“Getting brands noticed and building visual identities is what we’ve both done for years, but in different ways,” says Caroline Reynolds when we catch up with her and her business partner and best friend, Niamh O’Rourke (pictured left) to talk about CHALK, the pair’s new creative agency. Caroline, former creative director at Wallpaper Creative, and Niamh, a hugely successful stylist who has been behind many cover looks for IMAGE and our sister titles, are in start-up mode. After a collective 36 years in the industry, the friends saw a niche in Ireland’s market for a one-stop shop offering their combined skills to brands that need a vision executed by aesthetic experts. “We met in 2007 while shooting the Peter O’Brien collection for A|wear, for whom I was creative director at the time,” explains Caroline. “As a freelancer, it’s crucial to have comrades in the same boat, so we’d meet for coffee to bounce ideas, and it grew from there,” says Niamh. “I was working on an IMAGE shoot a few years back and asked Caroline to collaborate as a set designer. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, she sees what I see.’ It’s rare and special when that fully clicks. We’ve been inseparable ever since.” CHALK is already garnering plenty of attention, with a hugely successful party launching Penneys’ new global HQ under their belts, but with kids, husbands and prior commitments and projects in the mix, it’s fair to say their relationship is about to be tested to the limits. “There are new challenges, and every day is different,” Caroline confides. “What makes us stronger is that we can share the challenges together.” For Niamh, it’s all about finding joy at work: “I’m a firm believer that people are more productive when they feel good. This project is the result of mutual years of dreaming. We’re having the time of our lives.”
SPROUT & CO
Alec Ward (picture right) and Jack Kirwan are their company’s best advertisement. The boys behind Sprout & Co are both bursting with energy and enthusiasm about their burgeoning business. “I’ve admired Jack’s work ethic since school,” Alec explains. “When he started Sprout almost two years ago, I knew I wanted to get involved.” The pair worked together in Avoca before Sprout began to take off. “Alec is the PR genius behind Sprout,” Jack chimes in, “and what he has done with the company since he started is something I could never do. I knew we’d work well together because we are so different – he’s emotional, I’m more business- minded, and I knew from our friendship that Alec has an incredible ability to connect with people. That was a quality I knew I wanted for the company.” The duo have struck liquid gold with their healthy cold pressed juices, juice cleanses and smoothies – when we meet Jack and Alec at their juice bar in Avoca, Rathcoole, Christy Turlington, Elle Macpherson and Daisy Lowe have all Instagrammed their Sprout favourites. Don’t be fooled by the duo’s laid-back veneer, though – like any new business, there are long hours and teething problems. “We literally do not sleep,” Alec confides. “A typical day can start at 4am if we’re running deliveries, and in the evenings my phone never stops ringing.” “We pretty much spend all of our time together,” Jack agrees. “We go to the gym together, we eat together, we work together every day, and most weekends, too. It’s very intense, and I think that’s where being friends has helped. I can’t imagine going through all of this with someone who is simply a business partner.” While they plot world domination (new recipes, national retailers and the first Sprout & Co retail premises serving food, juices, smoothies and healthy treats in a Dublin city centre location are all in the works), the pair says their friendship has only gotten stronger. “I always knew Jack was a strong-minded, passionate and driven person. I never dreamed I could be head of sales and PR in an amazing start-up company like Sprout, and that’s happened because of the confidence and support that Jack has given me on a personal level. No matter what problems we have with the business, we’re friends above all else – it’s the reason I got involved to begin with,” says Alec. “We have a holiday planned with my family next month, and my mum has banned all Sprout talk – it’ll be great to focus on us just being great mates for a while.”
