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Cork Heads: Cathy O’Donoghue


In the latest installment of Cork Heads, Brid O’Donovan chats to Cathy O’ Donoghue, owner of Turquoise Flamingo, a vintage clothing and accessories online store and blog. She also co-runs Oh Me, Oh My DIY creative workshops in secret locations.

The Things you do as a Child.

Arts and crafts with my mum I suppose. We lived out in the country and we had no neighbours. I have one sister who didn’t come along until I was five so she wasn’t fun until I was eight or nine. I was a bit of a tomboy but I was girly too. Country living you know? My mum encouraged me with the arts and crafts side of things. Do you remember Mary Fitzgerald’s Make and Do? That was a show that used to be on and she had books as well. We made about five things from that and they were big projects. One of them was a ragdoll that was bigger than me and we made that together. That was it really – hanging out with my mum and going to Wilton Shopping Centre at the weekend!

The Teenage Years

School can manipulate you or brainwash you into thinking that you should be doing this, this and this to get points. I dropped all the things I loved like music and art after third year because I was told that I wouldn’t get a high mark which was so discouraging. They said things like “Well, you won’t get an A in art because it’s so hard to so why don’t you just do something else like Geography?” I almost failed Geography! I took on Biology without ever having done Science. In secondary school I was a little bit disillusioned by the creative side of me. I kept away from it. After Junior Cert. I was like “Right, no more art. I need to get points to get a job to be a lawyer.” The minute I did my Leaving Cert. and turned eighteen I realised that there was no way I was going to become a lawyer. I remember telling my guidance counsellor that I wanted to become a tattoo artist or a basket weaver just to annoy her. She flipped! Nowadays those two things would probably make you a lot of money!

With clothes and all that, I would have dressed a little “differently”. I didn’t follow what was in the shops. I remember going to a teenage disco and wearing a long full length black dress, trying to look all red carpet-ish instead of wearing the skirt that just fitted around your bum, you know? Obviously I didn’t get the score that night. (laughs) It’s obvious to me, looking back, that I did dress differently. I wouldn’t say it was differently and good because it was awful most of the time. I remember walking down Patrick Street with my Dad one day and I was wearing bright blue flared 1970s bell bottoms and an orange fleece jumper because I loved the idea of bold colours together. I remember wondering why everyone was looking at me and assuming that it was because my outfit was so cool. That day stuck with me and a few years later I thought “No, no Cathy.. They weren’t looking at you for a good reason!”


Where it all started – Your love of Vintage Clothing.

It was my mum’s clothes that I was wearing. She started giving me her hand-me-downs. She’d be quite small sized and I started wearing her clothes from the 80s in the 90s and loved them. There’s a jumper she gave me that I still wear. It’s a teal, knitted jumper with puffy sleeves and appliqué of butterfly on the front. It’s amazing. She gave me that when I was thirteen. Growing up as a teenager my friends would go into Brown Thomas and they’d try on things and there was nothing wrong with that but I always like the old and the handmade touch or anything with a little bit more to it.

College and Second Hand Shops.

I went to UCC for a few months. I did Arts and I dropped out after a few months. I was lost since I was told to give up the things in school that I loved. At that age you are impressionable and you lose direction and you’re told to just make money, get a job. You’re not told to do what you love. So anyway, I was in Arts and we had a lot of free time. I used to walk in to town and I didn’t have much money so I used to do the rounds on North Main Street and Enable Ireland was on Princes Street and I’d buy all my clothes in second hand shops. People would be surprised when they’d ask me where I got my clothes from and I’d tell them “Second hand shop. €2.” At the time, my parents and my sister would have not shopped in a second hand shop just because ten years ago they would have told me to just buy new clothes. Nowadays those shops are much more popular. At the time we were mixed up in that whole Celtic Tiger thing and I was shopping in a second hand shop and they were like “Why are you doing that?” I liked reworking the garments and I loved a bargain. I slowly got into vintage clothing then. I loved Positively Haight Street. It finished up on Castle Street but it started in the market, a few doors down from Miss Daisy Blue. I loved it in there. I loved all the mid-century dresses.

