The most varied and vibrant event series on Dublin’s design scene, Ladies, Wine & Design (LWD) mixes social with professional, cracking the capital-wide open and encouraging its female talent to burn bright.
Founded in New York in 2016 by Jessica Walsh, this creative networking group has since spread to over 120 cities across 50 countries. In Dublin, the monthly get-togethers were started by graphic designer, Meagan Hyland and Aileen Carville, tech CEO and fashion and communications pro. The pair met after LWD New York put out a call for someone to start chapters in other cities, and both pitched Dublin as a new location.
The women either go to different industries, they go into motherhood or client services… or they simply disappear
“Jessica wanted to set up something to champion female mentors for female designers up-and-coming in the industry. There’s a ridiculous split: there are a lot of women in college studying graphic design, and a lot of juniors, but for some reason, when you get to the top tier of companies – it flips. It’s all men,” explains Meagan. “The women either go to different industries, they go into motherhood or client services… or they simply disappear.”
Aileen nods. “People say the gender imbalance, it’s a myth, it’s not a thing – but you look around, and it’s like, yeah, but you can do more to address it; maybe pushing another female instead of having another lad up on stage. It’s important that young designers coming out of college will see someone like them who represents where they’re coming from.”
We have a lot of speakers who want to come back and be guests
Aside from the single-sex policy, what sets LWD apart is the range of disciplines covered by their talks. The group has hosted nights on illustration, publishing, entrepreneurship, tutoring and brand identity, with plans and talks in the pipeline for everything from 3D printing to animation and advertising. With no budget to speak of, LWD Dublin relies solely on social media and word of mouth to spread their message. And it seems to be working – every session books out within hours, if not minutes, and the need for a cancellation list was soon established. Word quickly spread that, behind the work and the wine, there’s a little bit of heart.
“We’re not there for ourselves; we’re there to accommodate a meetup with interesting speakers, interesting topics, and assemble a nice group of women. We have a lot of speakers who want to come back and be guests – so they really enjoy it,” says Aileen. Speakers like journalist, Róisín Agnew and fashion director, Aisling Farinella bring with them a wealth of experience, as well as natural empathy with LWD’s philosophy of encouragement, inspiration and reassurance.
There’s incredible respect for the new generation coming and the generation that did all that dirty work before they arrived
“And it’s not all younger women – we’ve grads, postgrads, young women working in the first job, maybe in their second job; then we’ve got more senior creative directors from agencies, and it is amazing. These younger women are taking absolute fantastic soundbites from more experienced women; these women are not delivering a kind of, ‘I know better, and in my day…’ – there’s none of that condescension, that, ‘oh I’ve been around much longer than you’. There’s incredible respect for the new generation coming and the generation that did all that dirty work before they arrived and have made the workplace a bit more pleasant or a bit more equal.”
The pair is proud of the community that has built up around them. Established just three months after the LWD was set up in New York, Dublin is considered “a bit of a success story”, smiles Meagan. A Belfast chapter has recently formed, with interest expressed across the island; the Dublin duo will soon host an education-centric LWD meet-up in Limerick School of Art and Design. They’re open to hitting the road to anywhere, with the hope that cities like Cork or Galway might be inspired to set up chapters. If the reception in Dublin has been anything to go by, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.
“I think one of the best parts is that now we’re getting interest from so many agencies and more and more people know who we are, people want to host us, so venues are never a problem,” says Meagan. “It is better hosting the speakers in their environment, because they’re more comfortable, and they can show examples and give little takeaways. And we prefer keeping the intimate setting because quieter people get to contribute.”
We don’t set any agenda about ‘them and us’, as in men and us, never. We are all equals in our eyes
The question of whether “women only” translates to “anti-men” is met with a laugh, followed by the names of a handful of male allies whose support they have welcomed and encouraged. Their mutual respect for John Paul Dowling and Alex Milton of NCAD and Richard Seabrooke, Creative Director of ModernGreen, is clear. “We’re just giving a platform to the women who are sidelined,” says Meagan.
Aileen agrees. “It’s not like we’re competing with any of them – there’s enough room for everybody. We keep it all very much open and fluid. We don’t set any agenda about ‘them and us’, as in men and us, never. We are all equals in our eyes, and that’s the tone that we set.”
As for what the future holds? “The ambition is just to keep it healthy, keep it growing, keep it interesting, keep it relevant.”