Brid Ryan, who founded Queen B Athletics with her sister Aedin Corbyn,describes their excitement as they watched the Irish women’s hockey team qualify for their first Olympics. The firm had received a major boost after becoming the official sports bra provider for the hockey team and had a pop-up shop at the team’s Olympic-qualifying game in Donnybrook at the start of the month.
“At some point, we were selling clothes, at other times we were on the other side of the pitch screaming our heads off,” she says.
The sisters first worked with a sportswear designer to learn to design clothes. “It was like an apprenticeship,” Ms Ryan says.
Launching their website six years ago, they added a sports bra, more leggings, base layers, and gym tops, and have since added “apres-training” clothing to the range — sweatshirts andt-shirts that can be worn with a pair of jeans as well as to the gym.
A big part of the design process is working with athletes to develop their designs. Ms Ryan says that every prototype is tested by athletes “from club level to Olympic level”. An avid sports fan, Ms Ryan rowed with Cork Boat Club and was in the U18 national rowing squad.
She was also involved in hockey, running, horse riding and swimming. Both sisters are enthusiastic spectators, and they say a core part of the brand is the promotion of women in sports.
Ms Ryan says there are two sides to Queen B Athletics:
On the first side is we’re designing kits specifically for women. On the other, everything we do through our business and social media contributes to the promotion of women in sport and spectatorship in sport.
Queen B Athletics is based in Cork and will open a shop soon in Carrigaline. Ms Ryan is back and forth to the UK where Ms Corbyn lives as the brand grows its customer base. It has provided customised kits for rowing clubs and universities there and hosted pop-ups at some of the bigger summer regattas, including the London Metropolitan Regatta and Henley Women’s Regatta.
The company sells its standard clothing range and takes orders for customised kits for competing and training on its website, and in pop-up shops at sporting events and gyms.
The brand name came about from a brainstorming session. “We wanted to represent women. To say that if you’re doing couch to 5K, going for a walk with your dog, or training for the Olympics, that you are a queen,” Ms Ryan explains. All of the products are designed for women. However, they say their beanie hats are proving popular with men who want to show their support for women in sports.
While they started with the rowing community, “runners found out about us” and other sporting codes followed, she says. Rower Sanita Puspure, Irish marathon runner Lizzie Lee, and Gaelic games athletes Briege Corkery, Gemma O’Connor, and Anna Geary are all fans, says Ms Ryan.
The company received support early on from the South Cork Enterprise Board, and Ms Ryan participated in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontier’s programme at the Rubicon Centre.
The brand’s ethos includes ensuring a supply chain “where everyone is paid fairly and treated fairly”, the company says. The sisters use Italian and French fabric to design their clothing, and a family business in Portugal manufactures the clothing.
Commenting on the recent partnership with Hockey Ireland, Ms Ryan says the deal is helping to boost the profile of the Queen B name. “When you’re small, your money is going into product development and stock, so we’ve been growing our business on word of mouth and social media, but this partnership has opened up opportunities for us,” she says.
“It is an exceptional Irish brand that is developing amazing products with athletes that are made in the European union with Italian fabric,” she says. And Ms Ryan has set her sights high. “Ultimately, we want every woman in Ireland when she’s going to buy a pair of leggings or a sports bra, to buy Queen B.”