I went to San Francisco when I was about twenty two and I absolutely fell in love with all the vintage there. That was it for me. My wardrobe now would be 70/30, 70% being vintage. Around that time I just converted all my clothes to old. After becoming a kitchen designer and getting a degree in Interior Architecture, I went travelling but all the time I felt lost. I love being a kitchen designer and being creative, coming up with plans and ideas. When I was travelling, I remember being on a bus and heading into Laos and writing down ideas. I thought to myself that when I came back from travelling there’d be no messing. I’d have to find something I love and just do it. I was only 23 or 24. I should have relaxed a little bit but I came home and two months later I had the name Turquoise Flamingo and a vintage online clothes store was my goal. By December I had the online store up and running. After a year I wanted an actual store. The mistake I make was that the online store was on my own platform, it wasn’t on Etsy or eBay so getting traffic to it was extremely hard. I can count how many sales I made.


Coming up with the name Turquoise Flamingo

When I was studying Interior Architecture, when I was twenty, four years before I opened the online store we had to design a clothes shop in college. All we had to do was come up with plans and perspective drawings of it. I called it Flamingo and tied the Flamingo into the design. I had to come up with my own packaging paper which was newspaper on pink. The boards were all handdrawn. Now in that same course they’d probably do all this on computer, all on nice neat files. The plan is a bit naive but it’s cute. I was sitting, drinking a beer at the laptop and thought “What’s my favourite animal? What’s my favourite colour? Turquoise Flamingo. That’s amazing!”

Online to Physical store.

I told my mum about six months before we opened the shop that I’d love to own a shop but that I wasn’t able for it. I was only 24. She agreed with me but she also encouraged me. I was blind to it. I had never done a business course. I just googled things I needed to find out about it all. That’s the way you should use the internet. I looked up prices and thought about what kind of stock I’d have and what style I’d like, which was what I liked but broaden it a little bit to what I think other people would like. My goal was and still is to sell vintage that’s not crap quality, unless it’s a really good thing that you know has potential if you do a little bit of work on it. I just didn’t want to fill a shop and make it look like a second hand shop. I was driving along Washington street one day and I saw the premises that Plugd had vacated. I asked to look at it. There was a bit of toing and froing, drama and all of this playing it cool, walking away – playing the game! I put a deposit down on it two weeks before Christmas and I wanted it open before Christmas. The floor had to be leveled, it had to be re-painted and wallpapered, the shop fittings all had to go in, all my stock had to be ready to go in, all the accessories, till and all the little bits you know. That was a week of not really sleeping. I lived at home at the time and I remember I put up this huge A1 size list of things to do in marker and I just crossed off things everyday. I got help from my Dad’s friend, he leveled the floor and we had to wait 24 hours until it was dry. The minute it was dry we were in there. My mum was wallpapering, I painted and I had a party there with pizza and beer and my friends came and helped out. It was really exciting, but hard. I remember shaking a lot from coffee. Looking back at the photos of the day I opened it was very empty but I still just wanted the Christmas shoppers to see it. That was it. I opened on the 22nd or the 23rd of December 2011.


The Shop

It made me grow up. I learned a lot about money and owing money and meeting bills, rates and the council. The horrible things. But in general it was good. There were days in January where it would rain for the whole day. Who the hell is out shopping on those days, especially in the city centre and especially on Washington street. Sometimes people would just come in to get out of the rain. I’d just be sitting there, posting some stuff on Facebook because that was gathering steam. I’d just take photos of the window and dressing up the window in loads of different ways. I had loads of fun with that. When it was like that I was just trying to keep the spirits up and keep at it you know? There’d be great days too. I remember there was one day in February. It was still dark. It was a Saturday and I made a lot of money that day. To me it wasn’t ever about making the money. It was about being able to live off it but it was also about making Turquoise Flamingo successful. So that day, I made a lot of money but along with it, everyone that bought something had great feedback. These two girls were just squealing in there. In my head I was like “Oh my god! This is cool!” Someone else was on the phone saying that they were in Turquoise Flamingo and that they’d meet their friend in there. I was like “This person is saying the name of my shop and the person at the end of the line knows what they are talking about and that’s a name I came up with.” I’d pretend to be cool but I’d be going crazy in my head. So it was going well and I launched the Icon collection. It was a collection of handmade dresses and I wanted Audrey Hepburn and Bridget Bardot to be the two icons behind the whole idea. I made a mini-collection a year into opening the shop and that December was one of my best months. The collection was on Fundit which was great. Every time someone donated a big amount I used to start crying. I remember trying to get the address of this one guy who I didn’t know and he had donated like €50 or €70. I wanted to send him a package that I had put together for him but he refused it. I was bawling crying “Who is this lovely man?” That was a really good month but it was always a struggle. No matter what, the rent was too high, the space was too small and I had to be in there six days a week or it wasn’t making enough. I’d still have the shop if the rent was lower.

