Obituary: Pat O’Flaherty, founder of capital’s iconic Xile fashion store and passionate Hibs supporter

Pat O'Flaherty (Picture: Paul Parke)
Pat O'Flaherty (Picture: Paul Parke)
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Pat O’Flaherty, fashion retailer and football fan. Born: 27 March 1947 in Leith. Died: 10 May 2018, aged 71.

Pat O’Flaherty was born in a working class area of Leith. Brought by his grandparents, he left school and his home when he was 15.

After working at several manual jobs, at 18 he emigrated to Australia with the intention of making enough money to return and buy a house and a taxi. In central Australia he secured a job as a miner. It was hard, exhausting work in a hot, challenging and sometime unsafe environment, thousands of miles from civilisation. Living and working in camps of tough, hard men, Pat quickly learned he needed to be strong both mentally and physically. His proudest moment was scoring the winning goal for the Scottish Football Team against the English Team.

Pat returned to Edinburgh in 1969, but decided it was far too cold and moved to Torremolinos, where he worked as an art promoter for a year.

Once again, Pat returned to Edinburgh, but this time he stayed. Knowing that he didn’t want to toil for anyone else, he started working as a taxi driver and began thinking about a career in retail. A friend of his, Tam Alexander, gave Pat a list of contacts in the industry and from there, Pat started going on buying trips to London to purchase jeans to sell at Ingliston Market.

Business was good, and with his savings Pat opened his first retail boutique, Rags, in St Stephens Street. He asked his brother, Peter, if he would like to come and work with him, and he and Peter ran the shop together for ten years. Peter then went on to open The Book Worm a bookshop on Dalkeith Road, which suited Pat, as he was an avid reader and now had an endless supply of books.

He worked tirelessly – six days a week in the shop and early Sunday mornings at Ingliston Market. The shop moved premises to Surgeons’ Hall and then to South Bridge, under the new name of The Trading Post.

In the mid-Eighties Pat open the first Xile on South Bridge. Concentrating on European and American upmarket brands, Xile soon became the go-to place for fashion in Edinburgh. Further branches opened in Waverley Market – opened by Alex Salmond – Ocean Terminal, Rose Street and Multrees Walk, as well as Glasgow, Livingston and Aberdeen. Some traded as Xile, others as designer brands G.Star, Replay and Diesel. Pat gained a reputation for encouraging his staff to be interested in promoting the business, and Pat like to market emerging brands. In 1999 he won the prestigious award as Small British Fashion Retailer of the year, and was voted one of Edinburgh’s most influential men.

Life isn’t easy in the fickle fashion business and it took courage and determination to face the ups and downs of running a small operation in the global fashion world.

Pat’s wife Mandy, son Joe and daughters Erin and Cassie were very important to Pat. The tragic early death of Mandy shook him to the core.

Pat decided to retire from the business before he was 70. Sadly, not long after Mandy’s death he was diagnosed with a cancer which became terminal.

Like every other challenge he had faced in his life, his determination not to give in gracefully was an inspiration to his friends, colleagues and family. Confounding the doctors’ expectations, Pat fought pain and discomfort with contempt and didain, never allowing them to get the better of him.

Every Friday for the last 30 years Pat held court in a French restaurant in the Grassmarket. Friends, colleagues, suppliers and competitors were welcome to come and talk politics, fashion, music and football – but mostly football.

Pat had the unusual ability to be liked and admired throughout the retail and commercial business world. He had a reputation for being tough, but straight. A fanatical supporter of Scotland, Hibs and Edinburgh, he will be missed by everyone who was lucky enough to meet him.

Pat was proud of his son and daughters, proud of his business and his achievements. In this day of international markets and worldwide fashion brands he stood out, believing in local retailing.

He had every right to be proud.

The funeral is today at Mortonhall Crematorium at noon, all welcome.

Tony Martin