Rhoda’s got Norn Iron down to a tee

Gutties are Lisburn businesswoman Rhoda McClure’s biggest seller, and she’s not even in the footwear trade.

Rhoda (38) is the proprietor and driving force behind an online T-shirt business trading ever more successfully on our undisputed ability, here in Northern Ireland, to reshape the English language, often to comic effect.

Rhoda McClure with some of her Norn Iron Tees.

Rhoda McClure with some of her Norn Iron Tees.

Tell someone from beyond these shores that you’re just going to put on your gutties and they might imagine anything from belly-bands to some intestine-inspired fashion statement. We, of course, know better.

From the local home of ‘Norn Iron Tees’ Rhoda, an Omagh native come to Lisburn via Yorkshire, emblazons T-shirts, sweatshirts, vests and hoodies with examples of our linguistic gymnastics - from ‘Bout-ye!’ to ‘Boyzadear’, ‘Half cut’ to ‘Haven’t a Baldy’, ‘Keep ’er Country’ to ‘Keep calm and quit yer ganchin’.

After attending university, Rhoda spent some 10 years in England, working as a product designer in the giftware trade, before a chance encounter in a pub, and her friend’s existing T-shirt business, inspired what was to become her own popular, product line. “A guy from Northern Ireland was serving me,” she said. “He clocked I was from Northern Ireland too and he said ‘stickin’ out!’.

“I heard it so many times from Northern Ireland people over there that I stuck it on a T-shirt and that got a lot of response. I set up my own website and it just took off.”

About five years ago the lure of family brought Rhoda back to Northern Ireland, where she soon settled in Lisburn, but her fashionable Norn Iron-isms have long since gone global.

“About 70% of my T-shirts are sold in Northern Ireland,” she said, “but the ex-pats market is growing. In the past year I’ve sold to Australia, Canada and Dubai and I sell so many to people who are going to visit relatives abroad.”

Though she has been known to take inspiration from customers, much of Rhoda’s product-line is born of her own ideas.

“Things just occur to you,” she said. “I was listening to Wendy Austin on the radio and she was talking about the Orange Order and that gave me the idea for a T-shirt with different sized oranges in order.” Northern Ireland, as it’s less commonly known, provides her with a wealth of material in her quest to celebrate our variant vocabulary and even marry it to popular culture and trending entertainment. Who can doubt the inspiration for ‘50 Shades of Ginger’? And what Game of Thrones fan could fail to appreciate ‘Winter is Coming! It’s baltic so it is’?

However, ‘gutties’ (the word apparently comes to us from Gutta-percha, a set of trees noted for the rigid natural latex produced from their sap) remains, said Rhoda, her undisputed all-time top-seller.