Long way from investment banking to selling knitting patterns


Leaving Ireland in the early 1990s was a no-brainer for Jennifer Shiels Toland who first moved to the UK to embark on the first of three successful careers.

The Beaumont native left for London in 1993 after earning a degree in Computer Science and Maths at UCD.

“At the time you were getting double the salary and paying half the income tax compared to Ireland, so it didn’t take long to be convinced,” she says.

“I worked at UBS, the Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company in the City of London, where I designed business solutions. I became Director of Equity Research, working with global clients including Bloomberg. It was a great job, which took me all over the world for nearly eight years.

After meeting her husband, the couple put their career plans on hold when he suffered a pulmonary embolism.

“We received a wake-up call and decided to take a break from our careers, which allowed us to work around the clock. So we traveled overland through Asia, including Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, overland through China and taken the Trans-Siberian Express.

Upon returning to Europe in 2002, Toland decided to change careers and studied interior design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, part of the University of the Arts London, before returning to Ireland to start a family.

When the couple moved to Blackrock in 2004, Ireland was in the heart of the Celtic Tiger and Toland got a job as an interior designer and project manager with Cantwell & Crowley Architects and Interior Designers, also based in Blackrock.

The arrival of her son and the time that followed led her to take up knitting.

“I had knitted a lot when I was younger, but expanded my repertoire to children’s clothing and toys, hats and gifts for babies up to 11 years old.

“Someone suggested I start selling the items at Airfield Market and soon I was selling items at craft fairs and markets across Dublin. Christmas has been a very busy time.

“I founded an online shopping portal in 2008 selling knitted gifts, but when you knit everything yourself, your market is still quite small.”

After a brief stint in California in 2011, Toland and his family settled in Larchmont on the Long Island Sound, closer to Ireland and just 30 minutes from his favorite city, New York.

“You can see the Manhattan skyline from here. So you get a small town life with the best city in the world right behind you.

Toland set up a studio in her home and launched a knitwear brand, JST Knitwear Designs from there.

“I originally thought of creating a pattern book, but modern communication allows for a much simpler online system that people around the world can use.

“The brand sells patterns rather than actual knitted items. I offer YouTube tutorials, techniques and patterns, which you can download from the site jstknitweardesigns.com. Patterns are very descriptive, detailing materials to be used, amount of thread, gauge, needles, and all button sizes with detailed material types. It’s very simple.

Her patterns have appeared in knitting magazines across the United States, including Knit Simple, Knit Noro Accessories, and several books. In September 2020, her design appeared on the cover of Vogue Knitting.

“It was such a surprise, because I had sent the article months before and had forgotten about it.

“My designs are inspired by the architecture and rugged landscape of rural Ireland, combined with a passion for simplicity. I use a lot of Irish wool, making patterns for Boann shawls and Aran wool hats from Donegal.

It was a long process to set up but, in times of Covid-19, people got into knitting, so business flourished.

“Knitting became even more popular when British diver Tom Daley was seen knitting in the stands at the Tokyo Olympics.”

It’s a far cry from investment banking, but business acumen goes a long way, especially in the United States where people are very entrepreneur-friendly, she says.

“Irish people are more self-conscious about their accomplishments, and I didn’t understand the American way of selling myself, but models are downloaded all over the world.”

Toland says the Long Island Sound offers great family living, due to its proximity to New York City, but also its proximity to the Catskills mountain range, which offers year-round adventures, from winter skiing to hiking. hike in summer.

“Last winter was great as the ski resorts were open but they were nice and empty due to Covid -19. It only takes two hours to get there from here which is the last thing you think of when you think of living in New York.

“I have established excellent relationships with the people here. It is a crucible. There is a great sense of community here. The local Playland amusement park with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop never gets old. It’s like an 80’s movie.

“I’m in New York all the time and really missed the buzz during the lockdown, so it’s great to see it coming back to life.”

Toland, like many Irish people, is eager to return to Ireland after President Joe Biden lifted a travel ban between the two countries from next month.

“It’s been two years since I was home and I can’t wait to see my family and friends, and my mother in particular. It will be moving. »

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