Perhaps its because were easily bored, but at Avoca, we do like to try new stuff. Constantly. So much so, that many people only know a fraction of what Avoca does. That is, until now (tah-dah!). We thought it might be a good time to try and tell a little of our story.
Avocas a family-run business that spans one of the worlds oldest surviving manufacturing companies and Irelands most exciting stores. Weve some of the countrys best loved and most garlanded Cafs. We export clothing ranges to boutiques around the world and have our own food label with dozens of delicious products. There are Avoca perfumes, glassware, ceramics... we even run a world-class garden.
Weve some 600 great people at 10 locations in Ireland and the USA and wholesale to dozens of countries worldwide. All from a modest handweaving mill that was established in a rural Irish village over 280 years ago. And never, ever boring we hope.
There was a Mill at Avoca Village, County Wicklow. Set up in 1723 as a co-operative where farmers could spin and weave their wool, the Mills uncoloured yarn was turned into tweeds and blankets. However, colour soon came to Avoca as vivid natural vegetable dyes in reds, greens, and yellows brightened the Mills output.These were soon recognised as Avoca Handweavers signature hues and the Mill thrived through the 1920s and 30s when it was run by a marvellous trio of sisters, the Wynnes.
By the 1960s however, it had fallen into disrepair. Handweaving was dying and the looms grew largely silent. Until a young couple with a younger family took a fl yer in the mid-seventies and the rest, as others might say, is history.
Once upona time...
the millAt avocavillage
When Donald & Hilary Pratt bought the Avoca Handweavers Mill in 1974, frankly perhaps, it should have been an act of folly. The then Dublin lawyer was handling the sale of the site for development. He ended up buying it himself despite knowing nothing about handweaving, but believing there was a future in the Mills past. The run-down buildings, the tumbling mill, the name itself had woven a spell of sorts. He left law and Hilary gave up her teaching job as they took over the leaking Mill and empty order book. But soon the looms were humming again and Avoca began to colour the world once more.
Avoca started as a manufacturer back in 1723 and it probably shapes everything we do. To this day, we handweave at the Mill in Avoca Village it roots us in our heritage though times change, and powerlooms are now also needed to keep up with demand. Now youll fi nd Avoca rugs, throws and scarves in natural fi bres 100% pure new wool, mohair, cotton and linen keeping people looking smart and staying cosy as far away as Japan and the Middle East. And as Avoca has grown in confi dence this most traditional of crafts has found new life breathed into it.
We love detail and colour and whimsy and quality. We relish the unexpected and the smile of discovery. From the traditional tailored tweed suits and separates of the Avoca Collection label, our Design Studio has grown wings and fl own. Its a hotbed of inspiration, chock-a-block and chaotic, a bustling hive of ideas and what ifs.
Avoca combs the world to fi nd or commission beautiful, interesting fabrics and trims, and we manufacture in Europe, with much of our knitwear, for example, made for us by Italian partners who work closely with our Design Studio, season by season.
Avoca Anthology, one of our two designer womens wear ranges, launched in 2002 and is now stocked in over 600 stores across Britain and Europe. Regularly ranked as one of the UKs top ten boutique labels by the fashion industry bible, Drapers Magazine, Anthologys twice yearly collections start here, with maybe a scrap of ribbon or a fabric swatch. As does Avoca Origin, our newer designer label. Same attention to detail, same emphasis on texture and colour. Different mood altogether.
And its not only clothing. Theres Avoca ceramics and candles, perfumes and bags and more: the only limits on our designers ideas is that theyre not to be like anyone elses.
our storesRetail for Avoca started with a small shop at the original Mill in Wicklows rural heartland. Now weve 10 Avoca locations: 9 here, including our most recent store in Belfast and another in Annapolis, close to Washington DC in the US.
Avoca outlets can defy description, especially by us. Maybe its more of an experience than a stock list. For a start, its eclectic in the extreme: fashion, ceramics, glass, Menswear and homewares. Kidswear and toys. Knitwear and jewellery. We could go on... and we do.