The shop closed when Nancy, my daughter was four months old. That was two years ago. It was open for two years in total. When I fell pregnant I was looking for some sort of maternity leave or some sort of support. There was none. I had to work right up until the point I was due which was hard. The shop was small, the counter space was small and I was huge. I hired a girl, Carol, she was lovely. She helped me for the last few months of the shop. I didn’t know I was closing, I was intending on going back full time but it made no sense. I didn’t know how I was going to leave Nancy to go work in a shop that wasn’t making me enough money to justify it. That’s when money came in to play. If it had been a bit more successful then maybe I would have been in there with Nancy some days and keeping her happy in there. But it wasn’t cutting it.

Deciding to close the shop was way harder than opening the shop. First of all I was breaking the lease but it was understandable. It was then admitting defeat. Even though everyday I wasn’t making much money there was increased traffic coming to my blog, to the Facebook page. There was a lot of questions and emails all the time. I thought right, let’s keep this going. I don’t want to drop this. When I announced I was closing the shop I made sure to mention that I was online and it was the best thing I ever did! I don’t regret opening the shop either. Etsy is way better. I have no costs at home. I have to have a good laptop, I have to have a good camera. I pay for the envelopes, some nice tissue paper, labels and stickers. There’s no bills! It’s way easier and way more enjoyable and I’m making more money now than I was in the shop even though I have less sales now.

I made loads of friends through the shop. Even Louie, my boyfriend. It was through the shop because he used to called in. We met through a friend and then he’d call in for a chat. So everything really stemmed from the shop! I became friendlier with people I knew in town because I was in town all the time. The shop became a meeting place for people. I loved putting on gigs in there. That was a way where I was trying to make it about community and to bring a bit of buzz back into the city. It was one of my favourite things to do. Especially those summer gigs. We’d have a band playing in the window display, we’d take the mannequins down and we’d make it a BYOB type of thing. It was so much fun.

I had two girls who did their work experience in the shop. One of the girls, Aifric, she was really lovely and for a sixteen year old she was really hard working and mature. I loved her. She used to upcycle denim shorts and her and a friend were producing about twenty a week and she would sell them in my shop. They were doing really well and they had a cool name – Blood Orange. I thought they had a great idea and for sixteen year olds they had a great vision. I loved that they got to do that. I remember them bringing their friends in in their school uniforms and loving the fact that their clothes were in the shop. I met Jill and Leona who I am now friends with and I talk to them everyday. They run Le Chat Noir Vintage Events and we are involved in Oh Me, Oh My, DIY together now. I became friendly with them because I was doing the markets and they helped me with the Icon collection.

About a year ago I got onto them and said that I had this idea for a DIY workshop and now we meet up once a week and it’s going really well. The amount of things that has come from the shop is amazing and I’m kind of only realising it now as I say it. It’s amazing.


Oh Me, Oh My DIY

Basically, I had seen one or two things online in America and Australia where girls were doing DIY workshops. Workshops that had a pretty vibe to them and I loved the idea. Instead of your ICA meetings, you know? Why is it such an ugly surrounding or not an inspiring surrounding. If you’re being creative in a group, it’s important to be able to look around and see creative things around you. So I got onto the girls from Le Chat Noir and we got started into it. I looked at other workshops online and they had one subject a day and a lunch or something. How our workshops differ from anything I’ve seen is that well, I said to the girls that I wanted to do a workshop where someone goes for the day and learns how to DIY their own life. You go home and put victory rolls in your hair because you learned how to do it in the workshop. You then bake a cake because you learned that today and then you sew that apron that you are wearing while baking the cake with the victory rolls in your hair. Now they sound very old fashioned and girly but I wanted attendees to come away feeling that they had learned a load of things and they can pick one or pick all of them and work on them. The workshops are going really well. This idea really seems to have hit the nail on the head.

