A winning combination of real life and fictional “Derry Girls” is keeping the city’s famous shirt making tradition alive and well.
Sportswear giants O’Neills came to the rescue when Smyth & Gibson announced the closure of its Derry factory in May this year with the loss of 34 manufacturing jobs.
O’Neills, which employs more than 900 staff on the island of Ireland, immediately took on 20 workers who were facing redundancy from one of the last traditional hand-made shirt firms in Ireland and the UK.
Kieran Kennedy, Managing Director of O’Neills Irish International Sports Company Ltd, says he’s delighted with the decision to reopen the factory unit in the city’s Waterside.
O’Neills initially planned to add the staff to the 700-strong workforce at the sportswear company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing headquarters in Strabane.
However, they took the decision to help preserve the last remnants of Derry’s centuries’ old shirt-making tradition by breathing new life into the beautifully restored former railway station building at Victoria Road.
In a virtually seamless transition, staff have been busy working on an exciting new “Derry Girls” product range for O’Neills which opened its Derry superstore in the city centre at Waterloo Place just over a year ago.
The worldwide smash hit Channel 4 series, which is now also available on Netflix, is being immortalised in jerseys stitched by real-life Derry girls as O’Neills diversify their extensive sportswear portfolio in keeping with the latest trends in contemporary leisure attire.
The faces and catchphrases that have become so familiar to viewers of the award-winning TV show have been emblazoned on a collection of newly designed jerseys, attracting unprecedented levels of demand from fans.
The colourful new range includes the famous local colloquialism, “Catch Yerself on!”, quoted regularly by Erin O’Connor and “Wise Up!”, now synonymous with character Michelle Mallon. A jersey declaring ‘I’m a Derry Girl’ has an image of the four main characters and “the wee English fella”, and there is also one embracing Gaelic games, “Derry Hurls”.
Kieran Kennedy says O’Neills is very excited to be launching its new “Derry Girls” jerseys and keeping stitching alive in the city which was once Europe’s shirt manufacturing capital, employing thousands of mainly female workers.
He says the launch has attracted “unprecedented levels” of online and social media engagement and the new “Derry Girls” range is currently the most searched item on the O’Neills website.
“It has been our best seller since becoming available and, due to customer demand and success of the product, we are releasing kids size from 9/10 and 10/11 with men’s jerseys available soon also,” he says.
He adds: “It has been an exciting time for our business growth in the North West.
“We re-opened the factory in June, re-employing 20 of the existing staff and we are now launching our ‘Derry Girls’ jerseys which are also made in the city.
“In addition to the opening of our O’Neills sports superstore in Waterloo Place last year, this investment demonstrates our continued commitment to employment in the North West.
“We hope fans of the TV series will enjoy wearing the new jerseys as much as we have delighted in seeing them develop from design stage to the vibrant garments which are now proudly on display in our Derry, Strabane and Magherafelt superstores.”