The perfect fit: Lingerie that brings comfort after cancer

15 Jun 2018

Ciara Donlon. Image: Peony White

Haven’t found your passion in work yet? Keep going until you find something that makes you feel alive, says Inspirefest speaker and Theya Healthcare CEO Ciara Donlon.

Life would be simple – though perhaps a little less interesting – if the moment we all left school, we knew exactly what our passion in life was and we could follow our dreams immediately.

Entrepreneurial journeys are often not that straightforward, though. At Inspirefest next week, Ciara Donlon will talk us through what she has learned on her own path to becoming CEO of Theya Healthcare, a company that provides comfortable underwear for women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer.

“I’ve taken a few jumps along the way,” she said. “But, when I step back and reflect on everything that led here, the pieces of the puzzle have come together. It feels right, it feels like it has led here.”

Cutting the cloth to fit

Before she ventured into the world of post-surgical underwear, Donlon had a successful career in online marketing, working with large companies such as RBS, Irish Life and Permanent, and Vodafone.

But she had dreams of setting up her own business. “I always wanted to do my own thing, but I didn’t know what,” she said.

Eventually, she left the corporate world and tried something different – she got a private pilot’s licence and worked in Weston Airport. And, while the change of course was beneficial, she knew the route was still not quite working.

When Donlon set up a lingerie shop called Cup Cakes in Ranelagh in Dublin, she was inspired to follow a new business idea when many women came in looking for an aesthetically pleasing bra that would be suitable to wear following breast cancer surgery.

Donlon, whose own grandmother had a double mastectomy, was keen to help, and the result is Theya Healthcare. Working with breast cancer survivors and healthcare professionals, the CEO has developed a range of post-operative lingerie that uses a bamboo-mix fabric.

With support from Enterprise Ireland, the company has gone from strength to strength, and Donlon has scooped numerous accolades, including Laureate for Europe in the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and being shortlisted for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Emerging Category) and the Matheson WMB Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

Follow your dreams

It’s important to follow your interests in your career and there are practical steps you can take, particularly around learning about business, according to Donlon, whose degree in business and marketing from Trinity College Dublin has proven its worth. “That has definitely helped me on this journey,” she said. “It gave me the basis for running a business.”

But she advises that it is a process to get there. “Being an entrepreneur doesn’t always start at the end of your teens or in your early 20s,” she said.

“And you know when you find the right place. I love everything about [my work now]. I love it even when there is a problem because I know we will find a solution. So, if you are looking at something and feeling ‘meh’ about it, don’t go down that road. Find something that makes you feel alive.”

Ciara Donlon will be speaking at Inspirefest, Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Get your tickets now to join us in Dublin on 21 and 22 June 2018.

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Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication