With The Pitch, we're backing business women that are shaping the working world. Women that defy the odds, that believe in their brand and that push their businesses to the top. As part of The Pitch, our partnership with Samsung, we're shining a light on women who are inspiring others and how they got 'Their Break'.
Sharon Keenan founded her business Peachy Lean, which sell colourful and fun workout leggings, after completing her postgrad Innovation course in UCD. She tapped into the mentality of many women at the gym who were feeling low and unconfident while working out. Peachy Lean was there to make them feel on top again. We chatted about big breaks, highlights and what she does to relax at the end of the day.
What was your big break?
The inspiration for my business came during my lowest ebb. It was September 2015 and I had just been made redundant at the age of 33. My first son Liam was six months old. I had a very tough pregnancy and I was suffering from severe post-natal depression. I felt hopeless, anxious and exhausted.
Every morning, I’d take Liam to my local gym in Tallaght where they had a creche, and I would train to ease my anxiety. The gym was where I got to be me for an hour, to set my mind free. As the months passed, my confidence began to grow, thanks to the huge support I got from fellow mums and trainers in the gym. So much so, that I decided to go back to education and was accepted in a postgrad Innovation course in UCD.
I remember the first day so clearly. I was so anxious I couldn’t speak. I was shaking with nerves. But I overcame the nerves and anxiety and eventually graduated from the programme with two awards – one for ‘Most Entrepreneurial Student' and another presentation award. I was so proud of myself – I’d never had a degree or 3rd level education, and here I was in UCD with a postgrad level 9 Masters in Innovation and two awards – I felt I could take on the world!
Standing in front of my lecturers, being photographed receiving these certs, gave me great self-confidence. I thought to myself: ‘this is it - I can do anything now’. This was the moment I really started to believe in myself; the moment I began to believe I could do everything I wanted to.
While studying in UCD, I still managed to get to the gym – my happy place! – as much as possible. I remember seeing a lot of girls come and go and not sticking with their training. I would ask them discreetly why, and most replied that they had low self-esteem or felt too self-conscious about how they looked. I wanted to help them. It started with emotional support and encouragement. I knew all too well how they were feeling, so it wasn’t hard to empathise or understand what they were going through. I had put on five stone during my pregnancy and my body had significantly changed. I, too, felt low self-esteem. My clothing didn't fit the same as before, my mummy tummy was loose, hips wider and my pelvis had shifted.
Women need support, not only emotionally, but also in their clothing, and it was out of this realisation that Peachy Lean was born in the summer of 2017. My idea was to design a pair of support leggings that shapes every lady’s body, no matter what size they are, and holds them is all the right places – hips, bums and tums. I bought a prototype of my product for ladies in three different gyms and asked them if they liked it. I sold 225 units in the first two weeks on pre-sale. This was my big break. It was also a validation of my design – and actual pre-sales cash in the bank!
Peachy Lean is now an international brand, selling leggings across the world and helping women every day with self-confidence and self-esteem. We’re trying to change how women view themselves one pair of legs at a time!
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Yes. When all the other little ladies on my road were playing mammies with their dolls, I wanted to play office! I would have my toy typewriter out and my imaginary phone calls would be coming in hard and fast! My poor mother would find bits of paper with scribbles enveloped and reposted FAO Sharon Keegan stuffed in the postbox! I was always a bossy boots, and that something I thought was a negative trait after being criticised so much through adulthood for it. But now, having worked on how to channel my bossy behaviour and use it in the correct way, I now see it is an important trait to have as an entrepreneur.
What have been your biggest challenges as a female entrepreneur?
I never came across chauvinism until I went looking for funding support as a female founder. I remember one time being told that in the SME (Small Medium Enterprise) world, women only manage to run S (small) businesses. The guy was so condescending, he might as well have patted my bum on the way out. I was appalled by his attitude, but it gave me more ambition and drive to prove him wrong. Female entrepreneurs are also great jugglers. We are master multi-taskers, but this is something we’re rarely given credit for and it can sometimes be looked upon as a hinderance. When mothers are given a job, we know we only have a few precious hours to do it – so we just get it done. No bullshit!
Have you had doubts/ felt like quitting?
All the time. There are some days when I just don’t want to get out from under the duvet and I wish I was carefree again and had no responsibilities. But what drives me comes from the memory of darkness and despair and never wanting to feel like that again. It didn’t come easy to me, but I have found belief in myself. It’s something I have to work on, and I never want to lose it again.
So, every morning, that second before I’m about to get out of bed, I just think to myself: "today’s a new day"; another opportunity and I’m going to make the most of every opportunity I have.
Do you enjoy keeping up with technological advancements?
Of course – without technology, I couldn’t run my business. Advancements in technology means I can design and produce my product here, then have it made in China. I also designed the Peachy Lean website, which is effectively my global shop window. I can reach and sell to an international customer base, using innovative digital marketing and platforms such as Shopify. It’s incredible – applications like these mean I can run Peachy Lean single-handedly from my kitchen table in Walkinstown.
What piece of technology is your business most reliant on?
Being on the go and a very busy mum (and now six months pregnant again), my smartphone, or what I prefer to call the PeachyPhone, is literally my life’s remote control.
It’s my business; my design tool; my store; my bank; my content creator; my marketing planner; my voice connecting me to a global business community; a portal to my friends and family and, most importantly, my booking system to the gym!
What have you found the most rewarding aspect of setting up your business?
I got an email the other day from a girl who was a size 18-20. She bought a pair of my leggings and she wanted to send me a picture to show me. She told me that in 31 years, she hasn’t set foot outside the door in a pair of leggings, not to mention dare to take a photograph. She has three kids and told how she walked them to school that day in her new Peachy Lean leggings. I got quite emotional reading the email, I was just so, so happy for her.
If Peachy Lean is the reason she is now walking her kids to school, feeling better in herself, that’s the best reward I could ask for.
What makes you bounce out of bed in the morning?
The thought of what could happen today. I have learned to replace anxiety with excitement, and although my days are packed to the brim, I love every second.
What does success look like to you?
Happiness. I’ve overcome my fears and anxiety and I am now truly doing something I love while helping women at the same time. This makes me every happy, and this to me is success.
Success isn’t just about the numbers; it’s also about feelings. It can come randomly through ‘thank you’ emails from our amazing customers, who, for whatever reason, sometimes feel the urge to tell us how they are feeling on that particular day. I am most happy when I read these.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I want to be competing in some sport. Yes, I know I’m 35 now and I’ll be 40 then, and God knows how many kids I’m going to have! I’ve a little boy at home, and another on the way, and I’ll probably keep going for a girl. But you’re never ‘too old’, and it’s never too late.
I’m way too competitive to not go after that dream – it’s just something I have to do. So, with little pairs of eyes watching me, I plan to grow my ‘S’ company into a multinational success, while showing my children you can still follow your dreams. Hard graft, tons of support and determination is all you need. Watch this space...
What do you do to relax?
If I was given one day to relax, this would be the dream: Gym (deadlifts, the heavier the better!), swim, blowdry, then boozy brunch with the girls. Heaven!