‘It’s hard to find a good jacket for your dog’
2008-12-18 14:53:57 -

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s Meet The Boss, Viktor Posudnevsky speaks to Maija Bernat, owner of the Studio M tailoring business in Dublin city

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s Meet The Boss, Viktor Posudnevsky speaks to Maija Bernat, owner of the Studio M tailoring business in Dublin city

‘It’s hard to find a good jacket for your dog’

With her business booming, professional dressmaker Maija Bernat is turning to new forms of tailoring – like making clothes for canines. “Dogs are the best clients,” laughs Bernat, originally from Lithuania. “They never complain.”
Bernat spotted a gap in the market and now has three regular canine customers. She takes their measurements at her shop in central Dublin and makes various garments for them. “It’s quite hard to find a good jeans jacket or a good leather jacket for your dog in Dublin,” she observes. “It can be a real problem for pet lovers.”
Bernat started her own tailoring and alterations company, Studio M, in March this year, and says that trade is going well, especially during this Christmas season. The lively Lithuanian first came to Ireland three years ago without any experience in running a business. She was, however, a very experienced dressmaker, and this was enough to land her a job in a Dublin tailoring shop.
“The owners were very nice to me,” she says. “I had no English at the time, but they believed in me and after a while I could speak the language and was friendly with a lot of customers.”
After two years at the shop, Bernat started dreaming of running her own tailoring company. “I saw that it was a good business and I wanted to give myself a try,” she says. Her bosses supported her and helped set up what is now Studio M.
One can see how people quickly take to Bernat – she has a warm, bubbly personality and seems to really appreciate her customers, some of whom pop in and out as she talks to Metro Éireann at her shop.
When she started out, Bernat says she only catered for Lithuanian and Russian-speaking customers due to her location in the same building as Kazak, a popular eastern European shop. But now up to half her clientele is Irish. How was she able to attract such a large Irish following – something most immigrant-run businesses are struggling to achieve?
“It’s all word-of-mouth publicity,” she replies. “I think it’s the best form of advertising in Ireland. You do a good job for somebody and then they return to you and tell their friends about you.”
Bernat has also engaged in more proactive promotional campaigns, which have yet to prove fruitful. She says large department stores like Marks & Spencer and Clerys usually employ small independent dressmakers like herself to make alterations to their clothes to suit their customers’ figures – and a contract with any of these stores would mean a great business boost for Bernat. However, despite her many attempts she has so far been unable to secure an agreement.
“They don’t tell me no, but they don’t give me work either,” she says. “I think there is a bit of mistrust on their part and they’re just waiting to see if I’m still around in a year’s time.” 
She is determined to keep trying, but in any case, this Christmas she finds herself inundated with work. Bernat have even had to employ an additional tailor to cope with all the orders.
She presently does not feel the onset of recession, although many of her friends and acquaintances do, and believes her services can actually help people save money.
“A lot of women are now buying very cheap dresses at Christmas sales and then they take them to me,” she says. “I tailor the dresses to suit their figures and add a few titbits if they ask me to. For them it turns out much cheaper than buying a readymade dress.” Increasing numbers of customers are coming to her to mend their old clothes.
Bernat believes Ireland is a good country for doing business and often compares it to her native Lithuania. “It’s much harder to start in Lithuania,” she says. “You have to pay a lot of taxes and duties. Here you only have to pay €20 to register and then you don’t have to worry about taxes until you’ve finished a year in business.”
According to her, the main problem for immigrant entrepreneurs is the lack of information on the various support structures in existence. She would also like to get to know more people who work in the dressmaking business. 
“I believe in Ireland personal contact is vital if you want to grow you business. But where can I find those personal contacts?”

Would you like to have your business profiled? E-mail news@metroeireann.com

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