Last month I started a new blog post series called ‘NI Creatives’. I interviewed business woman and all-round fashion and beauty guru Katrina Doran, founder and editor of Sugahfix. Every month in 2014 I will profile a female entrepreneur from Northern Ireland whom I admire and who has really made their mark in the creative they have chosen to specialise in.
This month I’m talking to Jill O’Neill, founder and curator of Refound.
How did the idea of Refound come about?
I sort of stumbled into this world of interiors and vintage retailing really. It was more of a series of events and experiences that lead me to creating ReFound.
After studying art and design at school, then art history at university, I left for New York, where I worked in marketing for a music magazine in NYC.
So, not your usual path, but one that when I look back now, was a seminal point in the development of ReFound. I loved the ‘stoop’ sales, the vintage shopping, the re-hash, do-it-yourself style that I found there. And it is something that has stayed with me. Albeit I’m doing less DIY project myself these days, while I promote and develop the brand for others makers to flourish.
Am I right in thinking that Refound started out as a side project for you but it soon became a full time career?
Yes indeed. Many an evening and weekend spent finding furniture, liaising with artists, creating the marketing and keeping up with customers enquiries and of course, finding new places to hold our pop-up shops! 2010-2012 was a furious couple of years of development for both the brand and my experience! Tons of fun; meeting so many great people along the way, but also hard work and exhausting too!
For someone who has never ventured into the Refound showroom on Wellington Place, Belfast, explain in one sentence what they will find.
In our wonderful Georgian terrace in central Belfast, you will find host to a well-curated range of vintage, recycled and refound products.
The Refound building is incredibly characterful and extremely old, was it love at first sight?
Most definitely. A soon as I saw the inside with the raw floorboards, lots of light and the 100 year old mahogany and glass partition in the main room I just new it was a special place that had to be re-opened for public consumption. We still get people calling in just to see the building alone! But usually hey also end up buying a little something from us too!
I’ve been a Refound fan since early in its inception and always felt that Belfast was crying out for an alternative furniture and design shop like you have created. Was it long before the people of Belfast warmed to what you were doing?
Well there’s always people who are like-minded and get what you are doing immediately. And then there’s others who need a bit more convincing!
To make our business model sustainable, it has been a case of being flexible and just trying things out.
That’s why I spent two years doing pop-up shows and festivals – showing off what we do, getting feedback, building the customer base and refining the product offer. In fact we are still that now! It takes time for any business to really build a loyal following. I think we did that fairly quickly, thanks to lots of support from customers and fans; but as our products are quite niche there’s no way around it – it just takes time.
What or who in life inspires you?
Successful and honest entrepreneurs I find are inspiring. Hearing stories from those that have trodden a tough path but overcame many challenges to be a success. There are so many amazing stories from people like Orla Kiely to Maureen Wheeler – co-founder of Lonely Planet Guides who is from here!
What inspires me most is those people that are not just successful in money or business but that have created something they believe in.
There are so many talented designers and creators in Northern Ireland but what is it that you specifically look for when choosing stock for Refound?
Style, quality, and a good concept.
What aspect of the job do you love most?
Meeting great people and coming up with creative and usually quirky ideas!
What has been your proudest professional moment?
The first few sales of our pieces at the first pop-up in June 2010 was the most amazing feeling. I had created this idea from nowhere and suddenly I had a showroom full of amazing pieces and 150 people at the open day; AND they were selling. Great feeling.
I’m a huge fan of upcycled furniture and vintage homewares and like to create the vintage modern look in my home. For those people who are a bit more hesitant about buying older furniture, how would you advise them to get started?
Get some ideas first. Pinterest is a great tool for this; as are magazines like Living Etc. So have a bit of an idea of what you like i.e. an era perhaps, or a colour/style of wood or a piece. Go to car-boot sales & auctions, look on Gumtree – but do all with an open mind. If you can find something close to what you like, then maybe think about how your could GET it to be what you like such as painting it or sanding it back and waxing. But don’t be over-ambitious! So many times I bought things in the past, held on to them with all these great plans of restyling it, only to then still have it, as it was two years later!
What’s in store for you and Refound in 2014?
For me – its going to be quite a different year as I am expecting my first child in April. Luckily I have two fantastic girls working with me – Sarah and Georgia – so they will be keeping close eye on the store and running events and project over the next six months. I also have Chris, who works in our workshop and alongside, creates some of the re-purposed pieces we have in the shop.
We will be continuing to develop our newly launched website refoundonline.com where people are now able to purchase online!
How do you like to unwind?
Walking my dog Hobo by the sea. Having a hot bath. Watching a movie. Taking an extra hour in bed!!