March 19, 2017
Trials + Tribulations: Navigating the Business of Rowing
Their women’s specific sports kit is now worn by world class female athletes the world over and they were proud to work with Rowing Ireland to design a custom sports-bra for their Rio Paralympic squad. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the sisters behind Queen B Athletics, Bríd Ryan and Aedín Corbyn.
“Crayons in the garden is where it all started. Our earliest memory of ‘Queen B’ is getting out the Crayolas and sketching women’s rowing suits that we might actually be excited to wear.
The world of rowing is an interesting, if not common, choice in which to set up a business. To us however, it made perfect sense. The approach was straight forward. We consider ourselves a team. We put everything into our business – time, energy, emotion, and all the money we have ever had. We chose to go all out. For that reason, we feel we can relate to our customer base on every level. We approach running the business like our own personal Olympics.
We were met with the voice of a security guard who informed us that the factory had been shut down. “Shut down for Christmas?” we asked. “No. Shutdown for good.”
After nearly 2 years of researching and developing, we were thrilled to get to market. Whilst our collection was and still is small, our products, we felt, were outstanding.
We had been told time and again that launching in the midst of the recession was madness – it probably was – but if we have learned anything, it’s that you can’t control everything no matter how hard you try. Especially timing.
With our first big stock re-order in with the factory, we were settling down for a long winter’s nap. On the 23rd December 2013, as a final nod before we packed up for the season, we called the factory for a quick check-in. That was the moment everything fell apart.
We were met with the voice of a security guard who informed us that the factory had been shut down. “Shut down for Christmas?” we asked. “No. Shutdown for good.” The factory was out of business. Everything was lost.
It was too much. It takes everything you have and more to get to market; each piece costs thousands to develop and takes hundreds of work hours. We had always produced our own designs with our own people. We had no Plan B. We were too small for a Plan B.
After many phone calls, we went to our parents’ house to break the news. As I stood in the hallway answering questions, I saw Brid go into the living room alone. I will never forget seeing her sitting on the sofa, staring blankly into space.
Brid eventually arrived into the kitchen and said with unconvincing pluckiness, “Look, it’s just another set back. We will find a solution,” to which my husband replied “It’s just not fair. You don’t deserve this.” That was when I got angry.
We decided that this was simply not going to happen. “It isn’t the dog in the fight, it’s the fight in the dog” as they say; we were down but nowhere near out. We pulled out every contact we had made, spoke to anyone who would take our calls and then, we waited.
Eventually we heard from our main contact at the factory; a lady, at home, having lost her job two days before Christmas. Together we started formulating a plan. We had nothing to offer except the hope of business to come and a sincere promise of one day paying back her faith in us. She needed time to think.
We headed to the beach. A freezing, deserted Irish beach at Christmas time. With no reception on our phones, it was pathos at its most perfect.
Patience has never been a particular virtue of ours, so for want of a better idea we headed to the beach. A freezing, deserted Irish beach at Christmas time. With no reception on our phones, it was pathos at its most perfect.
Brid, who had been planning to hit the pool in the local gym that day, mentioned she was wearing her swimsuit and the gauntlet was thrown. Swim, in the sea, full immersion, no hesitation. It was an all or nothing day and we found ourselves laughing for the first time in hours.
As Brid slowly started stripping off, the idea seemed to gather momentum and soon she was sprinting into the water, howling with laughter. Watching her catch hypothermia, my choice became obvious. I will never forget her face when she turned to see me running towards her. “If her arse is going blue, then mine is too.” A sentiment we still apply today. Some people can go it alone in business and in sport, but for us, it’s all about the crew. It isn’t the knocks that really matter, it is what you do next.”
Photography // Ben Rodford