Browsing through our stores was once compared to exploring a treasure trove: we just keep changing the treasure. Avoca Rathcoole was recently voted Irelands Store of the Year and international trade mag, Retail Week ranked Avoca one of the Worlds 100 Most Inspirational Stores, (keeping us company were enormous names like Bloomingdales). One of the judges said of Avoca:
... It started out as an Irish woollens shop and has evolved into a mixture of Heals for homewares, Selfridges Food Hall, Bettys tea rooms, Ghost for womenswear and Daisy & Tom for kids clothes and toys. It sells carefully chosen pieces from a wide range of upmarket brands without looking piecemeal. It has the feel of a store where each item has been lovingly bought by a single buyer and manages to make something traditional feel contemporary. The merchandise is laid out as though you are looking around the house of a friend with very good taste.
Amen to that.
It all began with a few homemade jams and chutneys brought in by some of our earliest staff. (Some of these recipes still bear their names.) Now our Avoca Pantry range of jams and marmalades, relishes and chutneys, mustards, oils and dressings form the backbone of our Foodhalls. These are packed with delicious, artisan food from home and abroad. Exotic ingredients, unusual coffees and teas, interesting sauces and much more cram the shelves.
Freshly-made Avoca salads, soups, gourmet sandwiches and tarts can be taken away from our deli-bars, as can many favourites off our caf menus. People travel for miles to get our house-baked breads. And some of the stores now have special cheese and charcuterie rooms too. Whilst others feature wine shops with an exclusive handpicked selection from smaller, independent vineyards. And the smell of fresh baking fi lls the air.
From a small tea and coffee station selling home baking in the corner of one of the shops, the Avoca food experience has taken on a life of its own. Its what many of our customers think of fi rst with Avoca. Indeed, a couple of our stores now have not just one, but two rather gorgeous cafs, like The Egg and The Bird Cage Cafs at Avoca Rathcoole and The Fern House and Sugar Tree at Kilmacanogue.
Avoca Cafs have been a fi xture in the Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants each year since 1997 and they feature in good eating guides everywhere. But we dont need awards to tell us were doing something right. Gratifyingly, thousands of people pull up a chair with us every week. The two original Avoca Caf Cookbooks, published as a way to pass on much-requested recipes have, to our enormous surprise, become best-sellers. And our recent series of Soups,Salads & Tea Time compact books look set to follow suit.
As with our clothing ranges and soft furnishings, detail is everything: we use great natural ingredients some we grow ourselves; prepare from scratch; be adventurous; offer value. And we stubbornly do things the long way (we tend to think of it as the right way), like having our own bakers start before 6.00am each day so weve fresh baking for our cafs and foodhalls.
A love of gardening is in the familys blood. So it was probably no surprise that when we went looking for a new site for offi ces and a shop half way between south Dublin and Avoca Village Mill, we fell in love with what was left of gardens once attached to the house of the Jamesons Whiskey family. Again they were far from their glory days, but they did boast some extremely rare and lovely trees including a 900 year old Yew walk. Good karma, then.
This became our Kilmacanogue base, where weve now a store, two cafs, our head offi ces and our design studio set in the midst of towering trees and tranquil landscaped grounds. Moreover, weve also a garden centre and nursery there, and an expanse of greenhouses where we grow for the garden shop and cafs.
Avoca Powerscourt House is set in one of Irelands most famous gardens. Avoca Rathcoole has a contemporary walled garden. Even our Suffolk Street store in the heart of Dublin has a secret rooftop garden.
And since 2007, Mount Usher Gardens, a world-class example of the so-called Robinsonian style, has been run by Avoca. Established in the late 1800s, Mount Usher is laid out across 22 acres (approx 9 hectares) along the banks of the easy-fl owing River Vartry. One of only three Irish gardens to get a top ranking by the UKs Good Garden Guide, here youll fi nd over 5,000 species of plants, all managed organically, attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually. (Of course weve a lovely caf there too and great shopping.)
Who knows? Well, Avoca is certainly individual. Many of our adventures have been great successes, but not all, of course. What unifi es our approach is to try to avoid the average or ordinary. Instead, we look for colour and life and happiness, and seek out the unusual and beautiful. Our mission is to create joy and have fun. In fact were selfi sh, choosing things fi rstly because we love them and then hoping were not alone in our taste.