INTERVIEW Lisa Ryder, designer


Lisa Ryder
? Newport designer Lisa Ryder.

Handbags and gladrags

Ciara Moynihan

Confident. Committed. Talented. Single minded. Savvy. Any and all of these words describe Newport designer Lisa Ryder. When talking about business – whether it’s sourcing fabric or working with Italian factories – she is so self-assured, so grounded and focused, it is clear that her flair for design is not limited to her prints: This woman has designed every turn on her own career path. And so far, her judgement has proved flawless.
Her women’s fashion-accessories label, Lisa Ryder Designs, is design led, with a strong focus on bold prints and products that ooze elegance, blending classic style with quirky personality.
Ryder’s distinctive digitally printed handbags and pure silk scarves have been turning heads in the fashion world, featuring in fashion shoots in Social and Personal Magazine, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Business Post, Galway Now and Xposé Magazine. Last year, she was part of Brown Thomas’s Designer Create – an exclusive platform for exciting new brands.
The 30 year old has also won many awards, including the Fashion Innovation Awards Designer of the Year 2012, given by Golden Egg Productions; the Future Makers Exhibition Award 2011-2012, given by the Craft Council of Ireland; and, most recently, the Future Makers Entrepreneurs Award, given by the Mayo County Enterprise Board.
Her chic, feminine bags, are classically shaped, sporting contemporary patterns and shapes. Her silk scarves are also kaleidoscopes of colour and pattern. They swirl with a range of iconic city images, from the yellow cabs of New York to the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben, intermingled with images inspired by nature, such as flowers, butterflies and apples. Similarly, bright, acerbic colours intermingle with rich, earthy tones. Ryder loves to travel and loves urban life, but she also smitten by the natural landscape of home – and all these passions are evident in her arresting designs.
Early years
Born and reared in Newport, Ryder went the Sacred Heart School in Westport. “We had really good teachers there. [Westport-based artist] Elaine Griffin taught me for a while, and she got me really interested in art. She was great, really inspiring. She’s quite fine-art based, and that was the direction I first tried.”
After studying fine art in college in Galway, Ryder quickly realised it wasn’t quite for her, however. “I just really got bogged down in the concept side of it,” she says, “I just wanted to make, so I transferred to textiles.”
After graduating, the first prints she designed were not fashion textiles but ‘non-functional’ art works. She was commissioned by an architect to do large-scale wall pieces, nine- to ten-metres long, which he would hang in buildings that he had designed.
After a few years, she decided try textiles for fashion, and so completed a Masters in the subject in Glasgow, afterwards spending a few years working for two very different print-oriented designers in London – Victoria McGrane of Neurotica, a fast-moving ready-to-wear label, and Danish high-fashion designer Peter Jensen. “I got to see two backgrounds, which was great,” she explains.  

Striking out alone
On returning to Ireland a few years ago, Ryder got involved with the Craft Council of Ireland (CCI), and soon was on the road to getting her first fashion products – silk scarves – manufactured. She was familiar with manufacturers in the UK, and so that was her first port of call. However, she was unhappy with the quality and product. “Because my product is quite high end, I wasn’t happy with the finish. I was getting really frustrated,” she admits. But then Eddie Shanahan of the CCI stepped in and introduced her to an agent in Italy, who in turn helped her find manufacturers in Italy that could meet her exacting standards and achieve the finishes, such as the hand-rolled scarf edges, that she was looking for.
“The bags just kind of organically formed out of that. One day we were over in Italy and he was like ‘Do you fancy viewing a bag factory?’, and I was like ‘Yeah, why not?” she laughs. “We got talking and the ideas just started to flow and that’s how I came up with the bag range.”
While Ryder’s scarves have been hitting (and walking from) the shelves for two years, her first range of bags only came out in January – and they’re already being snapped up by high-end retailers. The bags are made from ‘vegan leather’, cotton and flax woven together with a polyamide finish on top.
“It’s the same fabric that Stella McCartney uses. It’s ethical, but I didn’t pick it because of that. We had been sampling on real leather. It’s just real leather is full of imperfections, and you have to skin and tan real leather, so the depth and the thickness of leather always changes, so when you run it through the printer, you don’t get a consistent colour. Also the ink doesn’t embed itself in the fabric, it just sits on the top, which would mean you could scrape it off, and I wasn’t happy with that,” she explains, revealing once again her no-nonsense approach to standards and quality.
“The vegan leather is a really nice finish. The ink embeds itself right in, and I get that vibrant colour that my brand is all about. The fabric is also durable, and it doesn’t go mouldy. It also moulds really well like real leather … It’s a really high-end fabric – you can get cheaper versions, but I get it from the same source as Stella McCartney. I believe that if I’m going to ask someone for €500 for a bag, it has to be good quality.
“That was the one thing that the recession was good for: It weeded out people that weren’t really quality conscious and didn’t really care about their customers. This is why so many Irish designers are doing really well now – because they care about quality. A lot of Irish designers will manufacture in Italy, because they like that quality. There’s a really nice relationship between Ireland and Italy in the design world at the moment.”
Ryder’s bag factory is a half an hour outside Venice, and her scarf factory is in Lake Como, while other Irish designers have gone to Milan and Bologne. Ryder loves the fact that her factories are ‘really family orientated’. “My bag company is run by a brother and sister, and a few of their cousins work there too. And with my scarf factory, when I went over, I met the son, the mother, the daughter, the kids … it’s really nice.”

