Text by Georgina Downes

Photography by Johanna Simon

The Party Season Is Coming Up – Ladies, Effigy has you’re back.

Of all the boutiques in Tralee, Effigy is possibly one of the cutest and most boho-chic. From its lovely arched windows to its painted wooden floor, it oozes a charm and style, much like the clothes on the rails.

Browsing around, I spot a long, zip-up hoodie, perfect for over skinny jeans. The pattern is definitely gorgeous and a little bonkers; a generous splash of little red apples, some with bites taken out. Tasty. When I hold it up, I’d swear a happier me is staring back from the mirror! And that’s the thing about Effigy; the collection of clothes will actually lift your mood; in fact, clothes to make you smile.

The shop stocks an eclectic mix of quality labels, including Oui, WhiteStuff, French Connection, Compania Fantastica, Minueto and Olga Berg bags. The space, although packed with choice, feels fresh and airy. Feast your eyes on a plethora of colours and designs, mix and match skirts and tops, blouses, coats and pants for all occasions. It’s the sort of boutique that you try something on, something you thought you might never wear and end up having one of those eureka moments, asking yourself why you never tried this style or colour before. There’s always the promise that you’ll leave with a brand-new-you in a bag.

Effigy has been trading in Tralee for 20 years and Niamh Hanley has been in charge for the past 12. Her route to self-employment wasn’t exactly text book. She had never studied commerce and had no previous business experience, but, having trained and worked as a chef, she found the world of catering just wasn’t doing it for her anymore so when the opportunity to buy Effigy presented itself, she jumped.

“I thought about it for maybe two months and then made my decision. I used to come in here all the time so I was very familiar with the place. I like fashion, I was ready for a change so I figured why not?”

Was it difficult getting thrown in at the deep end like that?

“I had to hit the ground running,” Niamh laughs. “But I was younger so I wasn’t fazed, but it was definitely a steep learning curve,” she admits. “We worked hard. When I took over, we still had about two months left in the season so things were fine in the short term. It was a smooth handover but obviously as the new season approached I had to think about buying for the coming season.”

How do you go about choosing new stock?

“I buy what appeals to me, really, what I think will sell. Some Reps, French Connection for instance, come to us. The bulk of our stock comes from Fashion City in Dublin.” Fashion City is a collection of wholesale warehouses in Tallaght, specialising in clothes and accessories.

The fashion industry is very much weather-dependent. Niamh explains that warmer weather brings shoppers out in droves.

“Last summer, when the weather was amazing, we were bringing stock down from storage: tee shirts, light skirts, that sort of thing. They flew out the door. This summer was a completely different story so yes, the Irish weather can make buying ahead tricky.”

Niamh’s personal style is unstructured, layered, dash of colour here and there. I ask if fashion is her passion.

“I Used to be obsessed with magazines, Vogue and Tattler, but I’m too busy now working in the shop and then I have a three year old at home. But I love style. Classic style especially. I love vintage, 1920 and 1940s. I’d get inspiration from shows like Madmen and Call the Midwife.”

Effigy takes part in various fashion shows throughout the year and funnily enough, the most challenging thing for Niamh is finding woman to model the clothes.

“It’s not easy! When I ask my clients they’ll often volunteer their teenage daughters but that’s not exactly my demographic so I have to beg them! But it all works out in the end.”

Retail is a tough gig these days and shops increasingly need to do more to compete with online shopping. Niamh has a sunny resilience that shines through.

“I took a digital marketing course last year,” she tells me, laughing and throwing her eyes up to heaven. “I thought it was going to be a few hours a week but it turned out to be full-on with homework and assignments and I spent hours in college at night!”

Was it worth the hard slog?

“Absolutely. I learned so much and you have to have a strong, digital presence nowadays.”

Who is the typical customer in Effigy?

“We have a really wide demographic. Teachers, for instance, who need to be smart for work but not necessarily dressed in a suit. Ladies who like quality clothes, ladies who like to look different and busy ladies who want a good, long-sleeved dress – just pull it on and you’re ready to go, outfit complete. My customers generally like style, individuality, and they like colour.”

What about weddings?

“We do what I’d call wearable wedding gear. A great dress that you can wear again and again. That’s quite a big thing now, up-cycling your wardrobe. Stocking up with key pieces. People like to think they can get a lot of use from one item; just change it up with a different belt or scarf maybe. Conscience buying is becoming more and more popular.”

So, what are five great key pieces you can buy tomorrow at Effigy?

“A good pair of black trousers, preferable pencil leg. We have some lovely ones in stock now. Everyone should have a long, smart, tailored coat for special occasions. With Christmas coming up, a flattering day-dress is a must. I find my customers want to be comfortable yet smart on Christmas day, not in pyjamas. A nice leather jacket never goes out of style and is a great investment piece. We have a gorgeous, delicate, green one in store right now. And finally, a flattering pair of jeans. Slip on a blouse and a pair of heels and you’re good to go! Oh, and if you really want to push the boat out, a cashmere sweater will take you anywhere.”

I, for one, definitely want to push the boat out. Santa, are you reading this?