Saturday, November 12, 2016

Gail's Rails for Everywoman

Sometimes it takes a crisis to trigger a life direction change, writes Brian Byrne. For Gail Murphy, that's absolutely true.

It came suddenly, this year. An unanticipated family illness cascaded into a situation where her husband was in hospital for a long period, unable to work in their corporate clothing business. With income to the household reduced seriously, Gail had to up her own personal business game.

Since 2007 that had been 'Crafty Couture', a very local alterations, handcrafted embroidery and gifts enterprise based on her love of, and experience in, clothing and textiles. It allowed her operate from home, so she could be there for her young children. But there were downsides.

"It was a very lonely job, on my own here all day. Customers might drop stuff in, but they were always on the run. It was getting me down. I'm the kind of person who needs to be meeting people." The pressing need to earn more while her husband was ill was a further encouragement for her to move her business horizons much further out.

As it happened, in 2014 Gail had returned to college and completed a Personal Stylist course, and realised that she had found a career that she really enjoyed and which involved the fashion industry. The difficulty was finding a way to reach customers.

"I decided that if someone wanted to hire me as a personal stylist, they'd have to know, and like, my own style interests first. So during this summer I started a fashion blog on Facebook, Gail's Rails."

Well, that seemed to hit a chord with a lot of women, and in just 14 weeks, Gail had garnered more than 8,300 followers to Gail's Rails. The core ethos of the blog is to 'spend less and wear more', and provide the kind of advice and help that eliminates the 'impulse and regret' buying which can often stuff wardrobes with unworn and unsuitable clothing.

The blog provides basic tips on mix and match, on choosing colours that work for different people, and styles that suit different ages and more. Over the years Gail has developed relationships with ladies shops and boutiques, and she now visits them regularly, picking out items and combinations to photograph and showcase on Gail's Rails. Often modelling the clothes herself, 'because that way they see things on a real woman instead of a mannequin or model'. "It's like bringing the boutique to my followers without them having to leave their home."

One of the features Gail has developed is 'Outfit of the Day' ideas, which can include inspiration images in how to put an outfit together. It's key that she will only showcase products and boutiques that she believes in, clothes that she would wear herself. "Items that are good buys that will be beneficial to a capsule wardrobe, while always staying true to my style."

The blog is more than one way, though, and that's the important part. Even in the short time it has been live — and Gail's Rails will be moving to her own custom domain space on the internet in January — followers are becoming customers, hiring Gail to help them shop in person and find the styles that suit them. "I also provide a wardrobe assessment of their present clothes, and I'll analyse their most suitable style and colour features."

In addition, Gail has been contracted by boutique owners to help them devise more attractive shop display and layout to improve sales. Already well qualified in such things through the original corporate clothing business, Gail is also currently completing an advanced diploma in Fashion, Styling and Image Consulting. "This will help me open up new channels through various media, including television."

It's a long way from when she first became interested in fabrics and textiles. That all started when she was about eight. She remembers her grandmother, who first taught her to knit and crochet, being 'my inspiration'. "Later I went to the Presentation sisters in Terenure, and they taught me how to sew. I loved the nuns, when it came to teaching the basics in life, they were so patient." All this was the start of a lifelong love affair with crafts and fabrics.

But now her life is at another stage, almost a dozen years after she and her family moved to Kilcullen. "I have more years of experience under my belt, and I think the timing is right for me, now, at 39 years of age. I'm sharing that experience, and my tips, with my followers, to help them be even more the confident, beautiful women that they already are."

Although it took a family crisis for her to change gears — an apt metaphor, as Gail comes from a long-established family in the motor trade — one can't help thinking that this move was inevitable anyhow.

This article was first published on the Kilcullen Page of the Kildare Nationalist.