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Clothing and footwear. An Ireland retail perspective

Published: November 2000

Topline Summary 

Market size

The retail clothing market in Ireland was worth IR£3.4bn in 1999, or £2.7bn sterling at retail prices, and has grown by 59% since 1995.The Republic’s clothing market has almost doubled in size within that period (+75%), while NI has grown 27%.

The high growth in the clothing market can be explained by the increasing amounts of imports (+45% in 5 years) coupled with the UK multiples continued expansion in the Irish market.

Northern Ireland accounts for Stg£0.7bn at retail prices or 26% of the total market, against IR£2.5bn in the Republic.

The market is forecast to grow by 19% end of 2001 with the market in the Republic projecting 20% growth against 16% in Northern Ireland.


The largest segment of the Irish apparel market is ladieswear which accounts for almost IR£1.1bn in 1999, or 33% of total sales. Within ladieswear a number of significant sub segments exist including knitwear, casualwear, tailoring, teen high fashion and outsize. These are addressed in the relevant sections.

Menswear is worth IR£756m or 22% of the market. Footwear accounts for a further 18% or IR£619m, and childrenswear, lingerie and accessories follow with 14%, 8% and 5% respectively. 

Product trends

In general terms, Irish fashion has integrated with European and international trends. It has become increasingly difficult to define an Irish look, beyond the obvious stereotypes of Aran sweaters and tweeds.

In the last 3-4 seasons the directional trends have been less structured – in other words soft tailoring, casual, layering, uncoordinated clothing has displaced the tailored co-ordinated look.
This trend is true of womenswear, menswear and childrenswear.


Irish manufacturers share of the home market is estimated to be between 10-12% in 1999/2000 or between IR£350-400m at retail prices, with the balance of supply being imported. According to LEDU and Enterprise Ireland, there are an estimated 350 firms (north and south) involved in the sector, and the majority are small family owned and managed business.

Despite the buoyant market conditions, design capability, skills shortages and escalating labour costs remain key barriers to the development of the clothing sector on both sides of the border. 


The UK multiples have a 65% share of the NI retail clothing market and further scope for expansion is thought to be limited. By contrast the UK multiple share of the Republic’s clothing market is much smaller at 30%, with the balance of trade being shared between Irish multiples (Dunnes, Sasha, etc) and independent retailers.

‘Quality and value for money (not price) are the main criteria we use in selecting suppliers.' Dunnes Buyer

Advertising and marketing

Irish clothing retailers are the biggest spenders on advertising. Total expenditure grossed over IR£5m in 1999.

Key channels include the women’s fashion magazine press and some limited TV advertising by both multiples and larger independents to promote special events.

Web site development by both manufacturers and retailers is still in its infancy.

By comparison with European/American brands, Irish brand support at the point of sale (display, merchandising units and promotional brochures) is limited or non-existent.

Future opportunities

The outlook for clothing retailing in Ireland remains positive with 19% growth projected to 2001.The best prospects are in ladieswear, childrenswear and accessories.

During the research period the following opportunities were identified. 

  • Knitwear – both contemporary and traditional design influenced styles have further development potential in both fabric and format.
  • Special occasion wear –for the 25-50 year old age group in contemporary ranges and more expensive fabrics. Brands should be aimed at the independent middle market retailer.
  • Strongly branded Irish based menswear or womenswear lines have potential provided they are manufactured competitively and are well supported from a design, marketing and distribution perspective.
  • Mid to high end children’s brands.
  • Classic bags, leather goods and accessories/luggage which can draw on equestrian/traditional heritage.
  • Other accessories such as silk/handprinted scarves, specialist hosiery, and better end lingerie/nightwear lend themselves to the Irish supply base capability.
  • Functional clothing such as wax jackets, fleeces, fisherman’s smocks, hats and shawls have in-built credibility with a made in Ireland label and have export as well as domestic market appeal.


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