Sonya Lennon: ‘Shuttering a business that had taken a €1m investment, letting go 17 staff and closing two offices was not a party’
The stylist and entrepreneur on Lennon Courtney’s new partnership with Kilkenny Design, the challenges of running a business, and the one mantra she lives by
How do you know when a relationship has run its course? Most would say it’s when both sides want different things. But what about when there’s a successful business and a legion of loyal customers at play?
Or so was the predicament facing design duo Sonya Lennon and Brendan Courtney, when they decided to end their seven-year Lennon Courtney Partnership with Dunnes Stores earlier this year.
“We realised that both parties wanted different things..but we had to think very carefully about ending a partnership that had been very successful and positive. Coupled with the business decision, there are people and relationships to consider and that made the decision very tough,” Lennon told Irish Tatler.
Ultimately, the pair had their sights set on scaling, and so the line was drawn: “For any business partnership to flourish, there has to be alignment of ambition. We really believe in the potential for Lennon Courtney to become a significant export business..and Brendan and I have always wanted to expand into homewares,” she added.
A chance encounter with Evelyn Moynihan, CEO of Kilkenny Group, set their next plan in motion and last month, the pair announced their collaboration with the design store.
“They are growing the local Irish market while scaling into the US and UK with a unique proposition into which Lennon Courtney fits perfectly.
“This ambition also sees us leverage local makers and crafters with exclusive collaborations. We are developing a home fragrance, jewellery and seasonal collections too; it's a creative playroom.”
A first look at the collection was revealed this week; called Natalis, it consists of ready to wear, homewares and accessories in earthy colours drawn from our natural landscape. “Natalis, meaning birth or beginning and draws on our Pagan past. The clothing is rich and elegant, beautifully made and sensual.
“The collection is an ode to the land and the sea. It spills into beautiful cushions, throws, ottomans and tableware. The accessories line consists of bags and wallets in sustainable vegan leather and printed hats and scarves,” Lennon said.
And while most will know Lennon for her broadcast and fashion styling career, the multi hyphenate is also the host of her ‘Driving Progress’ podcast; the founder of social enterprises WorkEqual and LIFT Ireland; and a regular keynotes speaker.
What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome and what did it teach you?
Shuttering a business [Frock Advisor, which matched small boutique owners with customers looking for particular items] that had taken an investment of a million euro, letting go seventeen staff and closing two offices was not a party. It was brutal and devastating but we learned so much.
I learned that you can sell people what they want, but not necessarily what they need. I learned that people fail all the time and the world keeps turning. Ultimately, nobody really cares, they’re too busy living their lives.
Do you have a mantra or an ethos that you live by?
I believe in the magnetic power of the positive. I refuse to not keep getting up. I strongly feel the power of helping others (through my work with Work Equal and LIFT Ireland) that stuff gives back fuel for the soul. I believe in fun and I believe in dancing.
What are you reading and listening to this month?
I've just finished listening to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ podcast Wiser Than Me and Dr Katriona O’Sullivan’s searing book Poor. Now, I’m in the middle of The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The thoughts of doing something are 100 times scarier than actually doing it.
What do you like most about your ‘Driving Progress’ podcast?
I am always curious about what drives people to keep pushing forward. It all comes down to how we lead ourselves and others, so many learnings are transferable.
You have written about the ‘squiggly career path’ before; can you explain what this means for you?
I mean that nothing is linear, not parenthood, not career, not health, life is just not that simple. Many of the biggest challenges that I have faced have created the greatest opportunities. There’s very little learning when everything is going great.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my resilience, my businesses, my adult children, and my key relationship which I will do anything to protect.
The first AW23 Lennon Courtney x Kilkenny Design collection will arrive online and in selected Kilkenny Design stores from 26th October. Customers can sign up online at kilkennydesign.com