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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Keelin O’Keeffe, Founder, CEO and Color Revolutionizer of Kiki Moon Ireland, Boutique Baby Blankets Our Coverage Sponsored by Hallak Cleaners the Couture Cleaner

Keelin O'Keeffe

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Keelin O’Keeffe, business founder, designer and mother of two was destined to become an entrepreneur. As the youngest of four girls growing up in County Dublin, Ireland, Keelin was always coming up with new business ventures and setting up clubs in her local community. At the age of 10, Keelin decided she wanted to play the part of Orphan Annie. With no local productions happening, Keelin rallied 50 kids in her school and produced, directed and stared in her own production much to her parents’ amusement. 

Keelin always had a passion for interiors and especially colour but decided that a business degree was the best option for her in pursuing her dream of entrepreneurship. After receiving an Honours Business Degree from Sligo Institute of Education, Keelin started out getting as much experience as possible working in numerous positions in marketing and sales in a bid to establish exactly what area she would excel in. 

Keelin enrolled in the Dublin Institute of Design (where she received an Honours Diploma) to further explore her passion for interiors and it was during her studies she began considering combining her business acumen with her design skills. 

However, it wasn’t until almost four years ago, after giving birth to her first child, Keelin quickly realised there was a massive gap in the market for new moms craving something other than baby pinks and blues for their new babies. After a year of researching, planning and designing this new boutique baby brand, kiki moon, Keelin got quite the shock when her doctor told her she was expecting her second baby, due the same month her business was to launch. 

Keelins’ second little baby came into the world on March 1st during a snowstorm in Dublin. She took two months off and was back to work to finalize the launch of kiki moon. Kiki moon specialises in organic baby blankets using breathtakingly fresh colour combinations. Keelin designs the product and they are manufactured in Portugal. All blankets are packaged in beautiful gift boxes and delivered to 35 countries all over the world.   Kiki Moon has been Highly Recommended by Whom You Know.  We are over the moon to present Keelin O'Keeffe as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Keelin for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: Please tell us about your “Annie” production. 
Keelin O'Keeffe: 
I was obsessed with this musical from a very young age. I learnt every word from the movie by watching it over and over again. I was a very determined little girl and would not stop until I had the part of Annie in a production. I’m very solution driven. To me, if you want something and it doesn’t exist or you can’t find it, the most logical next step is to create it or do it yourself. In this case I had to create the production myself to get the starring role! Every week a large number of kids would go into a warehouse in Dublin City Centre and rehearse for hours on end. I cast all of the members of the musical and directed them all. It still amuses me that they actually listened to a 10 year old (cast was all kids). We put on the show for one night only and most of the audience were family/friends, but if achieved my goal and gave me an appetite for running the show. 

What else have you “produced” either professionally or academically in between Annie and Kiki Moon? 
I produced/set up a number of amateur productions locally. When I was working at Dublin City University I decided I wanted to join their choir and was shocked when I realized there was none. So two months later I established the DCU Campus Choir which is still going strong. (I’ve since handed the reigns over to an ex-colleague as I’m so busy). 

Peachy Deegan attended UCC for a semester and found living in Ireland to be totally different from what she thought it would be. What do you think the world should know about Ireland and what misconceptions would you like to clarify? 
I think people have a view of Ireland that is quite different to the reality. The cities of Ireland are now very cosmopolitan and this is a far cry from the old movie Ryan's Daughter! The fact that Facebook, Linkedin and Google have chosen Dublin as their HQ, paints a new reality and image for this city and indeed country. However, it is still possible to find the old Ireland that people know and love in small towns and villages around the country. 

What do you think makes Irish entrepreneurship unique? 
I think Irish entrepreneurs are extremely creative and innovative. With Ireland being a small island in Europe, we’ve had to become resourceful in order to make our products and services competitive in the larger European and worldwide market. Networking, which is key to the success of any business is something that Irish people are great at. 

What are your favorite Irish counties and why?
Donegal, Kerry, Sligo and Galway are my favourites. All have amazing scenery, brilliant craic and genuine welcoming people. My husband is born and bred in Kerry so we visit there often. The scenery in Kerry and Donegal is breathtaking and should be on everyone's bucket list 

What is your favorite Irish music and why? 
I love lots of Irish music, the old ballads that we grew up with and when I get a chance it’s great to spend some time in the local bars listening to traditional Irish music. U2 of course are always great in concert! 