The first one was in June of last year and already we have demands to go national and we have workshops selling out and people panicking on the phone. It’s mental. We have to meet up once a week for a few hours to go through things because communication between the three of us has to be right and we are always talking online. Jill is the styling girl. She’s a florist and she owns Wild Floral Couture and she’s the one who can naturally turn a place or a table into something amazing in about twenty minutes with a tin and some flowers. I did the dessert table for one of our workshops and I stood back and thought that it looked a bit wrong. Jill just came and put the high thing in the middle, this there, that there, now. I was like “Oh… Yeah.” Then there’s Leona and she’s great at talking at interviews, way better than me (laughs). She’s great dealing with the mentors and she’s a very organised head. She’s also great at the little detailing like having cookies on our dessert table or including a gold notebook in the goody bag. She’s really good at thinking of those things that all the attendees seem to notice. I would brush past those details a bit. I deal with everything that you see online – all the social media, the website, the photography, the videoing on the day. On the day it’s all hands on. We’re all running up and down, up early in the morning, greeting everyone and then hosting the day.

We’ve had a summer one and we filled 17 out of the 18 places. It was our first one so we almost had to convince people that it was really good. The minute we posted photos people were like “Where is this?! I need to go!” The next one sold out within a few days and then the winter workshop sold out in three hours. So now the class size has increased. We’ve upped it to 25-30 depending on the day. We don’t want to go any bigger than that because it’ll take away from the quality. Our next one is a wedding themed one (this took place on the first of February). We’re going to do some themed ones now. It’ll be down in Ballyvolane House. It’s an amazing place. It’s beautiful.

Our three aims of Oh Me Oh My DIY are: We want to teach people how to be creative and let them gather new skills and knowledge. We want to promote small businesses and tradespeople – from Alice Halliday, the fashion designer to Joanne Condon who has a furniture shop in Clonmel to Jack Crotty who owns Rocketman in Cork. It’s a great way to do that. We want to promote the places where we hold the workshops and the luncheon on the day because it’s usually provided by a local business. It’s a for-profit business. As much as it sounds like a hobby or a fun thing to do we are in it as a small business. What we are saying to brides-to-be for the wedding workshop is that you can’t do everything yourself on the day, you need to hire the professionals but you can do some things yourself. So we will have Rosa on the day, she goes under Rosa Through the Looking Glass and she does vintage hair and make-up. She’s going to be showing everyone how to prep your skin beforehand instead of going for a facial and how to do your hair the day after if you’ve had an upstyle on your wedding day, how to take it down and change it. So we are showing them the areas where you can do DIY. Jill, who is part of the team, nearly always is a mentor because flowers seem to fit into everything. She will be doing something on the day. You might not make your bouquet because that’s a hard and important job but you might do the button holes for the guys or the flower crown for the flower girl. We have a calligraphy artist on the day to show the basics of calligraphy which I’m really looking forward to.


The Balancing Act.

Balancing is really hard. I probably take a Sunday off but sometimes I don’t because once Nancy is napping I can sit down at the computer and answer emails and photograph stock. During the week I do try to take one of two evenings off. I work from her bedtime which is about half eight until half eleven or twelve. I work between a part time job and a full time job hours but I do have to mind her too! I have no advice for people out there because you have to find your own way. Nancy is not up for me doing work while she is awake. She’d be telling me to get off the laptop. Unless she has a new toy, I might get away with half an hour. I like that I’m at home with her rather than being out and doing something I don’t want to do and not seeing Nancy. It’s doesn’t make sense for me to do that because I’m making money from being at home.

Love, Inspiration & The Future.

What I love most about what I do is doing it in the comfort of my own home. Having my own space is great. I’m a bit of a loner like that. I have to learn to adapt when I’m working with Jill and Leona because I’m not a big team worker usually! I like my own ideas and all that which is not great sometimes but I still enjoy it. I love that I love what I do. I love working with old clothes. There’s integrity behind them.

Other people inspire me. From local to friends to international. Blogs would be the international way in which I get inspiration. There’s about 12 blogs I read daily, they don’t write daily but I check daily!

Growing the Etsy store is the next step. Making it bigger, busier and better. Better photos, better customer service, better quality of stock. Also, continuing to blog and making that better too because I get a good response on the blog and it seems to go hand in hand with the store. And I really enjoy it.

is the co-editor / photo editor. She also contributes photos and illustrations to The Thin Air print magazine.