The name Peigín means ‘Little Peig’.
“And yet I am six foot tall,” laughs Peigín Crowley.
It’s quite fitting, the juxtaposition of her name – like a metaphor for life.
That’s because the Cork woman talks a mile a minute and yet has the most serene calming effect on those she meets. She is deeply immersed in holistics and nature and is also an astute business woman.
Wellness means letting essential oils seep into your skin to give you peace and serenity and also enjoying a glass of wine with a pal. And while her wellness brand Ground is all about grounding yourself in nature and coming out of your head, it seems the sky’s the limit on where her business will go.
This may be a bold statement for a business that is less than two years old but the seeds were planted long before that and roots have been sprouting ever since.
In her energetic style, Peigín says: “Let’s take it back to the start. When I was young, I was mad to do beauty. So I went off to Dublin to study beauty, but as soon as I started learning about the energy systems in the body, I was hooked.
“I swapped nails and make-up for massage. I was just fascinated by the response to touch and our body’s commitment and constant striving for balance, the way we can align ourselves and heal.”
This was the late 90s and in Ireland, spas were still a fancy pipedream. “So off I went onto the cruise ships. I was in my early 20s and it was the most amazing experience. I started doing treatments and worked my way up, managing the business which on a cruise ship was worth up to $5m a year.
“By the age of 23, I was managing teams and revenue streams for the spas, gym and pool. I got a cracking training.”
Building a brand
When Peigín arrived home, spas were just starting to take off but it was a very niche industry.
“Places like the Merrion (hotel) would have rooms for massage but the whole robe and slippers spa experience was still in its infancy. One of the brands on the cruise ships was Elemis so I started working with them.
“Then the Celtic Tiger hit, and boom, the era of spas arrived. I opened up so many accounts with Elemis – Hayfield Manor, Johnstown House, the Radisson in Galway, now the Galmont. I built up the team in Ireland, doing business development, strategy, marketing.
“Now Elemis is huge, when I finished working with them, they were turning over €2.5m in revenue and a few years ago, the company was sold to L’Occitane for nearly €1bn but when I started, it was tiny and we really built it from the ground up.”
After Peigin’s daughters were born, she worked with Estée Lauder before branching into spa consultancy.
“I really won the lotto when I was asked to design the spa for Adare Manor, it was a pivotal moment because once that’s on the CV, along came the likes of the Merrion and the Cliff House Hotel.
“So I have been involved in developing spas across the country, developing concepts for treatments and the menus. And it was quite creative because you would draw from the nature of the area.
“For example, in Adare Manor, they have a beautiful 400-year-old Cedar tree so we built a treatment based on the healing and the therapeutic value of the indigenous plants in that space. Cedarwood is one of the best essential oils for energy and sedation, just switching off the energy, the physicality of going to sleep.”
The COVID-19 slap
It was an exciting time. “I was working on spas in Ireland, doing some work in India, France and Portugal. I reached a point where I was very busy, travelling a lot, my daughters Bella and Anna Louise were 11 and 7. I’ll be honest. I was feeling very important and I definitely had an ego.
“And then COVID came and slapped me in the face.”
It was probably the slap she needed, admits Peigín.
“I was scared, for my family, for my parents, for my work. I mean you can’t do a zoom massage, its very nature is close contact. So I was anxious and I had lost confidence, and you know what, I felt like a fake.
“I thought, ‘Here you are talking to people for 20-plus years about relaxing and breath work, talking about aromatherapy and I [can’t] relax myself – especially now that I had time to do it’.
“And on top of that, I also had to have an ovary taken out so unbeknown to me, I was going into early menopause. I was anxious and paranoid and the brain fog was the worst.”
“I did the only thing I knew what to do, I started developing rituals in the home. And I was thinking there are a million people like me who are sitting here, looking at the four walls, who are overthinking and stressed, and that’s when Ground was born, I knew what I needed to do was create a wellness brand... for the home.
Peigín said it was really exciting. “Because this was my project, my vision, I wasn’t tied to a client.
“From working with brands for years, I knew what I liked and didn’t like, so I had a lot of decisions already made.
“I could focus on wellness for children, wellness for people with cancer or women going through the menopause, all the things that spas didn’t find sexy, pampering or luxurious enough. But I had the chance to do true wellbeing, tackling burnout, anxiety, all the things that are real in people’s lives. “
“It had to come back to what I do in my own home. You know, as a mother, I can’t bake or cook,” laughs Peigín. “But if one of my girls comes in from school and had a bad day, we sit on the couch and we have our own little ritual.
“And I see them start to visibly relax, to talk about the things that bother them.
“Breathing helps to expand your inner strength and as a result, shrink the things that are bothering you.
“When you pair that with essential oils, you are sending a message to your body that you’re safe.
“These oils are like the very essence distilled of each tree, flower and herb and each one has a biological message for our body, whether that is to sedate, uplift and energise, detoxify, to heal, they all have little jobs they want to do. And when you breathe them in, your body speaks that language, bringing you into balance.
“For children, their memory systems are heightened so that scent lives in our memory.
“And it signals to them that they are being minded and cared for, that they are safe. It’s a deep connection, a bond.”
This is one of the reasons why Ground Wellbeing has a range to care for different individuals.
“I developed four different elements to Ground,” Peigín explains, “four colours from the lightest to the darkest, almost like soil how it moves into clay and gets deeper in colour, the further you go down. Also in aromatherapy, the lightest oils are the softest and gentlest.
“So that’s why the Cúram (care as Gaeilge) range is aimed towards children and pregnant women or people with cancer. It’s our gentlest range that brings care and comfort.
“Then Beo (alive as Gaeilge) is all about being uplifting, breathing, thriving. Those citrus blends are aimed towards people that need energising.
“Codhladh (sleep as Gaeilge) helps people to sleep, bringing a sedative nature, to rest and feel safe.
“And then the darkest range is Talamh (Ground as Gaeilge). This is about grounding, but it’s different to sleep, it’s all about helping to soothe someone who is stressed and anxious, who is overthinking and unsettled. It’s about getting balance back in the body.”
With a solid idea, the next big question is how to set up a wellness brand in a pandemic?
“I set up in my kitchen,” answers Peigín simply. Laughing she says, “My house was taken over. When restrictions lifted, my mother and friend Gill would come to help out.
“Mum was head of bath salts and Gill was head of masks and there we were with our masks on and the windows open, with balms on the hob, jugs and containers, having a great laugh.
“And then I heard the house across the green was up for rent, so we ended up renting that to have more space.
“Because I would go order a load of lavender or something and the next week I’d find a box under the bed. So it gave me the space to develop the business.”
And the first client that came on board was a big one. “I had a warm doorstep in Brown Thomas in Cork from my years working in the industry and we agreed exclusivity for six months.
“I’ll never forget that Christmas of 2020, I would go into BT every day and sell at my stand and then fight through the traffic to get home, change into my pyjamas and have a hot port while making oils for the next day, it was that busy.”
When word got out and hotels started opening, businesses wanted to bring this home experience into their spas.
“It’s been amazing. We’ve now created signature treatments with the products in the K Club, Mount Juliet, Hayfield Manor, the Old Head of Kinsale, The Dunloe. Recently, we launched in the Shelbourne and we also have an exclusive partnership with the Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh.
Peigín says, it’s amazing that this small idea developed in lockdown has become such a success. “I’m not getting ahead of myself though,” she laughs. “This time I am definitely staying grounded.”