17 November, 2020 01:00
STARTING a business is, by its very nature, challenging under any circumstances. More so in the midst of a pandemic.
Many business founders and entrepreneurs, though, have more obstacles to overcome than applying for a bank loan or sourcing stock.
That includes defying incredible personal odds – and having to deal on a daily basis with a personal multiple family tragedy which made international headlines and which still reverberates around a small Co Down community nearly two decades on.
In September Tierna McComb (30) from Ballymartin near Kilkeel launched The Cyber Closet, an online ladies fashion boutique offering high quality affordable apparel sourced from major fashion capitals in France, Italy and Spain.
In the grand scheme of things, there’s little remarkable in that (online shopping penetration is huge in the UK, where e-commerce sales last year were valued at £688 billion – and rising).
But Tierna’s back-story is one of an extraordinary young woman (and now a new mother) who was touched by indescribable tragedy, but who has shown a strength and fortitude to recover and become a role model for so many people around her.
Her grandfather Mickey Greene (54), her father Michael junior (32) and her little eight-year-old brother, also called Michael, all died when the fishing boat in which they were trawling for prawns perished in mysterious circumstances in February 2002 in the sea off Kilkeel.
The Greene family and wider community were plunged into overwhelming grief when the Tullaghmurry Lass failed to return from an early morning fishing trip on Valentine’s Day, taken while young Michael was on half-term holiday.
After enduring an unbearable five-week wait before the wreckage of the vessel was discovered on the seabed seven miles out, and then another three weeks for the bodies to be recovered and returned to their loved ones, the funerals in April 2002 marked one of Kilkeel’s darkest-ever days.
Tierna (Greene), then just 12, and her sister Stephanie were inconsolable as they each carried pictures of their lost father and younger brother behind the coffins.
“The pain never goes away. You just have to learn to cope with it,” Tierna says.
“I saw how my mum struggled. But she always told us to follow our dreams, and this instilled a perseverance in me which has brought me to the point now of starting up The Cyber Closet.”
Her fledgling business (https://thecybercloset.com) has already caught the attention of television and radio presenter and fashion model Lisa Snowden, as well as Irish influencer Rachel Gorry (who herself has been touched by tragedy after her husband died from cancer earlier this year at the age of just 29).
“I’d had the idea of setting up my business for a couple of years, but then I got pregnant, and when my son was born a year ago – he’s called Michael – that drove me to finally get it going.
“Why a clothes store and why now? Well, I’ve found many local and national boutiques to be over-priced, and I decided I’d source and sell my stock at a price I personally would be willing to pay if I was the customer.
“Certainly my margins are extremely low, but I’m happy to keep it like that,” adds Tierna, who has a forensic science degree from Preston and then studied in the medical field in London, where she met her now-husband Shane, who teaches economics at Sacred Heart in Newry.
Tierna, who also works assisting anaesthetists in hospital theatres two days a week, says she is a huge advocate for empowering other women.
“Unfortunately, in fashion, social media pressurises us all to compare ourselves to unrealistic standards through an unrealistic lens, and with empowerment in mind, I decided to include myself in the majority of business photos on my Facebook page.
“This was a particularly hard thing for me to do, so soon after giving birth to Michael, because like everyone I have many insecurities and ‘bad days’, so hopefully me wearing the clothes or footwear in photos will also inspire women to wear them and to embrace their own unique bodies.”
Tierna says early feedback from her business is hugely encouraging, and her followers on Instagram (thecybercloset_irl) and Facebook (The Cyber Closet Irl) are growing by the day.
“When you shop with The Cyber Closet, know that you’re supporting a family and, in my case, a dream I always had.”