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Meet Charlotte Temple, a woman on a mission at Irish luxury fashion brand.

Charlotte Temple, Magee Tweed.

She’s led an army platoon in Liberia, completed an Ironman, hopes to start an Aberdeen Angus herd and is a new mum to boot. And Charlotte Temple is now on a mission at Magee, writes Maria Moynihan.

Charlotte Temple: it sounds like the name of a 1950s Hitchcock starlet, or a Daphne Du Maurier heroine. And when she sweeps in the door of Magee’s on Donegal’s diamond, draped in a dusty pink cashmere pashmina, she certainly cuts a striking figure. Little wonder that, as well as heading up retail and marketing for the iconic brand, she has also modelled in the company’s photo shoots.

“Cheap model,” giggles the self-professed tomboy, who joined the family business in 2008.

While established as a drapery in Donegal by John Magee in 1866, Charlotte’s great-grandfather, Robert Temple – a farmer’s son – bought into the business in the 1870s. Championed by designers including Sybil Connolly and Irene Gilbert, the Magee brand became synonymous with Irish style, with the company proving a major employer in Donegal.

Charlotte’s father, Lynn Temple, took over in the 1970s but despite growing up in the family business, Charlotte took a completely different path by joining the Irish army at 18 – just one of seven girls in a class of 50.

Army to fashion

“I went in with hair like this,” she points at her tumbling waves, “and a week later I looked like my brother. I left school with no aim. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was looking at all alternatives and someone mentioned to me, kind of joking: ‘You can do a cadetship.’ When I look back at it now, I just wanted a bit of a challenge.”

Charlotte was eventually made platoon commander on a peace-keeping mission to Liberia, where she learned invaluable lessons in leadership – “which you don’t get at university”, she says, explaining her theory that sometimes there is too much emphasis put on a third-level education.

“There’s so much pressure put on people now to get educated and get qualifications. Quite frankly, common sense can be lacking.”

After Liberia, Charlotte left the army to live in London, where she worked as a personal trainer. Living in a fashion capital, however, awakened her interest in retail.

“And I thought: ‘Gosh, we have this at home,’” she says of the light-bulb moment she realised she wanted to join the family business.

Returning to Ireland in 2008, however, was challenging, not least coming after a painful decision to cease much of the manufacturing in Donegal in order to stay afloat.

“We did have to make a number of redundancies, so it was a really tough time,” says Charlotte, who explains that rising wage costs threatened to put their garments beyond the reach of their customers.

“My father wanted to keep employment, but it just wasn’t feasible. We would be out of business if we tried to continue with it.”

That said, as well as outsourcing, Magee still employs up to 120 staff between Donegal, its warehouse in Ballymena and its store in Dublin, including 50 people in their hand-weaving operation, producing luxurious accessories as well as fabrics for international fashion houses. (Due to confidentiality agreements, Charlotte is not at liberty to divulge a who’s who, though a previous collaboration with Jimmy Choo for Brown Thomas points in the right direction.)

Another challenge was to make the Magee brand relevant for a new generation. While a Magee suit, for example, was a staple of many Irish men’s wardrobes, Charlotte believed it needed to be rejuvenated as a lifestyle brand for her generation as well.

Brand heritage

“I think having the longevity and the heritage has many advantages, but also has many drawbacks because you can become pigeonholed,” she says.

In what she describes as a labour of love, this has included developing the menswear collection to include “really sharp suits”, knitwear and shirts, alongside traditional tweeds. Meanwhile, the women’s capsule collection of jackets and coats has been complemented with accessories in luxury cashmere, alpaca and angora yarns, with plans to introduce items like dresses at a lower price point.

“You maybe buy a jacket once a year, once every two years, and that’s €300-€400,” says Charlotte. “I want people to be able to buy into the brand at €100, €150, €170, so it’s looking for those smaller products that complement, A, the brand and, B, those more expensive products.”

Retail-wise, as well as stores in Donegal, Dublin’s Wicklow St and a concession in Arnotts – not to mention their wholesale business – Charlotte and her team have also put considerable effort into developing the website.

As the fourth generation in Magee, she acknowledges the pressure to succeed, though of course she has the support of her father, who is chair of the company, while her brother, Paddy, manages the wholesale end.

“I’m lucky I have a family business to go into,” Charlotte acknowledges. “People say it’s easy to work for a family business, but it’s not because you can’t leave it in the office.”

Indeed, she worked right up until the day her son, Monty, was born last spring and was back at meetings within five weeks.

“In some respects, it was a wee bit early,” she says, explaining there have been “some really rough nights” where she’s had no option but to reschedule meetings the next day. “But I think with a family business you can’t just stop. And I don’t want to.”

While Charlotte works between Donegal and Dublin, home is Co Tyrone, where she lives on a farm with her husband, Creighton Boyd, whose father, Edwin, is a beef farmer and auctioneer. Charlotte and her husband hope to start a pedigree Aberdeen Angus herd of their own.

Sport is also a passion, with previous achievements including an Ironman, conquering Kilimanjaro and completing a stage of the Tour de France. (Indeed, we discover that Charlotte ran until she was seven months pregnant and continued to walk two miles every day until Monty was born, despite having cracked two ribs after taking a tumble in the cellar at home.)

With Magee due to celebrate 150 years in 2016, we reckon the brand is in capable hands with this former platoon leader.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Charlotte acknowledges, “but I’m more suited to what I’m doing now. And I’m not wearing a uniform.”