Sonya Lennon: ‘My best ever investment was a Chanel necklace I bought at auction after a few glasses of wine’

Sonya Lennon is an entrepreneur and fashion designer. Together with longtime friend Brendan Courtney, she presented the RTÉ show “Off the Rails” and created the clothing brand Lennon Courtney, currently available in Dunnes Stores.

Lennon is also the founder of WorkEqual, a non-profit group that encourages the economic independence of women who return to work. She lives in Dublin with her partner David Smith and their 17-year-old twins Evie and Finn.

What financial impact has the Covid-19 crisis had on you?

Initially, Lennon Courtney was badly hit when our online presence dropped off the Dunnes Stores site. It is very difficult when your business is invisible and you cannot connect with the customer.

There has been a fundamental decline in revenue and we have been very fortunate not to have been crucified with it.

Then we looked at the label, ripped it off and started over. We asked: ‘What do we stand for as a brand? What is our purpose? Why would anyone spend their hard earned money on this when this is all over? ‘

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We integrated all the advocacy work Brendan was doing for older people and what I was doing on inequality and it became part of who we are. Women have understood this.

The podcast came out, which was a way to connect our customer base with our values.

It all comes down to the Winston Churchill quote: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We’ve doubled down on the podcast and our third consecutive collection has just sold out at Dunnes.

Have you and your family taken steps to address the impact of inflation and the energy crisis on your family?

One important thing we did as a family during Covid was to renovate our home. The positive result is that our home is now much more energy efficient. But we have seen the cost of feeding a family of four rise and, in the company, the price of the garments has had to increase.

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During the renovation, we were incredibly lucky to have an amazing builder and architect with us and got a fixed price contract with the builder, which meant we didn’t have to deal with the weekly price hikes people are seeing now.

I can’t even imagine the cost of doing that remodel now. It took 10 months and we went back this summer.

What is the most expensive place you have ever visited?

For my 50th birthday, I took my family to India for three weeks. I curated them for MY birthday so I missed a makeup there! We spent two weeks in Rajasthan and then we went to Kerala.

It was a huge investment, but I wanted to travel with them. We spent four or five hours in a minibus, with no wifi for the kids, so it was a bonding experience!

Do you still carry cash?

No, which is terrible. I use Apple Pay. And I just left a hotel in Killarney where I was the main speaker – and I asked the hotel if they could accept a tip for my masseuse on my card, and they couldn’t, and I forgot to come back with the cash.

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Are you a spendthrift or a saver?

You know how some people say they’re an extrovert-acting-introvert? I am a cost saver.

I have my bank account open to automatically set aside money for savings – and in my early 20s, I was the first person my age I knew to have a pension. I did this even though I was self-employed and there wouldn’t be a lot of free money lying around.

Looking back, I think my father probably influenced me to take a pension. He worked in a bank, so he always had this “save half, spend half” mentality.

What was your best financial kill?

Buying a Chanel necklace at an auction house after a couple of glasses of wine. It happened about ten years ago and is now worth six times what I paid for it.


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