Feb 28, 2024

From Trinity Student to Fashion CEO

Hanna Valila talks to Robbie Fidgeon-Kavanagh about going from a BESS degree to founding the streetwear brand Emporium

Hanna ValilaAssistant Fashion Editor
Photo by Emporium Dublin

We all remember the pressure of choosing the course and college to apply for. It feels like that decision determines the direction of your entire career and consequently your future. Then, once enrolled, many feel stuck with their choice, and the stereotypes associated with it. If you are in BESS, you must want a corporate career, like everyone else in your course seems to. If you are in English, you must want to go into journalism. Politics students must be activists, and Maths students must be passionate about academia. In reality, most people question their choice, and many change career paths after college. One example of this is Robbie Fidgeon-Kavanagh who was once a Trinity student like you and I, but discovered his true passion through his streetwear brand Emporium. Since his graduation, Emporium has been endorsed by Hennessy, has had pieces photographed in VICE magazine and has opened extremely successful pop-up stores, not only in Dublin but in Japan as well. I sat down with the CEO to hear his passion-driven story.

Fidgeon-Kavanagh grew up in Dublin and was just as unsure going into university as anyone. He may not have gone at all, if his father hadn’t been a professor at Trinity. Not having gotten the CAO points for his first choice of BESS, “which, if I would’ve gotten, I would’ve dropped out of” he tells me, Robbie ended up studying geography and sociology. “I didn’t try particularly hard in secondary school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” he says, describing his position at the time. He was not particularly invested in his studies either, but got by. One thing he was sure about, was that he did not want a 9 to 5 corporate career and was much more interested in self-employment. Fidgeon-Kavanagh’s true interest was basketball, not just the sport, but the culture around it as well. Specifically, basketball sneakers fascinated him from a young age. As he came to College, transitioning from a secondary school uniform to having to dress himself every day is what initiated Robbie’s interest in streetwear more generally. “I need clothes to wear with these sneakers!” he describes his thoughts at the time. Next to his academics, Robbie was working in retail and discovering more and more of the fashion industry, which fascinated him much more than tectonic plates and Durkheim.

Creating clothing was not Robbie’s immediate focus. In fact, it was not on his radar at all to begin with. The culture and sense of community around streetwear were what pulled Fidgeon-Kavanagh in. He and his friends would host events, such as DJ nights, for like-minded people to get together, brought about by their own desire for such events. Dublin is not known for its streetwear, yet it became evident that there was enough interest for this niche to be filled. He reflects, the “growth of the brand has taken forever, because I don’t think the streetwear scene really existed here before but now it’s starting to, which is really cool”. He got his entry into producing clothing, when he printed shirts for attendees to remember his events by. After they promptly sold out, Fidgeon-Kavanagh saw a path fold out in front of him. All this was happening as he was in his second year at Trinity. 


Fidgeon-Kavanagh began his final year in 2019, meaning that the second semester of that year was overtaken by coronavirus. The pandemic is what essentially led to the creation of Emporium. While events were no longer a possibility, Fidgeon-Kavanagh and his friend Charlie Proctor now had time to educate themselves on the business aspect of the brand. They also set up an online store, where they expanded their inventory from just event shirts to general clothing items.

Now, Emporium has not forgotten its roots. Though the focus is on the clothing, they still hold events, only now the scale is much bigger. Pop-up stores, which have brought their pieces to a larger audience, see parties sponsored by the likes of Hennessy. The online store is currently still their main branch, with their social media presence being managed by “the intern” — Proctor, who was initially taken in as an intern in the summer of 2023, has kept the nickname since. Coming in March 2024 is a permanent store on Drury Street. “I don’t intend to have multiple stores … having a store really makes you seem real, it legitimises you in a way that being stocked in other retailers doesn’t … it’s a place people can come to hang out, it’s a place we can run events out of”, Fidgeon-Kavanagh says with regard to his motivation for the venture. “We don’t have a crazy marketing budget, but I guarantee you that doing events that actually connect to people does a lot more than running Facebook ads”, he adds.

Fidgeon-Kavanagh and Proctor created the brand five years ago out of sheer passion. “I see people starting clothing brands expecting to make money immediately … it’s the worst side hustle ever! … If you want to grow you have to spend money and it’s going to be a long time before you make money”, he warns aspiring entrepreneurs. “If that’s something you’re really passionate about you’ll figure it out”, Fidgeon-Kavanagh responds when asked about advice to current students who may be interested in a similar venture. “It’s complicated but the information is there … in a lot of cases all the infrastructure is already there and there are already people doing what you want to do and you can just ask them”, he elaborates. Fidgeon-Kavanagh even goes as far as to say it’s better he didn’t study any sort of business or entrepreneurship at College, as that may have skewed his motivations and thus left the brand a lot less authentic. 

Feeling lost or uninterested in your studies does not mean you are doomed to an unhappy career. Take Robbie Fidgeon-Kavanagh as your example: you can organically land on the path that is right for you, even if it has nothing to do with your academics, as long as you keep following your passions. 

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