Industry View: Sarah Murphy, Jack Murphy Clothing
Jack Murphy Clothing began life in the 1940s as a niche corseterie business based in Skerries, North County Dublin later emerging as a brand specialising in outdoor apparel and occasion wear for both men and women.
Part of the third generation involved in the family business, Sarah Murphy took on the role of sales and marketing manager almost four years ago and works closely with her father in the family business. Here we catch up with Murphy to discuss her focus on product and trade customers, streamlining the business, being proactive and overcoming adversity.
“My Dad wants to see the business grow, but also he has lived the business for the past 35 years and is ready to have it move on for another era,” says Sarah Murphy of her commitment to the family business. “This is the same when we think of the product range we’ll be showing at Showcase 2022. We have been streamlining our range and thinking about what we are making, how we are making it and why?”
While all of the children in the family grew up helping out in the business, Sarah is the only one currently involved in the Jack Murphy Clothing business full time. She previously worked in software training, sales and in hospitality in the ski industry. “I am only good at selling things that I believe are worthy of being sold. We have really turned the company around and have grown in the past couple of years and part of that is because we are really focusing on our trade customers and on what their customers really need and want. We are consciously paying attention to what our customers want and building their orders around that.”
The company saw a decline in UK sales due to Brexit - or rather, says Murphy, the fear thereof. “It was really the fear of Brexit rather than Brexit itself that created a decline in our UK sales,” says Murphy. “Since I have come on board we have focused more on quality retailers and orders rather than on the size or quantity of orders.”
Murphy says that the growth in stockists in North America has been due to a growth in demand for outdoor clothing during lockdown, as well as in people buying more considered items that will perform well and last longer. It’s also been due to Murphy herself opting to become more proactive in terms of making connections and seeking new business for the Jack Murphy brand - essentially working with the good old fashioned method of picking up the phone and speaking to people in person.
“I started researching, picking up the phone and speaking to people who I felt would connect with our brand,” she says. “The digital facility at Showcase 2021 worked well for us and Isabel Haley of NACTA has also been a terrific support.”
If Murphy is skilled at choosing the best products to go to market, her father Michael runs the design and production side of the business. “Five or ten years ago we had a large design team creating lots of different products, styles and accessories,” explains Murphy. “That worked well at the time, but now we are trying to slow down the seasons by creating collections that are more timeless and seasonless. It means then that we can focus on new fabrics, textures and colours which can be just as exciting. It means that we are being more conscious about what we do and how we make it.”
The company is aiming to be the opposite of fast fashion, says Murphy, who admits that the brand has lost some customers over the years due to their unwillingness to reduce quality and price. “That can be a difficult business decision and it can also be a risk,” she says. “However it comes down to keeping true to what you believe the brand is about. Myself and my father Michael are very like minded when it comes to what we believe the brand is about. Increasingly consumers want products that are made well and that have longevity.”
This ethos impacts everything about the garment according to Murphy. “It encompasses every part of the product and we are positioning ourselves well by refusing to engage in a race to the bottom - that’s never really been what the product was about and it should never have been what the brand was about. Myself and my father have made conscious choices to make these hard decisions but when there are two people working together on the same page you back each other up.”
Fabrics, trims and production are sourced worldwide including Ireland, Europe, the UK and further afield. "In the past we had our own production facility here in Ireland but like all other brands competition has forced us to produce overseas," says Murphy. "There are very strong garment manufacturing traditions in Europe and where possible we will produce within the EU. Quality, service and price are the three most important words when placing production orders. We have very good relations with our suppliers and visit them regularly to learn and advise on all new developments within the industry. We design every style here in Ireland which includes writing tech packs and bill of materials so every garment is made to our specifications which include our nominated fabric suppliers, linings, trims, packaging etc.."
The performance aspect of Jack Murphy designs are extremely important both to the brand itself and to the brand's customers. “When coming up with a new design we are always asking the questions: ‘Is it waterproof? Is it windproof? How can we improve its performance? How can we make sure that it lives up to our existing range?’ It is not just about having beautiful things - it’s about having beautiful things that are functional and wearable,” says Murphy.
Jack Murphy customers are attracted to the timeless quality of the brand’s style but also by the detailing which gives the products a distinctive edge. “We were previously very much an outerwear brand and were stocked in outdoor and hiking shops but we have moved away from that and are now more likely to be found in independent retail shops with a focus on style too,” explains Murphy.
The past two years of the pandemic have changed the Murphy’s outlook on how they do business. “I have spent a lot of time on the phone and on video calls, and, luckily enough, everyone else has been pretty receptive to doing sales in that way. I don’t see myself going back to being on the road for several weeks at a time. I think it is more likely that I will visit retailers to see how things are going having already carried out the sales over the phone or online.”
If the past two years of the pandemic have been a challenging time for fashion and retail then one of the positive things it has given Sarah Murphy is the sense that she and her family can weather any storm. It has also been useful in giving her time to fully understand her role in the family business and where she wants to take the brand.
“We had been through the mill already post-Brexit and here we were again with another challenge due to the pandemic. I found the time useful for really getting to know the family business and for figuring out how I can put my own stamp on this business which goes back three generations," she says. "Although the pandemic has been horrible in lots of ways, it has given us faith in our own resilience and helped us to realise that we can get through such challenges. I now see real longevity in where we want to go with the brand and where my place is in the story of Jack Murphy Clothing.”
Find Jack Murphy Clothing at Stand E32 in the Industries Hall