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Sinead Shannon Roche, the other side of fashion Fashion - 28 January 2016

Welcoming us to her open and bright Brussels workshop, occupied that day by three of her five employees, Sinead Shannon Roche, the brain behind the up-and-coming bag brand Versa Versa - "as opposed to vice versa" - is an entrepreneur who has found her feet and her niche. Her brilliant and visionary mind is combined with classy simplicity. There is something of the "best friend" about her, but whatever it is, there is no doubt that it is endearing her to the world of fashion.

Brilliant and versatile

After graduating in journalism, this young jack-of-all-trades first worked in this field before venturing into the film industry. "I had no idea how things worked. I didn’t even know that you needed an agent. I just went for it: I honestly think that you need a dash of recklessness when starting anything. "This same recklessness was also what sparked Versa Versa, her brand of chic bags with a luxury look and interchangeable covers. In 2012, her film career was stalling and, not being one to sit there twiddling her thumbs, this young woman for whom “discovery is (the) best adrenaline", decided to launch a new project. "I had seen so many actresses often changing their bag according to their outfit. Unconsciously, it must have influenced my idea." One day, she took a piece of paper – that she keeps framed in the workshop – and scribbled the outline of a bag with interchangeable covers. After getting the thumbs up from her entourage, she headed for Morocco, discovered a leather factory, had her first prototype made and returned to Belgium with this "baby" under her arm. Versa Versa was born.

Creation and expansion

The project quickly got underway. Her participation in Starter, the RTBF show for budding entrepreneurs, paved her way into the world of business and opened the doors to a fashion world she knew little about. This was followed by the trade fairs, one to start with and then a second, which saw Galeries Lafayette offering to distribute her bags. Everything went very quickly, almost too quickly and she decided to join forces with Laetitia Fabioni, a French woman with experience in fashion – thanks to her work as a store manager - and the perfect counterpart to Sinead’s energy. "I just rush in headlong and she takes time to think. Finding the right partner is paramount; no one can do it alone. You need to trigger exchanges, rely on someone who will think of things you would not think of on our own.” Today, the young entrepreneur is not only part of this winning duo but at the head of a small team (communication, sales, graphic design, press relations and design).

The right product

Surrounding yourself with a good team is crucial in a company like this. Once the go-getting recklessness of the early days pales, you have to have a strong head on your shoulders. "The world of fashion is intimidating, intense and demanding. The market is flooded. Lots of us want to succeed in this world so you must be able to move mountains to be seen." And for that, there are two imperatives. A high-quality product. And a relevant way of presenting it. "Yes, the product is essential. It must be good, innovative, intelligent. But the marketing is important, too. If it is bad, unless your product is sheer genius - and even then, you still have to make yourself known - it is almost impossible. Obviously, you cannot cut corners on what you are proposing, but you must know how to propose it."

This means, among others, properly targeting the stores selling the Versa Versa bags (chic multi-brands), enlisting the strength of a designer who can translate ideas quickly, and as fast as necessary to keep pace with the expansion of the brand, adapting to markets (more bling bling for shipments to opulent Lebanon, sparkle versus classicism for dual Korea, an upcoming collaboration in April with Swarkovski crystals, earmarked among others, at the Emirates). However, Sinead has no intention of only existing through these potential collaborations. Versa Versa will stand on its own two feet, true to its DNA. At the same time, it will continue to evolve, adapting to an ever-changing market.

Because the strength of Versa Versa is having turned a gadget-like, though useful, technology, into a premium luxury article – in terms of finish, composition and look that at the same time fits in with the zeitgeist of this thrift-conscious age. It also succeeds, time and again, to raise eyebrows in the fairs where her bags are presented. A must in the sometimes jaded world of fashion, where people are churning out their creations … like it’s going out of fashion.

Isabelle Plumhans

Sinead Shannon Roche

Collection A/W 2016, La Scala - Punk

Collection A/W 2015-16, La Scala - Marmaid

Collection A/W 2015-16, Roma

Collection A/W 2016, La Scala - Black Punk

Collection A/W 2015-16, Roma - Punk natural

Collection A/W 2015-16, La Scala - Blue Punk

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