Did you play hurling or camogie, do you speak Gaelic and what do you like to celebrate the most about your Irish heritage? 
I played camogie at school but not anymore. Yes I can speak Irish but as you probably know, it is so rarely spoken in Ireland now, particularly in Dublin. All children in Irish schools are expected to learn Irish in primary and secondary schools. 

How did you decide to manufacture in Portugal and is Kiki Moon a vertical business? 
I wanted to keep the manufacturing as local to me as possible. After much researching, I realized that Ireland was not an option for me; it was not possible to produce the exact prototype I wanted here, but I was very sure that I wanted to manufacture in a country that had a great reputation in producing high quality textile products. Also, I needed somewhere close enough that I could fly into quickly when needed, and with two small children, the Far East was just not going to work for me. I started looking at a few countries in Europe but Portugal kept coming up as great place to manufacture. They produce fabulous textile products and have a great way of doing business. They are actually quite like the Irish in many ways. 

Where does the name Kiki Moon come from? 
Moon was the first word my son said after Mom & Dad. He was obsessed with moons from a young age. Kiki is a nickname of mine. 

Are you negotiating any licensing agreements to make blankets for other labels? 
No, at the moment I am focused on producing exclusive products just for our brand however we may expand our own product line, but right now I want to grow kiki moon. 

Will you make adult sized blankets/throws? 
Yes, I am looking into this at the moment. We receive many requests on a daily basis requesting adults versions of the blankets so it’s something I believe there is a big market for. 

What are the best trade shows in Europe for home brands and why, and do you think trade shows in general are phasing out or essential? 
So far we have focused on the Irish & UK baby shows and some of the Irish gift shows. We have found these great for getting the word out there. 

What is the difference between an organic blanket and one that is not? 
Organic cotton products are made using cotton that have not been sprayed and no pesticides have been used in the growing process. Cotton generally is the safest fabric to put next to a newborn baby. 

Where are you sold in the USA? 
We currently sell online and offer free delivery to anywhere in the USA. 

Do you have future ambitions for more designs in color beyond the baby sphere? 
Yes, I have so many new designs and new textile products I would like to bring to the market at some point. Larger throws are something I get asked about frequently so I am talking to my manufacturers about this right now and may release a prototype soon. One of the defining features of kiki moon is our beautiful packaging so I want to continue this with every product we develop. I want the experience of opening a kiki moon package to be a special experience each time. 

What are your five most favorite colors and why and please tell us in which order you like them best? 
Hot pink is my absolute favorite, it puts a smile on my face and I love using it on my little girl and on my nails!! Bright orange is another favorite; I just love this cheery color. Aqua Blue and green are next, both are so fresh and yet vibrant at the same time. Yellow is my fifth favorite color, I associate it with Easter and happiness! 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
My father was an entrepreneur and set up the first stock-broking agency in Ireland the same year I was born. My mother was also a massive influence and I grew up believing that you should absolutely follow your dreams and never rely on other people to fulfill your dreams. 

What are you proudest of and why? 
I’m so proud (clichéd as it sounds) of my two little ones. They make me smile every day with their carry on and without them I would never have had the inspiration to set up my business. However, I’m extremely proud of the kiki moon brand and how I managed to take a really strong vision I had in my head to the point of actually getting this product to market and bringing it to a wider audience. (While having a new baby and toddler). 

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
In terms of what I’d like to do within kiki moon, I want to expand the product offering, I have so many designs that I would like to bring to market. Long term, I see kiki moon having flagship stores in the major cities in Ireland, the UK and the USA and I see kiki moon as having the potential to be the “go to” gift store for special occasions. 

What one word best describes you and why? 
Determined. If I decide to go for something, nothing will get in my way, if I’m passionate about it, I will make it happen. 

What do you take your sense of identity from? 
From myself, I have always had a strong sense of self luckily. 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
As a lover of musicals, Broadway is such an exciting place for me. In Dublin, it’s Howth, my hometown, it’s a beautiful fishing village with amazing views. Beyond Dublin, I have to say I love Kenmare in Co. Kerry, It’s where I got married and holds special memories for me. It’s surrounded by mountainous views and stunning lakes. It also has some fabulous restaurants and bars to socialize in. 

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
I love the Avoca stores here in Ireland, they are nationwide, and are a major Irish success story. I’m not as familiar with shops in Manhattan but have enjoyed shopping in FAO Schwarz, and some of the cool boutiques in Manhattan. I also love the hot carmelized nut stands on every street corner in Manhattan: the perfect winter warmers. 

