That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Karen Killen of The Country Clothing Co. in this week’s Women in Ag series.
“I am originally from Eglinton, Derry/Londonderry, and I moved to Newbuildings eight years ago when I got married.
We have since built a house on one of my husband’s out-farms in Eglinton and moved back at the start of this year.
I grew up on a family farm; my dad farmed alongside his four brothers. As well as being agricultural contractors, they were also dairy, sheep and arable farmers.
I married an agricultural contractor who farms alongside his five brothers, so talk about history repeating itself! They are also dairy, beef and arable farmers.
Before getting married, I had been working for a promotional clothing and merchandise company.
Six years on, and the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and I was made redundant. At the time, I was gutted, but now looking back, it was such a blessing.
I had two young children and had been working full-time, but I had always wanted to start my own business: however. I could see how this would ever be a possibility.
When the pandemic hit, the kids and I spent a lot of time on the farm, helping with calves or anything else that needed to be done.
The wives in our family have always been involved with catering for the contracting side of things, as there are usually large numbers of men to feed during the busy seasons, so we all take our turn each week to feed them.
I had previously started a clothing line for our family’s agricultural contracting business, and in doing so, realised how much agricultural clothing out there was geared towards men.
I had the idea of designing a clothing line solely for the ladies, something stylish enough to wear on and off the farm, as I know women wear many hats.
One minute they are on the farm, and the next, they are standing at the school gates.
Being made redundant was my push, a now-or-never situation. I had a background in the clothing industry and farm life is all I have ever known, so it just seemed fitting to join these two aspects of my life.
I put the feelers out to see what friends and family thought of my new venture; everyone was so encouraging and positive, so I went for it.
I started my online business – The Country Clothing Co. – from my kid’s playroom at our first house.
Then, when we finally got our planning passed to build in Eglinton, we moved to the home farm in Newbuildings and lived in the farmhouse with my husband’s father and younger brother.
We lived there for a year, while our house was being built, and I ran the business from my parent’s house in Eglinton.
A year into The Country Clothing Co. and it was doing very well; however, the unpredictability of a wage from day to day and in the current climate, along with building and paying for a house, had started to make me anxious.
Luckily, for me, my previous job had picked up again and had asked me to come back on a part-time basis.
I am a huge believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is the moment it turned full circle for me.
I knew it would be tough, but the fact that I could work while the kids were at school and have that financial security but also keep on running The Country Clothing Co. was the best of both worlds.
My second year of business was challenging, to say the least, building a house, living at the home farm, working for a company in the mornings and running my own business from my parent’s house in the afternoon with kids, but I knew my end goal was to run the business from home.
Juggling working two jobs and family life
Fast forward to this year, we have moved house again, into our forever home this time.
I currently run the business from home, which has made things a lot easier, although I am still trying to find the balance between working two jobs, the kids and the demands of being a farmer’s wife; however, I would not change it.
Having a supportive husband makes all the difference. He, too, works two jobs as well, so between us, things can get quite hectic, but one of us will always pick up the slack for the other.
We work well as a team and will always try and make each other’s life easier if we can.
Inspiration from social media
The inspiration for The Country Clothing Co. came from social media. I know there have always been women in agriculture; my granny on my mum’s side ran the family farm while my grandad was a digger contractor before he began to farm alongside her.
I did not know if it was the pandemic, but women in farming have never been so popular or promoted as it has in the last few years.
It is great to see, and as I have said before, when I was growing up, a girl wanting to farm would not have been taken seriously and probably is not in many cases today.
However, I think through social media, young girls are seeing that if you show up, put in the work and do what you love, you can do anything you put your mind to in any industry, male-dominated or not.
I grew up surrounded by a lot of strong women on both sides of the family, and I hope that example carries through to my daughter.
Out of comfort zone
The Country Clothing Co. has taken me out of my comfort zone many times and pushed me to do things I never imagined doing before.
It has given me many brilliant experiences and opportunities. I am independent to a fault sometimes, and I am reluctant to ask for help; however, I am very lucky that opportunities happen organically and that the range speaks for itself.
Also, I have developed everything from start to finish, from choosing the garments, designing the logos, designing and updating the website, the visuals, the socials, and the paperwork to the posting and packing and post office runs.
I have attended numerous agricultural shows over the past couple of years, which is something that I never envisaged myself doing.
It was something completely new to me, but two years on, and I love it. It is a great way to meet my customers in person and also introduce new customers to my clothing line.
I get asked a lot what my most popular logo is. The truth is there is not one more popular than the other.
It is so hard to gauge what to take to the shows as what is popular at one show is completely different at another; which is not a bad complaint.
The Country Clothing Co. has become a creative outlet for me, and I enjoy thinking of new products and logos to add to my range.
I hope to continue to develop a range of apparel and designs in the future. This venture has been one of my greatest achievements, and I know that no matter what, I will be able to look back with no regrets.”
To share your story, email – [email protected]