Irish mother of two develops clothing range against skin cancer
Businesswoman develops clothing range that helps protect against skin cancer
THE recession may have cost Sandra Walsh her two fashion boutiques but it inspired her to create an international hit.
The downturn saw the Dublin mother of two switch her attention to inventing Canopi, a €40 fashion product for women who don't like showing off their arms. Now, in less than three years, she wholesales to 17 countries and is the first Irish designer to be sold in the Brown Thomas-sister store, de Bijenkorf, in Amsterdam. This week, the Tipperary-born entrepreneur mixes style with healthy living by launching a new range, 'Five Tops For Life', which are made from a breathable 'Meryl' fabric, which has a UPF 50 in the fabric, which helps protect against skin cancer.
Similar to the SPF rating system used for sunscreens, the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating system measures the UV protection provided by fabric and a garment with a UPF of 50 only allows 1/50th of the UV radiation falling on the surface of the garment to pass through it.
"I worked as a nurse in plastics at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin and I saw first-hand the damage caused by sun," said Sandra who designed boat-neck, singlets and round necks and named the styles after her mother and sisters.
"We need to be sun smart even if the sun is not shining in Ireland. It was when I was out playing golf and tennis that I thought about what women needed.
"I decided to include design additions like a scarf-tie at the front and a higher neckline at the back and the clothes collection has been endorsed by Dr David Fennelly, Consultant Medical Oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin."
A slow-up in spending and a squeeze from the high street put pressure on her 'Sandz' boutiques in Dublin's Ranelagh and Blackrock in the late noughties so she closed down and set about designing Canopi sleeves in sheer mesh and stretch lace.
"Last week, I saw three Canopi sleeves being worn at the Ceiliuradh concert in the Royal Albert Hall, one of them on the Taoiseach's wife, Finola Kenny, and Sabina Higgins wore the first Canopi ever after it was brought to her by Joan Bergin, when Michael D came into office."
Sandra is donating €2 from every top sold to the Marie Keating Fund. "The Canopi sleeves were received very well by the Emirati ladies," she said. And, she has teamed up with the O'Rourke family from Fashion City as distribution partners in Ireland. "They are also opening international doors in Germany, Russia and even Iceland. I've also launched Canopi Plus for sizes 20-26 as we know that is a growing market," she said.