In a world where clothing is thrown away by some after just a few wears, 73-year-old bespoke tailor, Joseph Martin, creates clothes with colleagues in his Sligo shop that last for decades, often a lifetime.
“I get customers bringing in suits for adjustment – generally to let them out a little bit – maybe 15 years after they got them,” he says, “That is not unusual. If you use a very good fabric, it will have durability.”
Even if he does not paint himself as an environmentalist, Martin leads a green life, cycling to work most days and producing highly regarded honey from his hives of bees.
Indeed, the Sligo man talks as enthusiastically about the health properties of honey produced with the help of heather growing on the slopes of Knocknarea, as he does about the joys of working with Merino wool.
Describing himself as "an outdoorsy person" who considers his home on the shores of Ballisodare Bay as "a kind of paradise", Martin says that it is hard to be other than careful of the environment when one has been lucky enough to have spent a lifetime in such a landscape.
If “fast fashion” is increasingly reviled as a major contributor to climate change, he is happy to have spent more than 50 years working with “probably the most eco-friendly natural fibres”.
In an era when some discount fashion chains sell garments for a pittance – something which Martin is slow to criticise – he argues, nevertheless, that a premium for a quality bespoke suit is a good investment. “I really do have a good cross section of society in terms of incomes,” he says.
There was rationing of fabrics. Inspectors were checking what was coming out of tailors' workshops and you were only supposed to have a certain number of pockets
Quality does not come cheap, however, for suits that each require some 30 hours of labour, sell for between €1,400 and €1,900. “When one considers the labour, versus the purchase price, it represents very good value for money.
“And because you get a good number of years wear out of a decent suit, the per annum investment can be quite small.”
The family tradition dates back to 1895, when his grandfather, also Joseph, set up in Ballisodare, succeeded by his Savile Row-trained son, Joseph Henry, who operated from Wine Street, Sligo, but travelled frequently to Britain and the US, where he had a considerable clientele.
Throughout, customer satisfaction has been a priority, evidenced by a Sligo Champion clipping that reported on a court appearance by his grandfather in the 1940s, when he was fined five shillings for putting an extra pocket in a waistcoat, in breach of regulations.
“There was rationing of fabrics. Inspectors were checking what was coming out of tailors’ workshops and you were only supposed to have a certain number of pockets. I think my grandfather’s defence was that he was ‘plagued by his customers’ so he could not refuse.”
Nearly all of his men's clothing is made from pure wool, with a small quantity of linen and cotton used, though the Merino wool comes from Australia and New Zealand, rather than land closer to home.
Internationally we are in a dire situation. Anything as individuals that we can do, should be applauded
He acknowledges the concern about air miles, but says: "Most of the wool produced in Europe is not suitable for clothing... Irish wool generally goes into carpets.
“It is not fine enough for clothing fabrics because of the type of sheep we have. There might be a small little niche market where some people spin and knit their own stuff, but the general commercial production of knitwear would not use Irish wool.”
With 53 years in the tailoring trade behind him, Martin is thinking about “easing back”, though he intends to keep up the beekeeping.
Given his tailoring trade, it would “probably” have made sense to move to Dublin because “to be honest that is where the money is, but I love it here”.
On his cycles to work, he appreciates his surroundings: “Internationally we are in a dire situation. Anything as individuals that we can do, should be applauded. I believe in the science. And the science tells us we are on a very slippery slope.”