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why? 
I would hire Kendra Scott, I am really fascinated by Kendra’s story and how she built her business up from the ground with young children. It’s such a difficult thing to do but I admire her determination immensely. Failing hiring her, I would love to have dinner with her! 

What is your favorite drink? 
I have too many to pick just one, but I love cocktails, strong coffee, and a good sauvignon blanc! 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 
I was on a fabulous cocktail party on a boat docked in Dublin harbor and missed my footing (pre-cocktails) and very nearly fell overboard. Luckily my husband was close by to stop my late night swim. 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
I love Patsy’s on 236 W. 56th St. I have great memories of when I was stuck in Manhattan for a week during the ash cloud which shutdown airspace globally. I went to Patsy’s and met a lot of amazing people. My favorite restaurant in Dublin is Chapter One, probably Dublin’s best dining experience. Oscar’s restaurant in Galway is a firm favourite of mine, great if you’re a lover of seafood and beautiful wines. 

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
My favorite book is The Catcher in the Rye, and favorite character is Holden Caulfield. My favorite book based in Dublin is 11 Emerald Street which was written by my father, Hugh O’Donnell, an excellent depiction of Dublin life in the 50’s. I also really enjoyed Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, a memoir of his early childhood growing up in Limerick. 

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
I would love to be Mark Zuckerberg for a day. I think he has an amazing mind and would love to see how he operates. 

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
I absolutely love Times Square so would love a theatre named after me! In Dublin I have a beautiful park called St Anne’s which has fabulous amenities for the kids, I’d love a bench names after me in this park. Beyond Dublin, possibly the little church I got married in, a beautiful little stone church in Dawros, Kenmare, Co. Kerry. 

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
My only athletic experience in Manhattan is running from shop to shop chasing the bargains! 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
I have to say that Time Square, although very touristy, is so completely different to anything we have here in Ireland so this is something I enjoy. In Dublin, I love enjoying traditional music sessions in authentic venues with like-minded people. My hometown of Howth has the most spectacular cliff walks you will ever see and anytime I get the chance I enjoy a walk on the cliffs, sometimes followed by a pint of Guinness at The Summit pub! My favorite thing to do outside of Dublin has to be Listowel’s Writers week in Kerry held annually. It’s a fabulous mix of writers, actors, musicians all gathered to celebrate their love of the arts. 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
I would love to have dinner with Shirley Temple; as a child I absolutely adored her and found her career progression fascinating. She really was so unique and is a loss to society. My granny, who has passed on was also a big fan and I have lovely memories of the two of us watching her black and white movies and drinking endless cups of tea. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
Seeing U2 in concert in New York was a memorable moment, it was quite the occasion. Visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao in Northern Spain was fascinating. Northern Spain is an absolutely beautiful place I spent a few months living there whilst at university. Outside of Dublin, again, Listowel’s Writers Week is a highlight for me. Great people descend to Listowel tow in Co. Kerry for a week of arts, fun and festivities. 

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 
Before kiki moon, I spent a number of years working with NFTE – an entrepreneurship program which started in the USA and has a branch in Ireland. It teaches entrepreneurship skills to young people living in low-income communities. This was massively rewarding. More recently, I have linked in with our local Children’s Hospital and offered a gift of blankets to the sick children. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And Dublin? And Ireland beyond Dublin? 
Most underrated is Lily O’Brien’s chocolate café in Manhattan, perfect for hot chocolates after ice-skating in the park. I haven’t found anything overrated in Manhattan; everything exceeded my expectations! In Dublin, the area of Temple Bar is a little overrated, it used to be a cool, vibey place but has become very commercial and rowdy at night, perfect for stags or hens! I think the Northside of Dublin in general is underrated. There are so many beautiful places to see and lots happening on the Northside, with some excellent restaurants in Howth, North Co. Dublin. Outside of Dublin, The Cliffs of Moher are underrated, this is a spectacular experience and although plenty of tourists have enjoyed the sights here, it should be a wonder of the world! I would think the only thing overrated outside of Dublin, is the fact that the Irish language is spoken so rarely, it’s a pity but very few places in Ireland now use Irish as their first language, I think this is something that tourists may be disappointed about when visiting rural communities. 

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite WhomYouKnow​.com​ column and what do you like about it? 
I love reading The Arts, I’m interested in the Theatre and Musicals and love reading these interviews. I also enjoy the Cuisine & Drinks, good to know where is recommended for my next Manhattan jaunt. 

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
I love travelling, love meeting interesting people and am passionate about being in business. I am determined to make kiki moon a household name on a global scale, one baby at a time. 

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
You can email me at

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