skills working in Paris, London and Thailand.
“When you start up your own business, you just have a real sense of ‘I can do it better…'”
“But I spotted a gap in the market for real, bespoke, authentic Irish linen. I was taking part in a super business start-up programme at the time, called ‘Making It’ when I contacted the Merchant.”
“I knew they were in the middle of a massive refurbishment, and so using my initiative I thought, they could do with some cushions!”
Jude explains: “Making it as a designer, and indeed business in general, is all about knowing your market.”
“I took my own initiative in contacting the Merchant – you have to keep an eye on what’s going on around you in order to know who to approach. They won’t approach you when you are just starting out!”
“Having a five-star hotel as one of my first customers has been a fantastic help to expanding my business and gaining attention for my work; it helped give customers confidence in my young business. I now work for five-star hotels worldwide but I feel a particular attachment to The Merchant Hotel, given the opportunity they afforded me at the beginning of my career.”
“When they took such a large order, that really launched my business. It’s my fondest memory of my whole career to date! That initial order – of someone actually wanting to pay for something you made with your bare hands is just the best feeling in the world! I’ll never forget it.”
The Merchant’s order truly kick-started Jude’s career into high-action. She can now list the Royal family, David Linley and Dior amongst just some of the people she has designed for so far. But, Jude adds carefully, it has taken long hours and hard craft to get to where she is today.
“It just takes a lot of hard work and determination. You didn’t get any big orders at the start. It takes sheer determination to push through the boundaries and confidence in your own product that it will succeed.”
And Jude has a lot of reason to be confident in her product.
Reflecting back on the rich heritage of Irish hand weaving, linen is at the heart of her latest collection. The material for the cushions is designed and produced in her studio in Saintfield and uses a variety of yarns, including linen, cashmere and silk, with a neutral yet rich palette of greys and silvers.
Jude’s collection of cushions for The Merchant Hotel has been expertly hand-crafted on a traditional 150 year old loom. Luxurious linen is combined with a glowing palette of soft oysters, soothing tones of soft whites and cool greys with glistening flecks of metallic. This harmonising colour palette is only further enhanced by the refined simple elegance of the textures, which pairs beautifully with the chic interiors of Art Deco rooms.
“You have to have confidence in your own collection. For example, I have not allowed my bespoke product to become ‘mass produced.’ It is a unique product, so I sell exclusively business to business.”
And Jude’s advice for those wishing to make it with their own business?
“When you are just staring off, make sure you ask loads of questions. When I was first starting out, I would always make sure to ask, why do you like our brand, what made you approach us, and how are we different to designers you have dealt with before. That way, you are learning what you’re unique selling point is, what your strengths are from an outside perspective, and what about your brand will encourage businesses to contact you. You have to find your signature style – hone in on it, and concentrate on maintaining it.”
Finally, Jude explains the importance of sticking to your unique selling point: “Our signature style is definitely a subtle colour scheme, which concentrates on intriguing textures. They draw your eye in, and you realise there is so much more going on in this piece than you ever could have thought at first glance. We are high-end, and our customers appreciate that we stick to neutral colours.”
“We have not diluted that, and we have never sold mass-produced in the shops. We have retained our brand throughout, our original concept. And I’m really pleased to say that that’s why the likes of Dior and Chanel are knocking on our door today for business.”