The Genteel
April 17, 2021


Located on a busy street in downtown Dublin, designist has become a hub for the city's design community since it opened in November 2010. Photograph by Briana Palma.

One shop in Dublin has plenty to celebrate this summer.

Affordable design store designist is hosting UPROAR, a series of pop-up shops that kicked off on May 3 with Nutmeg Clothing, a local company that creates quirky - and often cheeky - t-shirts with a focus on sports. The series of eight 10-day pop-ups continues throughout the summer season, featuring Irish designers who are not currently stocked in the store.

designist dublin shop
Each product sold in designist 
is accompanied by a sign that 
highlights its design and function.
Photograph by Briana Palma.

Long-time friends and designist co-owners Barbara Nolan and Jennie Flynn organised UPROAR to continue to promote their shop as a design hub for the city. The pop-ups follow a number of well-received events held last summer, including a showcase of graduate projects from local design colleges. "By getting involved with designers and hosting parties and launches and things like that, we're creating our brand as an inclusive, Dublin-based brand," Nolan says.

Nolan and Flynn, who run the shop entirely on their own, saw UPROAR as a way to "roar" about local companies and designers. It is also an opportunity for them to test out potential new merchandise. "Inviting something in for a short, sharp blast was ideal," Nolan explains. "That was the idea behind it: get new stuff in every couple of weeks, and have something to celebrate and get excited about. Equally, it's not the basis of our business and we still have the regular shop running alongside it."

The "regular" shop stocks what Nolan describes as "stuff that makes your life a little bit nicer and a little bit better." Everything is functional and affordable with price tags of €100 or less. Nolan and Flynn opened designist in November 2010 after they both found themselves stuck in less-than-satisfying jobs with little hope for alternative employment due to the recession. By combining Flynn's background in design with Nolan's retail experience, they conceived of designist.

Since the beginning, the women have focused on building relationships with designers, showcasing their work and providing feedback from a retail perspective. "That's a really big element of the store - to try to prototype things and get people's feedback to the designers," Nolan explains. "A lot of the designers are really good at what they do but they don't know in the retail setting what's going to sell, what price point works for them and what people are actually interested in getting from the product."

designist uproar jennifer slattery
As part of UPROAR, Jennifer Slattery's 
textiles will be featured at 
designist through July 1.
Photograph by Briana Palma.

The honest feedback provided by Nolan and Flynn proved particularly valuable for Mint Design, a one-year-old studio that launched its first product line with UPROAR on May 24. Mark Gilroy, Brian Byrne and Jack Connolly set up Mint Design as a design consultancy in 2011 after graduating from Dublin's National College of Art and Design the year before. At the start of 2012, they decided to switch gears, putting their talent and energy into developing their own range.

The men of Mint got to know Nolan and Flynn simply by being active in Dublin's small design scene. Then in early April, the women presented them with the opportunity to participate in UPROAR. "We started speaking to them every so often about what we were doing," Gilroy recalls. "They were always very helpful and said, 'Listen, as soon as you have anything, bring it in to us and we'll help you with it.' From there they contacted us about the pop-up shop and it came just at the right time. … So it really came as a result of being involved in the design community. No designer can afford not to be involved, not to participate in dialogue with other designers in the scene [in Dublin], because it's just too small. It's completely counterproductive; you have to become involved in it."

Gilroy, Byrne and Connolly premiered their playful line of furniture, lamps and flowerpots with a party at designist. Likewise, each of the pop-ups kicks off with a launch party - an important element of UPROAR, as it allows designers to present their work and for family and friends to see it displayed in a carefully curated retail setting.

We would have found it so daunting to approach retailers and try and argue with them on margins and stuff like that, whereas [Nolan and Flynn] are just completely open to talking about margins. … It would be a lot harder without them. A lot harder.

At the end of their 10-day stint, Gilroy, Byrne and Connolly had "sold units of everything," gained a bit of confidence, as well as Nolan and Flynn's ever-important feedback to take with them as they begin to seek out retailers for their range. "designist has acted as a launching pad for us getting retailed," Gilroy says. "[Nolan and Flynn] are so approachable and involved in the design process. We would have found it so daunting to approach retailers and try and argue with them on margins and stuff like that, whereas the girls are just completely open to talking about margins. … It would be a lot harder without them. A lot harder."

Still, not all of the participants of UPROAR are presenting their work to the world for the first time. Textile designer Jennifer Slattery, whose pop-up runs through July 1, established her own business in April 2011 and since then has seen her products stocked in stores across Ireland, including the well-known gift shop Kilkenny and, most recently, Arnotts, a long-established department store in Dublin.

Using embroidery and digital imagery, Slattery creates textiles that are made to be both beautiful and practical. "I don't like being precious with things and I would hate to think people would be precious with anything they bought from me," she says. "I would hope people get enjoyment from using them and that they would have the pieces a long time."

Slattery describes her style as a combination of contemporary and vintage design that takes inspiration from her grandmother's house - now her own home - as well as cutlery and plates. Slattery acknowledges that while her range differs from the items typically stocked in designist, she happily accepted the offer to get involved in UPROAR. "I think for both of us it'll be interesting to see how my work sells in designist, because it's a little bit different in my opinion. They asked me if I would be interested and of course I jumped at the chance, because it's a great shop and it's in a fantastic location. And you're reaching a different audience, which is always a good thing."

designist uproar jennifer slattery
Textile designer, Jennifer Slattery,
centre, gathers with friends and family
at the launch of her pop-up on June 21.
Photograph by Briana Palma.

During Slattery's pop-up, designist will carry her printed table linens and lampshades, as well as limited edition Irish linen tray cloths that she made exclusively for UPROAR. The shop will also sell one-off mixed media Loominaire lights that Slattery created with locker13, a design duo based in Dublin's Malthouse Design Centre, where Slattery also has her studio. The collaboration, which she says was "a bit of fun," represents a larger trend amongst designers in Ireland. "There's a great deal of sharing in the design community in Ireland - sharing of information and sharing of contacts," Slattery explains. "It's been amazing to find that. I thought it would be more of a clique but it has been a pleasant surprise to learn that people are very open."

That willingness to help and grow together is also at the heart of designist and UPROAR. "We love stocking Irish stuff and shouting about Irish design," Nolan says. "It would be lovely to think that by Christmas we would be stocking a couple of the people [from UPROAR] and saying, 'Well, we did their pop-up and it worked so well that we took them on.' Because we're not elitist about the people we want to stock; we want to give people their hand up."



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