WearingIrish, the story of an American dream
This post was republished by Thrive Global.
How a corporate success used her unique passions, skills and identity to uncover her heart-centered purpose.
WearingIrish was created by my ex-boss, Margaret Molloy. Margaret has always been a mystery to me. I first caught wind of her when I was interning at Siegel+Gale, the firm where I worked directly out of college. I’d hear her distinctive Irish accent waft out of the large conference rooms where, as a young intern, I felt like the grownups made important decisions.
When I was hired as Margaret’s marketing writer and assistant, I made it my mission to figure her out. If you know anything about me, you know this is my greatest passion. I love learning about people’s past, observing the decisions they make, analyzing how they interact with others and, as a result, hypothesizing about their strengths and weaknesses as well as where they gain confidence and what their limiting beliefs are. So as I started to work with Margaret, I rolled up my sleeves and got working.
To this day, I feel Margaret can both be predictable in some areas and wildly unpredictable in others. Working closely with her, I knew her writing style and quirks, likes and dislikes, favorite restaurants, even her social security number. I spent 8+ hours a day with her, five days a week. But I never felt I truly understood her until she started WearingIrish.
After growing up on a dairy farm in Ireland where she was taught that “hard work will set you free,” she secured herself a position with an Irish organization in the U.S., made her way to NYC and a few years later started at Harvard Business School. Steadily climbing up the corporate ladder, Margaret has gained a reputation as a force of nature.
Standing 5’2” with a petite frame, Margaret is wildly charismatic. Easily commanding the presence of a room of Mad Men-esque CEOs, as well as conference halls filled with hundreds, Margaret’s reputation holds true.
In many ways, Margaret’s done all the “right” things throughout her life. After making her way to the big apple on her own dime, she succeeded in the corporate world, went to Harvard Business School, married a successful man and is raising two ambitious young boys who she adores on New York’s Upper East Side. She has the apartment, the travel, the wardrobe and the Cartier watch. But what remained unclear to me for a while was, what makes Margaret tick? What’s her why? WearingIrish gave me insight into Margaret’s heart-centered purpose.
Let me start off by saying that the answer, as it often is, had been sitting right under my nose. As her assistant, I was responsible for Margaret’s calendar, which, let me tell you, was booked down to the 15-minute time slot. Floods of requests came in daily from people (CEOs, CMOs, students and young professionals) asking for even 10-minutes of Margaret’s time. To my surprise, Margaret faithfully responded to people’s requests, especially the young Irish who were looking for help in their careers. I’d email these young Irish professionals on her behalf, people who had just arrived in New York. They reminded me of Margaret arriving in the U.S. years earlier with not much besides her sense of hustle.
I’d see Margaret beckon these enthusiastic young professionals into her office. When they emerged, she inevitably had someone relevant to connect them with. A handful even joined our team. Americans have been doing this for centuries. Those who have come and established themselves here in America have historically made themselves available to help other immigrants from their country, hoping to ease the transition to this new life in the land of promise. If they had a shop, they might go out of their way to hire the young boy who had just arrived from their hometown in Russia. Or they’d take in a distant cousin that they’d never met, just because. Margaret was the same, and gained deep satisfaction helping these hopeful young Irish immigrants. I soon learned that her vision extended beyond helping a handful of individuals.
One of the things I find most intriguing about Margaret is that marketing is her passion. Her animation and charisma take full force when she’s discussing all things marketing plans, PR initiatives and content. So when, for fun, she started an Instagram campaign where she’d post photos of herself wearing Irish fashion designs, I didn’t think much of it. Even in her free time, it seemed, Margaret wanted to be a marketer. It was unusual and intense to be sure but, you know, so is Margaret!
One day I asked her why she started WearingIrish in the first place. As you may know, March is Irish-American heritage month, or so says Margaret. One March, while attending an Irish-American heritage event, Margaret admired the outfit of a prominent Irish-American woman. When she asked what she was wearing, Margaret was surprised to find she listed all European and American designers. In this moment, Margaret identified a missed opportunity to share the abundance of creativity that comes out of Ireland each year.
In a very Margaret fashion, she took on the responsibility of telling this untold narrative. This is how WearingIrish was born. “As the creator of WearingIrish,” she writes, “I help Irish fashion designers tell their stories. And in so doing, my vision is to uplift all Irish industry, business and talent by positioning Ireland as a creative nation.”
As Margaret astutely observes, “we’re in a moment where people are desirous of connecting with brands that speak to them—brands that have a story to tell. Ireland is filled with designers that do exactly that: create products brimming with provenance, authenticity and quality.” Irish fashion is a wonderful response to the current eagerness to shop consciously.
Last week, WearingIrish hosted a documentary television screening of Snáithe, the story of Irish fashion. In the show, creator and director Ciara Nic Chormaic explores the history of Irish fashion. She tells the story of Lady Aberdeen, a Scottish author and philanthropist who, upon noticing the incredible lace that was created by women across Ireland, promoted Irish lace in an effort to improve the Irish economy. To do this, she organized an Irish exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, which contained, among other things, a selection of Irish crafts and crafts workers, including 40 young Irish craftswomen. After this, a depot for the Irish Industries Association was established in Chicago. Aberdeen also played a part in developing Irish lace schools across the island to help women develop a craft in financially unstable times.
This reminded me of WearingIrish, which, last summer brought over a select group of Irish fashion designers to share their goods and stories with the American market. One designer, Alison Conneely, particularly benefited from this because, as a result of WearingIrish, her designs are now being sold in Bloomingdale’s. Now all WearingIrish-promoted designers have secured American patrons and have deals in process.
This brings me back to the question, who is Margaret Molloy? From what I can tell, Margaret is someone who saw an opportunity to use her unique passions, skills and identity—her passion for marketing, her talent for connecting and her identity as an Irish immigrant and American businesswoman—to create something new, do work that lights her up and help others in the meantime.
It’s important to note that Margaret didn’t go looking for this opportunity to create WearingIrish. The idea came to her and then she took up the call, or rose to the occasion. I encourage you to do the same when some such idea comes to you.