Home and away... The man bringing all things Derry to the world
Ryan Clifford describes himself as ‘Derry City mad’, and judging by the success of his striking collection of Derry-themed artworks and wares he is not just talking about his devotion to the city’s football club.
You have probably seen Ryan’s work in homes, shops and restaurants across the town, but Derry Nice Things - the business he started a few years back from an earlier idea that really began took shape during the City of Culture year - has also been going global as local people send the art prints, cards, mugs and calendars to loved ones living across the world, while the merchandise is also popular with visitors to the city from across the world.
Speaking about how it all began, 40-year-old Waterside native and former St Columb’s College pupil Ryan told the Journal: “It had been kind of nagging at me for a few years, I had an idea maybe going back eight, ten years - I thought there was a wee bit of a gap in the market for Derry travel posters and Derry-based humour cards. The Derry humour has plenty of mileage in it, but it was just finding the time to do it.
“Then about five years ago I set about doing a bit of this and that just for myself to see how it would go . I had a picture in the house I had done and a few family members were quite complimentary of it and then a Christmas market came up in 2016 at Thornhill College. My nieces were at the school and they manned the market and it went really well, and then within a couple of weeks I contacted the Council because I knew the Christmas market was coming up and thankfully there was a place available on the reserve list and it just went from there.”
That first Christmas market stall experience is one Ryan is not likely to ever forget. “It just went a bit mental. I didn’t have enough stock, didn’t know how much I was going to sell so I was running out of stock every night then contacted the printer for more prints and getting whatever else to meet demand. It snowballed from there really.”
Ryan praised his sister and mother, both named Gerarda, and his wife Kathryn for their tireless help and support with developing the business. His sister Gerarda was also there helping out at that first Christmas market, and Ryan recalls how they were both taken aback by how well it went.
“We were looking at each other after a few hours because it was queued round the block. We didn’t have enough stuff, because when I was ordering before the market I was thinking, this could go any way and I didn’t want to shell out for 100 prints and only sell two.
“Once I knew then it wasn’t only my family, once people were coming and saying I wouldn’t mind hanging that on my wall, that was the wee confidence boost then I needed to take it to the next level and approach retailers, tourism providers.”
What’s more remarkable is that Ryan doesn’t really have an art background at all but was always drawn to the colourful, old vintage art of transport posters from years past, which inspired his own striking work. “There are some available of Derry, those old vintage travel posters, but not many.”
Speaking about the impact Derry’s City of Culture designation has had on perceptions and artistic endeavour locally, Ryan said: “There are more local artists and crafters since tapping into Derry as a product since Derry was put on the map so there has been some very good stuff that has come off the back of the City of Culture.”
The two busy periods of the year for Derry Nice Things would be the tourist season and Christmas, with a large part of the latter being local people sending off gifts to relatives living away from home. This year though, that demand has moved to another level completely.
“It’s gone mad this Christmas I think because there’s a lot of people who can’t get home so there is a lot of gifts, We’re sending a lot to America, and Europe and England. And then tourists as well, obviously there wasn’t much in 2020 but in years past obviously Derry is a real destination now,” Ryan said. “Shop local has really helped, people are more intent on helping local businesses. Derry was named the most generous city recently and it’s no surprise, the amount of people that would get in touch to support you rather than giving to a high street chain. This year has far and away been the busiest year we have ever had.”
Ryan said he was very thankful and grateful to have forged good relationships with local businesses and retailers, with his work stocked in the Visit Derry gift shop, No. 19 in the Craft Village, Checkpoint Charlie on William Street and Number 1, Guildhall Street.
The Brickwork restaurant in the town also kitted out their entire restaurant in Derry Nice Things artwork, which proved a real head turner and resulted in a boost in demand.
Another major successful collaboration has been with Derry City FC. “They have been class with us and have stocked our products now for about three years, and the Christmas pop up shop isn’t happening so people tend to be doing more online. These retailers have backed us from day one and stayed with us.
“I’m a big Derry City F.C. fan so the Derry stuff is a labour of love. I’m a mad football fan and I’ve a new range of Republic of Ireland coming and I could do the football stuff all day long.”
This Christmas the biggest hits have included the humorous ‘Ulster Says Snow’ Ian Paisley and ‘Gerry Merry Christmas’ Gerry Adams Christmas cards. “They have just flown, with orders from all over Belfast, England, America. I didn’t know how it would go, and I’ve sold out of them three times. And the Derry calendar is always very popular and the great thing about that is it has almost become part of fabric of Derry Christmas for some people.”
The colourful art prints, Derry City F.C. mugs and the Nadine Coyle mugs are also very popular, as are the new addition of the coasters.
As well as showcasing Ryan’s artwork, the calendars also list important anniversary dates in the history of the city month by month, which Ryan is constantly updating.
Looking forward to 2021 Ryan is already planning for some major developments in the new year, and despite how busy he has been this festive season, the ideas keep coming.
“The more you do it the more you realise what goes well, and I’ve a folder of projects to work through so there’s still loads in the pipeline....”