Zoe Carlin - one of the former Smyth & Gibson workers now employed by O’Neills - couldn’t be prouder that she is witnessing the connection of four generations of shirt-making in her family with the biggest television show of the decade.
Zoe says: “The jerseys look brilliant! They are lovely, vibrant colours. I can’t see them not flying off the shelves.
“My granny was born in Newcastle in England and, when her parents passed away, she moved here with an aunt and uncle who worked in factories - so, that’s where she started, too, then my mum and then me.
“I started when I was 17 but a few years ago I was made redundant and, by that time, there weren’t that many factories around so I worked in a call centre, but I got made redundant again. Then I worked in a fast food outlet before a friend from my factory days asked me would I come into Smyth & Gibson, so I went back to the shirtmaking but got made redundant for a third time after I’d been there for seven years.
“O’Neills came in very recently and got the factory going again. We started working on a few sports jerseys and then moved onto the ‘Derry Girls’ jerseys.”
Zoe, who will turn 40 later this year, is the ‘baby’ of 20 staff from across the North West who, between them, have more than 500 years of experience which could easily have been lost with the demise of the city’s textile industry.
Ironically, it has also proved more difficult to recruit factory floor staff given the volatility of the manufacturing sector in recent years.
Zoe says: “I am extremely positive about the future, I know that I’m not going to be made redundant any time soon. We’re small-scale at the minute but we’re going to grow into something bigger.
“Previously, I specialised in French seams, putting onsleeves, but now I’m getting to do a few different jobs, which I really enjoy. We are like a family, it’s a brilliant set of girls, we all work well together.
“When this opportunity came up with O’Neills, I felt I could potentially also be training up a new generation and that means something to me. I’m carrying on my granny’s tradition, it’s part of my family’s story. It’s been such a good experience and I’m grateful that Kieran Kennedy has given us a welcome helping hand after having taken some blows over the years.”
With a third series of ‘Derry Girls’ on its way, Zoe and her colleagues expect the order book for O’Neills’ bespoke new jerseys to be full for the foreseeable future.
The “Derry Girls” jerseys are on sale at the O’Neills Superstore in Waterloo Place, Derry, Strabane Superstore on the Dublin Road Industrial Estate and the Magherafelt Superstore in the Meadowlane Shopping Centre.
The full range is also available at www.oneills.com