Post-natal depression can take a heavy toll on women after the birth of a child. In the case of Sharon Keegan, she felt her exhaustion and feeling low was compounded by the fact that she had put on a lot of weight and was 18 stone when her 10lb baby was born. Realising that she needed to do something “to put me in the moment”, as she recalls, she took up weightlifting in a community gym in Tallaght that had creche facilities.
“I went every day for one hour and it was like therapy. That one hour allowed me to be free of any emotion – lifting those heavy weights was lifting emotional weights at the same time. Every woman needs a moment in the day for themselves,” she adds.
That experience informed the success she has now achieved with her inclusive active wear brand Peachylean which she founded in 2018 on her kitchen table in Walkinstown in Dublin. She also recently secured a €115,000 business investment after her appearance on the Dragons’ Den BBC television show in March. “Such a momentous win was a breakthrough,” she said at the time.
The idea for the brand started when she couldn’t find supportive gym wear while exercising. “I was wearing Spanx under my gymwear to hold me in – my belly was like jelly after Liam [her first son] was born. I started to think about how we could build leggings for women going to the gym, out walking, cycling or exercising that had real support. So, I designed one with a high-rise waist and a double layer of fabric [spandex and nylon] front and rear for further support and protection and found a manufacturer.”
The first 200 leggings sold out in August 2017 “and from day one sizes were from 6-26 so that all shapes and sizes are supported and that is really important”, she says. The leggings also have contoured heart-shaped panels at the back and pockets – the latter detail suggested by some of the first 200 customers. Peachylean stresses inclusivity and diversity – “It is important that all women buying the brand are represented and I wanted it to be about both body and mind, about self-esteem and confidence,” she says. Further products about to launch are long tops, hoodies and underwear.
Keegan is also working on a bra for well-endowed chests with support features for posture as well as collaborating with Limerick IT on a sustainable, eco-friendly coating for fabric to eradicate odours using pioneering finishing techniques.
All the leggings and sports bras come in a range of bright colours. “I chose the colours mint, magenta and leopard,” she says, adding that the latter sold out overnight after worn by a pregnant Vogue Williams in a gym.
Winning the Dragons investment had an immediate positive effect on sales. As well as endorsement from high-profile fans Kathryn Thomas, Vogue Williams, Síle Seoige and Nadine Reid, Keegan is building a supportive community of some 36,000 people, “women egging each other on”.
From an entrepreneurial family in Tallaght, Keegan grew up in the 1980s “and all I ever saw was Kate Moss and lean body types like her, so you always felt not good enough. All women suffer from what I call their inner critic and after my first child and training, I never looked like a [conventional] fitness model, but I was a fit person and I lost five stone. Women need to be shown with curves – what is fitness but about body and mind – and I want that to be represented in my brand.”
Initially after school she studied drama but left to go travelling at the age of 22, living in the Bronx in New York (“I loved Harlem and felt amazingly free and liberated. I was in every single vintage shop in Manhattan”), later heading to Australia and Thailand before returning home to work on the digital team at Golden Pages.
In 2007 at the Glastonbury Festival, after joining a long queue for Pieminster pies she ended up introducing the brand to Ireland very successfully at festivals and in supermarkets, working as operations manager with a staff of 16. That, however, came to an end after sterling difficulties. She was 33 when she became pregnant with the first of her two children.
Going back to college, she did a part-time course at UCD in innovation and entrepreneurship – “a wonderful experience” – ending up winning its Entrepreneur of the Year award. She later took part in a DCU Female Highflyers programme winning its Pitch of the Year award and, having founded Peachylean, went on to win the “new emerging business” prize at the Small Firms Association awards in 2019.
There is no denying her drive and determination. The Dragons’ Den investment will now allow for further expansion and growth. She has been encouraged to include swimwear – “people have suggested we call it Beachylean”, she says with a grin.
Prices: leggings €65 and sports bras €34.99 – both come in 10 different colours; beanies €18.50 in 13 colours. Visit peachylean.com