Entrepreneur Jillian Morkan on passing on a work ethic (and vintage handbags) to her daughter

These days, we’re all more conscious of where our clothing comes form, if it will last and its impact on the environment. So when we come across a true gem of a shop that really take the 'style and sustainability' message to heart, it feels important to share it far and wide!

Sustainability, style and secondhand handbags - Jillian Morkan’s Legacy Handbags have built amazing businesses on this basis. Jillian created Legacy Designer Handbags last year, having lost her marketing job when the entire world was thrown into the chaos of the pandemic. Her site, Legacy Handbags is all about sourcing unique handbags for clients and organising the refurbishment of high- quality vintage bags and heirloom pieces. Bag rescue is close to Jillian Morkan’s heart, and rejuvenating the classics is easier than it sounds and very worthwhile.

We caught up with the vintage thrifting queen to talk all things female entrepreneurship, fast fashion and her favourite spots for thrifty finds!

What started your fascination with fashion? Was it something you were always into and were designer pieces always a major influence on you?

I come a small town in Nenagh in Tipperary so it wouldn’t exactly be fashion central! Twenty years ago, I think I knew one person who had internet in the area and it was dial up – so it took about five years to load one page!  So you didn’t have a clue about what was out there because unless you travelled, you wouldn’t have a notion.

But when I was eighteen, I went working for Aer Lingus and one day, I don’t know what possessed me, but I was in the newsagents and said I’d get a magazine for the J.J Kavanagh’s bus up to Dublin and I just happened to pick up a Vogue. I just thought it was unbelievable – a different world.

And everyone used to complain about it and say, ‘Sure, it’s all ads!’ and I used to say ‘Sure they’re great too!’. I was just fascinated by the models, the glamour and I hadn’t a clue about half the things they were talking about, but I knew they were nice. And I suddenly thought ‘Oh wow, there’s this whole other world out there’.

And so I started travelling with Aer Lingus as well and I used to go to the States and the shops over there were unbelievable and I suppose I just got the bug!

And so did you end up in fashion marketing?

Not at all! It was general marketing. But I just kind of had this epiphany one day, where I was thinking, I’m helping all these other people promote their businesses and I have the tools…so why don’t I do it for myself?

I had been to Japan in 2019 in October and I saw the pre-loved market over there and how big it was. And I had seen some consignment stores in Dublin as well, but there just seemed to be so many in Japan, I just couldn’t get over it. And I just said, ‘I have to do this.’

So when Covid hit a few months later, I decided this was the time to do it. So I got some stock and I initially set up on the Shopify website before setting up my own. A lot of it I’ve done myself. I manage it myself, I do the SEO, I do the Google Ad Words, I do all the social media, so I’m a one-woman band at the moment.

So the marketing background really helped with this future venture?

It was actually a God send, because marketing and the social media side of things is an area that a lot of people fall down on when they’re running a business. But I already knew all this, so I said why don’t I take everything I’ve learned and put it into practice.

So you started into this business at the start of Covid because you had just finished up in your marketing job – between that and a global pandemic, how did you pick yourself up from that?

I was terrified. It was scary, but I just took that jump and said I better do it because if I never try, I’ll never know.

I still remember my first designer bag – I had saved up for ages and I went into Louis Vuitton, and I bought a Speedy 30 and I walked up and down Grafton Street thinking I was the business. I thought I was so special – and I wasn’t – but anyway that was my first bag. I used to save up and just say I’d treat myself – I’d no kids back then.

But the thing is, all the big fashion houses - Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes - they increase the prices every year, sometimes twice a year. So the entry level price points are getting higher and higher to keep that cachet alive for the brand. They don’t want it to be too accessible because it diminishes the brand.

As a result, they’re phasing out a lot of the more affordable models and discontinuing them and then they’re leaning towards leather so they can charge way more. So that’s why pre-loved makes more sense. And obviously it’s better for the environment and it’s better for your pocket.

So what’s your process like, where do you source these bags?

I have to source from Europe because of customs and duties and taxes, so there’s no point in sourcing from outside of Europe, it just doesn’t make good business sense.

I have a mixture of stock. Some pieces I sell for other people, some pieces I resell, and then I have some that I would ‘rescue’. I call it ‘bag rescue’, like adopting an animal! Sometimes I’ll see a bag that needs a little repair and TLC, like this Gucci bag I bought recently, which is really nice, but it has no strap. I’m getting a strap made for it with this guy in Dublin called Andrew in Handbag Therapy who is really good. He can give it a new lease of life.

Sometimes they might need a little colour repair or a little makeover and then they’re good to go. These bags last, Chanel bags last twenty or thirty years, it’s amazing.

Sustainability is a trendy word for a lot of businesses to throw around at the moment, but is it really an integral part of your business model then?

It is. And also, it’s better value for money. You can get three bags for the price of one new bag, so it just makes more sense. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, especially fast fashion. I think a lot of young people have been very taken in by fast fashion and you have all these influencers who have swipe up links for Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, but they’re not they’re not thinking about the hidden cost. So if the clothes are that cheap and they’re making a profit – someone’s paying somewhere.

And those things don’t last. Years ago, things were made to last and what you bought was quality. So I find that a bit sad, because I love vintage and I always have done. It’s like a treasure hunt, you’re always hoping there’s a bargain that no one else knows the value of and you’ll find this amazing, rare piece!

What are some of your favourite charity shops or vintage shops around Dublin?

When I was working in town, I used to love Jenny Vander. Really classic pieces, that’s one of my favourite ones.

But here’s the thing - a bag will always fit you – because your size does change. Women’s bodies fluctuate with babies, and even regardless of babies! I have a beautiful Top Shop vintage dress that I think I wore twice, then I got pregnant and it never fit me again. I still have it, I’m keeping it for my daughter, and it’s divine. So that’s my theory – a bag will always fit me and I can wear it forever!

What would be your ‘I can’t leave it behind’ brand when thrifting?

Chanel – the most expensive one! I got one there recently for my fortieth and that was surreal. It’s like my other baby. Something like that, though, I will hand down to my daughter, she will have that for life. It’s an heirloom to pass down, like a piece of really good jewelry, which is why you need to mind it. Bag protectors, bag liners are all so important to prolong the bag and the use of the bag and to give it more structure.

As a woman in business what would you say to young female entrepreneurs starting out, or what would you like to have known starting this?

I’d say ‘Just go for it’. Because if we listen to all the negative thoughts and self-doubt, we’d never do anything. I feel as women, we play it safe and I think we’re kind of risk-averse, compared to men. Men will just go for it, whether they’re qualified or not! With us, we’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure, can I do it? Will I be able? People will say who do you think you are,’ - it doesn’t matter. Just go for it.

I just eventually said ‘Why not me?’ There’s somebody out there who’s less qualified doing it, so why not me? I genuinely believe I can do anything I set my mind to. It’s good to show my daughter that I’m not afraid to fail – if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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