Sonya Lennon: ‘My best ever investment was a Chanel necklace I bought at auction after a few glasses of wine’

Sonya Lennon is a businesswoman and fashion designer. Along with her old friend Brendan Courtney, she hosted the RTÉ show ‘Off the Rails’ and created the clothing brand Lennon Courtney, which is currently available in Dunnes stores.

Lennon is also the founder of WorkEqual, a nonprofit group that promotes economic independence for women returning to the workplace. She lives in Dublin with her partner David Smith and her 17-year-old twins, Evie and Finn.

What economic impact did the Covid-19 crisis have on you?

Lennon Courtney was initially hit hard when our online presence went down from the Dunnes Stores site. It’s very difficult when your business is invisible and you can’t connect with the customer.

There was a pullback in revenue at a fundamental level and we were very lucky not to be crucified on that.

Then we looked at the label, tore it up, and started over. We asked: ‘What do we stand for as a brand? What is our purpose? Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money on this when this is all over?

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We integrated all the advocacy work that Brendan was doing for older people and what I was doing on inequality and it became part of who we are. The women understood that.

That’s where the podcast came from, which was a way to connect our customer base with our values.

It all boils down to the Winston Churchill quote: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We doubled down on the podcast and our third collection in a row just sold out at Dunnes.

Have you and your family taken steps to address the impact of inflation and the energy crisis on your home?

One of the most important things we did as a family during Covid was to renovate our house. The positive result of this is that our home is now much more energy efficient. But we’ve seen the cost of feeding a family of four rise, and in the business, the price of clothing has had to rise.

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During the renovation, we were incredibly lucky to have an amazing builder and architect with us and got a fixed price contract with the builder, meaning we weren’t facing the weekly price increases that people are seeing now.

I can’t even imagine the cost of doing that renovation now. It took 10 months and we came back this summer.

What is the most expensive place you have visited?

For my 50th birthday, I took my family to India for three weeks. I invited them for MY birthday so I missed a trick there! We spent two weeks in Rajasthan and then went down to Kerala.

It was a big investment, but I wanted to travel with them. We were spending four or five hours in a minibus, no wifi for the kids, so it was a bonding experience!

Do you still have cash?

No, which is terrible. I use Apple Pay. And I just left a hotel in Killarney where I was the keynote speaker, and I asked the hotel if they could take a tip for my masseuse on my card, and they couldn’t, and I forgot to come back with cash.

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Are you a spender or a saver?

You know the way some people say they’re extroverts, acting, and introverts? I am a spending-acting-saver.

I have my bank account set up to automatically set aside money for savings, and when I was in my early 20s I was the first person I knew my age who had a pension. I did it even though I was self-employed and there wouldn’t have been much money available.

Looking back, I think my dad probably influenced me to get a pension. He worked in a bank, so he always had this “save half, spend half” mentality.

What was your best financial kill?

Buying a Chanel necklace at an auction house after a couple of glasses of wine. That was about ten years ago and now it’s worth six times what I paid for it.


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