Business of Fashion
Caroline Blackburn’s passion for fashion and design comes from a source very close to home, namely, her mother, Maureen.
“I suppose it came from my mum. It’s a cliché but it’s true. She was a seamstress. She worked in Dublin in a factory. She was very natural with fashion. She could easily make things from scratch without any formal training or instruction.”
Caroline’s mother’s natural instinct for making clothes inspired Caroline to study fashion and design at the Grafton Academy in Dublin. It was during her time at Grafton Academy that Caroline gained both academic and practical experience of the world of fashion and design.
“After graduating at Grafton Academy, I started working at a high street fashion company called Cognito. They’re no longer around now because it’s going back quite a while. I was designing for the high street chain, Principles. It was fabulous and exciting. I had just left college and I was designing for a leading high street brand.”
From there Caroline worked across many high streets stores in Dublin, designing and pattern cutting. Then, in her own words, “Dublin was becoming a bit small, so I decided to advance my career in London”.
During her time in London Caroline worked across many companies, supplying designs for big high-street names such as River Island, which Caroline maintains was the highlight of her career to date.
“I worked for companies you probably wouldn’t know the names of all part of the so-called “rag trade”. We supplied for companies like River Island, Wallis and A-Wear. I worked for a number of years with the buyers there. Designing numerous ranges for them.
“Designing for River Island was a real highlight of my career in fashion retail. It was a company I really liked working with. I liked their style and what they were about. I would travel to fashion hubs such as Barcelona, Paris, New York and Los Angeles with a creative mind to source ideas, identify new trends and inspire new design ranges. I really enjoyed the travelling.
“It was a huge buzz to see my designs for sale in store, people wearing them and in magazines. Some celebrities would be photographed in magazines wearing a River Island top or garment that I had designed.”
However, “the fast-paced nature of the fashion business was tough to keep up with”, Caroline says, after the birth of her second child.
“The fashion business is fast paced and can be quite stressful and demanding. I was finding it quite difficult with two young children to balance their upbringing with work and travel demands. It was then that I decided to take a break from working in the fashion industry. I took a few years out.”
Caroline’s passion for fashion and design never left her and this passion brought her into the world of teaching.
“It was then that I decided I wanted to teach it. I still loved fashion and wanted to be involved in it. I wanted to educate and share my passion with others.
Caroline is now back in her native Ireland and in October 2021 joined our very own Portobello Institute as a tutor for our fashion department and she is looking forward to getting going again.
“I am really looking forward to getting back into teaching fashion. I did do some on-line teaching during lock-down last year for a fashion college in Farnham England.
“I can’t wait to get back into the classroom with students face to face teaching them the fashion cycle, how to research, where can you get ideas from, how to build ideas, how to craft and assemble them.”
The success of her students is at the very top of Caroline’s agenda.
“Obviously my students getting employed and doing well within the fashion and design industry is of paramount importance to me.
“I hope to share with them my industry experience as well as the core skills needed to work in the fashion business. I want to produce confident and capable future employees who can thrive in an industry that is ever-changing and challenging.
“You need to be confident in your skills and fully understand your craft to push forward with it. I am really looking forward to working with my students and getting them ready for their future careers in fashion and design.”