A world of inspiration
The fact that she must travel for her work is a happy coincidence that feeds her obsession with design and pattern. “A lot of my inspiration comes from cities, like New York, London, Paris. I took a year off to travel during my degree studies, and that really inspired me as well, because I was getting really bogged down in the same old thing – you know, ‘It’s Ireland, we like to look at landscapes and nature’ – and I was like, ‘This doesn’t inspire me at all, what am I doing? I don’t know if I want to do this at all!’
“But when I travelled I was inspired. I saw more urban art, a lot more graffiti and graphics. I love Japanese art, I love manga comics. I love all that: Real sharp lines and texture, and lots of layers going on. I will take inspiration from Mayo too, but I’ll always mix it with something really urban, like buildings, textures from buildings, people in motion. I love mosaics, like in New York’s subway, the mosaic tile subway in the stations? I love that.
“I love watching crowds of people too. I’ll just watch anything really. My boyfriend laughs at me, ’cause I’ll take pictures of tiles on walls. We were in Venice and he was like ‘Will you please stop taking pictures of corners of buildings, ’cause people think your nuts!’
When it comes to established designers, Ryder looks to Vivienne Westwood as a kind of icon. “I’m not influenced by her in that her work is quite plain, she’s all about the structure, but Vivienne Westwood, you have to admire her because she’s been around since the punk era – she started the punk era – and she’s still relevant. My mum knows her, my granny knows her, I know her. She’s cross-generational. I’d love to pick her brain and find out how she did it!”


Valuing individuality
Like Westwood, Ryder is uncompromising, refusing to do what the industry expects and sticking rigidly to her own individuality. “You build your brand on you, and people will eventually associate what you do with you, and you’ll develop a following. And that’s what’s happening – my brand is growing every day, and I’m really happy with it,” she says.
“The next collection I’m bringing out now is the best one I’ve done so far. I’m really,  really happy with the scarves and the new bags. That new collection will be launched in Dublin in August.”
Lisa Ryder’s scarves are currently being sold in Mayo in Kaleidoscope, Bridge Street, Westport. Her designs can also be found in Dublin stores Project 51 and The Guinness Gallery; Olivia Daniels in Athlone; Elaine Curtis in Carlow; and Anchor Art and Design in Waterford. Internationally, her bags and scarves are sold in two outlets in the UK and in the Palace Centre in Luxembourg.
For anyone thinking about getting into textile or fashion design, Ryder has some sound advice: “Make your contacts in college. If you have to go away for the summer and work for free for someone, do that. Do it while you’re in college, because it’s really hard to do it afterwards. The contacts you build in college will be the people that will help you get a job at the end of the day if they like you. You have to be nice! You can’t whinge about the little jobs they might make you do – they will actually make you just sew labels for the whole day, and you’ll have little pin pricks all over your hands, but you’ve just got to get on with it.
“You’re not going to be designing prints or garments straight away, unless you’re amazing and they want to hire you off the bat. That only happens to one in a thousand. Get your experience in school and pick a good college. And put in the hours. Work hard.”

To view Lisa Ryder’s bags and scarves, visit her temporary store at
(Her complete website, will be up and running soon.)