DUBLIN HOLISTIC CENTRE
When Helen Lambe (pictured left) and Bella McCormack opened the Dublin Holistic Centre back in 2010, their vision was clear: “We were creating this enormous centre for health and wellbeing,” says Bella, the centre’s manager. “It was the largest in Ireland. It was very exciting.” The pair met in 2002 while house sharing in Chapelizod. “Bella was studying nutrition, and I had just qualified as a homeopath,” says Helen. “I had opened my first centre in 2004; it was very small and I ran it alone, but over the next six years, I expanded, and after a couple of long talks with Bella, we decided that if I were to open a much bigger place, then she was the person I wanted by my side. I knew we were a perfect match because we have the same passion for holistic therapy, but she is so I left work immediately and didn’t return for a year. I didn’t look at the business once during that time – I couldn’t. Bella took over entirely, and she didn’t just run the business, she grew it! They say you can never hand your business over to someone else, but when it’s a friend, one like Bella, it’s possible. She was an incredible rock.” Bella remembers: “I was handed bank details, the company passwords and free rein. I didn’t have a clue about rates or bookkeeping, but no matter how difficult a day I was having, I knew her day was always harder. That was what spurred me on.” Two years later, the business is stronger than ever, with the centre catering to over 100 clients every day, and over 70 therapists and teachers are currently employed there. Is there anything in particular much stronger on finance, advertising and the development of a brand.” The centre on South William Street, Dublin went from strength to strength, but in 2012, the duo met their biggest challenge, both personally and professionally. “In May of that year, my husband, Cianán, was diagnosed with stage four cancer,” says Helen. “Our son had just turned one. I left work immediately and didn’t return for a year. I didn’t look at the business once during that time – I couldn’t. Bella took over entirely, and she didn’t just run the business, she grew it! They say you can never hand your business over to someone else, but when it’s a friend, one like Bella, it’s possible. She was an incredible rock.” Bella remembers: “I was handed bank details, the company passwords and free rein. I didn’t have a clue about rates or bookkeeping, but no matter how difficult a day I was having, I knew her day was always harder. That was what spurred me on.” Two years later, the business is stronger than ever, with the centre catering to over 100 clients every day, and over 70 therapists and teachers are currently employed there. Is there anything in particular that helped prepare their friendship for what going into business together would bring? “Living together helped … and wine!” Helen jokes. “Helen has a heart of gold, but she’s a tough cookie,” says Bella. “It’s safe to say we make a good team.”
KLICKITY & OBEO
They do say opposites attract – and it’s certainly the case for Kate Cronin (pictured left) and Elizabeth Fingleton, the firm friends who, excuse the pun, “klicked” immediately when they first met in July 2010. “I’m a creative,” says Kate. “Completely. Liz has the business head. That’s why it works.” The pair met by chance, through a mutual connection, and started the company just five months later – quite the leap of faith. “I had just left KPMG after qualifying as a chartered accountant and was trying to figure out what to do with my life,” Liz explains. “When Kate and I met, we immediately hit it off – we were actually reading the same book at the time, Tom Szaky’s Revolution in a Bottle, all about transforming waste into useful products. After getting to know each other for a couple of months, Kate asked me if I’d like to be her business partner in her design business, Klickity, and it all started from there. It was fate.” Klickity, a home accessories and design studio creating sustainable, self-assembly lighting fixtures and quirky interior pieces, has become the eco-friendly interior lover’s firm favourite. The duo is currently hard at work with their second project, Obeo, a natural, biodegradable food waste box. “The dynamic is exciting,” Liz says. “We come from completely different backgrounds and complementary skills – that’s why we work so well together.” When it comes to stress, their differing brains have an encouraging effect. “I definitely have freak-out moments about the business, and that’s when Kate puts things into perspective. She reminds me why we’re doing what we’re doing.” Business – whether new or longstanding – has its fair share of challenges, especially when formed in a friendship. “The worst part is when there’s a disagreement. Neither of us are very confrontational people, so we’ve been working on our communication skills recently, and that really helps,” Kate confides. For friends considering the leap into business, they have a few words of advice to share: “Definitely find a friend who has a different skill set to you. It’ll save a lot of arguing and disagreements, as each of you can be responsible for your own area,” advises Liz. “It also means you can grow the business faster, as you don’t need to hire in other expertise straightaway. And most importantly, communicate – talk about how you’re feeling, and deal with issues as they arise – it’s so much easier that way.”
This article originally appeared in the June issue of IMAGE Magazine.