Jane Byrne owns Studio Dancewear in Carlow town, Ireland, where she sells an array of dance wear and training aids as well as the ballet shoes you see the professional dancers tiptoe around in, pointe shoes.
She’s busy at the moment, very busy, thanks to Brexit - something she wasn’t quite expecting. Brexit has given her new notoriety in her sector because she’s had the patience to deal with all the supply issues and increased charges it’s brought to businesses receiving stock from across the Irish sea.
“Brexit, that's another thing that has gone in my favour, in some ways, against me in other ways,” explains Byrne. “Teachers would normally get their own stock in but because of Brexit, they've decided that they don't want to do that anymore.”
After all the heartache and stress that Covid had on her business Brexit has done her a little bit of a good turn, since re-opening she’s added more dance schools to her books, and she has also become one of the go to women in the Women’s Inspire Network when it comes to advice on dealing with Brexit issues like import duty and delays.
Byrne herself is a former dance teacher, she used to have a dance school in Enniscorthy, but she hung up her instructor’s pumps when she started a family.
I loved teaching, it’s so much fun,” says Byrne. “I love teaching the tiny tots because they're so innocent and have so much fun, their imagination is such a gorgeous thing to play with. And then I love teaching the older students because you can push them that little bit more, you can see the progress and see their eyes light up when they suddenly figure something out.”
Byrne did go back to teaching after her first child was born but only for six months, she wanted to work for herself but also be at home with the kids as the family expanded by two more, and she says she was in the lucky position to make that decision.
When her eldest was seven it was time for Byrne to start up her next business. She had been hearing parents’ concerns over sourcing dancewear and the right sizing for their kids, while she was at dance practice with her own kids. This gave her the idea to set up her own dancewear business, after all this is something, she was already an expert in and had the contacts.
“For about a year I was giving advice in the changing room and people got to know me. I then approached the teacher and said could I rent her small studio and advertise that I was going to start selling uniforms,” she explains. “She said, absolutely, go for it.” “Because I had done it for the year beforehand, in the changing rooms, they knew me and they trusted me. I had no money, I had no stock, so they prepaid for all the uniforms,” she says.
She began her business, running it from the kitchen table and displaying her stock in the Ballet Barn. She hand delivered all her local items. She built the business up, began to travel to other studios with the kids in tow and filled her home with stock until finally she had to move out and take a small office space.
“It was literally just to put the stock in to get it away from the house but within two weeks people heard that I had put the stock in there and it ended up as a walk-in shop – I was only able to have one person in at a time,” she says. In 2019 she finally moved the business into an actual shop premises, and then we all know what came at the turn of the year, closure in March 2020, eight months after opening her new doors.
“The reason why I started my own business was because like a lot of mums who had worked and then had gone away from work, I wanted to be Jane again. As much as I loved being a mum and being a wife, I also wanted to be Jane and get my identity back and feel I was contributing financially to the house,” she explains. “I know being a full-time mum you are contributing financially because you are not paying for childcare but at the same time I needed my independence back a bit,” she adds.
These are all reasons that kept Byrne going during lockdown when the doors were closed, dance classes were cancelled, and the dance shows were nowhere to be seen. Luckily Byrne has always had a presence online since her business began so while lots of businesses were having to make a huge adjustment this was commonplace for Byrne, but the business just wasn’t there, she just had to ride it out.
The correct fitting of the pointe shoe is something that needs to be taken seriously as it can badly damage a young dancer’s feet if they are wearing the wrong fit. Byrne has been enrolled in a course to improve her pointe shoe fitting skills over the past year. She insists on becoming the very best at this skill. She is also mentoring others in the skill to ensure that the shoes are sold to the young dancers only when they are ready to wear them.
“I now have the confidence in me to say to a student, parent or a teacher, that based on my qualifications, based on my experience, it would be wrong for the student to go on pointe because she can cause irreparable damage to her feet,” she says.
“And that is something I never thought I’d have the confidence to do that.” “I remember when I did a course five years ago in London, I remember saying to the girl that I was doing it with, I can’t just be an okay pointe shoe fitter, I have to be the best,” she explains. Byrne has done everything she can during Covid to ensure she is, she even began putting together videos on her social media to explain to people the process of pointe shoe fitting.
Byrne has been a member of Win for the past three years, ever since meeting Samantha Kelly at an event in Carlow. She was slightly hesitant to join the networking group as she’d shied away from ‘all female’ groups in the past but she was pleasantly surprised when she did. “I never thought it was going to be what it is. I would always stay away from women’s groups – I didn’t want to segregate,” she says.
“But I joined it and it has been a place where I have laughed, and I have cried, and I have vented. I have shared really good things, things about my family that I would never share on social media, but I feel Women’s Inspire is a very safe place,” she says. “It’s just somewhere everybody, no matter what is going on in your life, there will be somebody there to support you,” she adds.