Made in Mongolia

‘It’s great to be able to do something for women,” says Kim Rowan, above with her daughter, model Amber Jean Rowan, sporting a cute felt hat and scarf from Made in Mongolia (MIM). The pair are part of a group of well-known Irish women who have helped the Mongolian charity by modelling some of their latest fashion accessories. Others involved in the shoot included Mariad and Domino Whisker, Leigh and Chloe Arnold, photographer Mark McCall, stylist Catherine Condell, hairdresser Michael Leong and make-up artist Christine Lucignano, who gave their time for free.

For Kim, it means a lot because she has just quit a career in marketing to do a course in crisis counselling in Trinity. “It’s all about what’s happening in society and I have never been so aware of helping others, and this is the first opportunity to do so,” she says.

Daughter Amber is equally enthusiastic about the charity, which enables female heads of impoverished Mongolian households to become self-sufficient by using their traditional skills in new ways. Since her appearance on The Model Agent series earlier this year, when she gave courage to women with alopecia by revealing she suffered from it, Amber has modelled for fashion shows in Dublin, London and Mexico. Currently, she has “three little parts” in the Gate’s current production of A Christmas Carol (she plays a beggar woman, a jack in the box and Miss Fezziwig). “I love these cute hats from MIM,” she says. “I’ve always been a hat girl and it’s such a great charity.”

For designer Pat McCarthy, who supervised the voluntary Irish-Mongolian partnership project in association with local NGO Asral, the challenge was to move traditional crafts in a more contemporary direction. “There’s now a structure in place following donations from Irish Aid and €100,000 from the Dalai Lama,” he says, “and the women have a proper factory where the wool is brought from the Gobi Desert and Shankh . . . then all the intricate sewing and embellishment is done by hand. It’s building on skills that are already there.”

Joining him and also working with the local women is Irish designer Mary Donoghue, an NCAD graduate and former Late Late Show award winner who worked with Donna Karan in New York. “She has been working with them on pattern, introducing more appealing colours and details, while locals on the ground are superb at pattern cutting and quality assurance,” says McCarthy.

It’s a small business employing 50 women in four centres, who now produce five ranges, from pencil cases and document holders to scarves, slippers, cushions and Christmas decorations. They will be exhibiting at design fair Maison et Objets in Paris next September, and in November were invited to participate in a Fair Trade initiative set up by a group of people in the fashion business in Los Angeles. Apart from Ireland (where Avoca was the first stockist), Made in Mongolia now sells in Japan, the US, Italy and France. According to McCarthy, MIM “is finally beginning to become known and build an international network.”

Made in Mongolia products can be found in Avoca and Kilkenny stores and gift shops throughout the country, including Ballymaloe in Cork, Irish National Heritage Park and Westgate Design in Wexford. Prices start from €9.95 for Christmas baubles, €36.95 for slippers and €39.95 for scarves. See for more information.


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