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The beautifully illustrated shop front of Mermaids and Dragons costume shop

People who know me will ask how (and why) on earth I started a business like this. I don’t have a manufacturing or textiles background but I do have a passion for learning and trying new things so life is never boring.

We were pretty clear about some of the things that were really important to us right from the start which made it easier but it has been a very interesting, and at times challenging, journey from design idea to finished product.

Superheroes

Our designs focus on Irish professions – we want our costumes to represent the people in our community who inspire us all to be responsible citizens and be part of our communities. There are lots of choices when it comes to superhero costumes but to us, some of the best superheroes walk amongst us. These are the people our children should have as role models. To make our designs are realistic as possible, we include as many details as we can into the costumes. These details matter. Allowing a child to be fully immersed in a role, with a realistic uniform, facilitates powerful imaginative-play and a child can truly adopt a persona they recognise and aspire to.

Not all fabrics are the same

Once we have settled on a rough design we need to source fabrics. We work with fabric manufacturers who supply the industrial workwear sector with Oeko-Tex certified cotton. To say they were “surprised” by what we intended to use the fabric for is a bit of an understatement. 240gsm cotton twill is not what typically goes into your high street costume. But, it was really important to us to use natural fibres that are breathable and comfortable enough to be worn all day as well as robust enough for regular laundering over the years.

The first test we start with, we check for colour durability and shrinkage. We have lost an awful lot of fabrics at this early stage but there is no point in moving forward with fabric if it is not going to stand up to repeated washing and tumble drying. It takes 40 wash cycles before we pass a fabric.

Next up is a flammability test. All of our costumes carry the CE mark and are tested to the standards in the EU Toy Safety directive. That means each of our fabrics is burnt in a lab and tested to ensure they comply with the strict standards. It is much easier to pass these tests if you use a cheaper polyester or polycotton blend that will burn slowly but leave a molten sticky mess. However, we work hard to minimise the amount of plastic we use so polyester is out (you really do not want to see or smell the sticky mess that is burnt polyester).

Our buttons all subjected to torsion and tension tests to make sure they can stand up to frequent use by little hands. The only product we currently have in the range that is not suitable for children under 3 years is our Garda cap. We take our duty of care pretty seriously.

Details matter

When it came time to specify the details- how the seams are reinforced, how the hems are rolled and the turned finish on the pockets, plackets, and collars we were met with disbelief. “These are only costumes” was a regular comment. We’d heard it many times before but these are not only costumes, they are mini-uniforms. The professions they represent, and the children who wear them with wide-eyed pride, deserve that care and attention to detail. We were so excited when we met a manufacturing team who understood our vision and who shared our focus for the details.

Learning through play

Play is the work of the child. Children don’t see learning as a structured formal thing that they have to do, they simply do it. We know that costumes are a gateway to imaginative-play. They are a gateway to rich learning. To support the immersive benefits of themed play we worked with early years educators to develop a suite of printable resources that work with our costumes to create a print-rich play area where children can become the Garda in their own Garda Station or Shopkeeper in their own supermarket. The resources are free to download in our themes section.

Ask the children.

The (nearly) final step in development -we sent our finished costumes off to groups of children to get their feedback on the design, the fit, the size, the comfort and to test just how durable they are. Of course, there were some tweaks to be made but after months of design, development and testing we could finally see the children’s joy as they transformed into little Vets, Chefs, Firefighters and Gardaí before our eyes. Today that is still by far my favourite part of the job- seeing the joy that our little uniforms bring.