Dublin’s new skyline is crowded with cranes. Rumbles from construction vehicles and staccato shirks from drills is Dublin’s new soundtrack. Hotels and office apartments are shooting up. To some people, especially the traders, Dublin Flea market has fallen victim to the advancement of developers. Ali Lowndes explains, “for us traders, having markets like this are so important. It’s how we survive and how our businesses grows. It’s important to have places like this so people can mix with their local community. Look at London, there are amazing markets everywhere and they are run so well… they enrich the city.” Ali is the owner of A Little Idea, it’s a business that has been running for four years, growing at a steady pace. A Little Idea creates vintage inspired handmade cards and gifts such as greeting cards, wedding invitations, miniature teacup jewellery, laser cut jewellery, collar brooches and retro head scarves.
Growing Her Business
She has an infectious laugh that happens frequently and betrays her contentedness. She’s works from her Dublin 8 home. It’s a home that she shares with her husband, who also works for himself, and their two year old son. “I’ve been making since I was a little kid, my Mam taught me how to sew.” Like many self-employed people, it took redundancy to push her into working for herself. “I was managing a stationery store so I used the time there to test the waters.” She made some cards for the store which they sold and on her weekends off set-up stalls at local markets. “I spent that time doing research. Ireland’s a small country so I wanted to make sure that no one had the same designs as me. I quickly learned that there is no one else doing anything similar to my designs.”
“In my first year my confidence in my ability was low. I held off contacting shops as I convinced myself that I was not ready.” With hindsight she wishes that she was more assertive because by her second year, “the shops started to contact me and that gave me a kick up the bum! It also forced me to review my time management skills. I had been making the cards completely from scratch, cutting the designs out from decorative papers all by myself! But it was a time drag so a good friend helped me print up batches of them, I then added in hand-made elements.” She started with twenty different card designs in the beginning and now has built it up to 100+ designs. “Pop art is something that influences me. I’m a massive tea-cup addict too,” she smiles with a wink. “Basically anything retro and vintage. I like the shape, style and patterns of that period,” she says.
Having A Baby When You’re Self-Employed
During the early years of the business she fell pregnant. Both her and her husband were delighted with the news but it meant that they had to navigate maternity and paternity leave as a self employed couple. “I gave myself two months leave, I had to work, we needed the money,” she says. Ideally she would of prefered longer, “maybe three to four months, I love what I do so I was eager to get back to it.” She concedes that she just had to work around the baby, “I’m a night-owl so I can work from 10pm – 1am when the baby is sleeping.” Now that her son is older she has more time as he’s in creche twice a week, “I try to work 2-3 days a week on designs and production. The other days are for admin and markets. My husband and I share all the family workload, you have to!”
Her Next Goal
When asked whether she misses the regular pay-check she lets out a warm giggle, “never! I can create my own hours which is great but I’m not stressed anymore… any stress that I had in me before this is gone.” Now her products are ten stores around Ireland and she is a regular at markets. “It’s hard, but you have to be passionate about what you do. It takes a couple of years but you’ve got to put a lot of time and money into it until you start seeing results.” Ali leans back into her armchair and takes a sip of tea from her vintage cup, she is glowing with happiness. Her strong work ethic and love for design has helped her gain loyal customers. She is indebted to the other stall owners that she met at the markets in the early days of her business, “they’re good friends now. There’s no competitiveness, we all help each other out.” The market situation in Dublin is precarious at the moment, it’s helped inspire her ultimate goal, to own her own shop, “ah yeah that would be great! It would be great to support the new makers. Just a place to showcase local talent.”
You can find Ali’s products here:
Design House, Dawson Street.
Find – Cowslane Temple Bar
Lyon Loring – Stoneybatter
Provender & Family – Newmarket Square & Smithfield Square
Heaven Boutique – Gorey , Wexford
O’Reilly Turpin – Westport, Mayo
De La Punc – South William Street
Wearwewander – Cork
The Dublin Flea, in Newmarket Square ( last Sunday of month )
New Market Collective, in Newmarket Square ( 1st Sunday of month )
A Fabulous Market in The George Bar ( 1st Saturday of month )
The Ha’penny Market in The Grand Social Bar ( every Saturday )