BY LINDSEY LONG
EQUESTRIAN PROFESSIONAL and founder of ShadyLady Alysia Lynch-Sherard did not set out to start a clothing company and she never thought she’d be in the position of championing for sun protection. Those who know her describe her as a fun, lighthearted and passionate person, and Lynch-Sherard herself admits she’s more of a live-and-let-live type than an evangelist.
“As I learn more and more about the consequences that UVA and UVB rays have on the body if not protected properly, it’s hard to not want to share with people what I have learned, especially when tiny changes in people’s habits can truly be the difference between developing skin cancer or not,” says the Canadan native. Lynch-Sherard moved from Toronto to California in her early twenties and quickly noticed the effect the intense sun had on her skin—but most of all, her lips, which would burn on a regular basis. As a hunter-jumper trainer at Oceancrest Farms in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, she wondered how to best combat long hours in the sun. Lynch-Sherard would do her best to wear visors and reapply sunscreen often, but in the end ,she just accepted this was a way of life in the horse industry. While getting her yearly skin check with her dermatologist, her doctor gave her the good news that her body was clear but he showed concern about her lips. Lynch-Sherard’s lips were showing early signs of skin cancer. He said sunscreen and visors were not enough and told her that the best strategy was to cover up with a fabric that blocks UVA and UVB rays with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 30 or higher.
She set out to find a face cover for herself that met those requirements in addition to being breathable, comfortable, and easy to take on and off. But nothing she tried fit the bill, so she decided to make her own, perfecting the design through trial and error and after discovering that traditional sun fabrics that she found available are sprayed with a chemical that can wash out in as little as five washes. So it wasn’t just the design that needed to be perfected; she also needed to find a better fabric—and she did. Lynch-Sherard found an amazing proprietary fabric that provided everything she wanted: chemical-free sun production that never washes out, plus soft and breathable. The simple but clever, self-created scarves satisfied Lynch-Sherard’s need to protect her lips without giving up style and ease of use. Soon, other equestrians took notice and requested their own.
ShadyLady Sun Protection became a successful enterprise despite the fact that it was not Lynch-Sherard’s intention. I just made them for myself and my friends at first,” she says. “I didn’t anticipate turning it into a business.”
When face coverings were mandated in public spaces to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, ShadyLady scarves became a natural choice for equestrians, even those who may have never considered one for sun protection. ShadyLady sales skyrocketed. “All of a sudden, a lot of people needed them, and it just kept building and building,” says Lynch-Sherard.
As someone who believes people should be allowed to make their own choices, it was difficult for Lynch-Sherard to come to terms with the fact she was now selling an item that was a government requirement, and also that the sun protection she had worked so hard to create was now a secondary consideration for many equestrians. “At first, I hated that the business was exploding because of this horrible thing, COVID, but I had so many people tell me how their ShadyLady scarves made their lives better during that time,” she says.
While Lynch-Sherard would have preferred that her scarves become popular for non-pandemic related reasons, she recognizes that the mask mandate normalized neck scarves as part of equestrian attire at a rate that otherwise would have been much more gradual. “I think that it gave people a chance to try. Before COVID, some people would look at me wearing a scarf and say they don’t know how I could wear it all day. But then they had to.”
As a result of the incredible demand due to COVID-19, every inch of the fabric Lynch-Sherard could obtain was utilized for scarves. Fast forward to fall of 2021 and scarf demand has stabilized, allowing Lynch-Sherard to use her proprietary fabric in new ways. ShadyLady gloves are currently available in six colors, and the first style of the company’s newest product, sun shirts, has just hit the market in four colors.
Just as with the scarves, the concept and designs were influenced by Lynch-Sherard’s desire to find stylish sun shirts for herself that truly protect.
“All I wanted was a clean design that is comfortable, fits right, and does what it is supposed to do,” says Lynch-Sherard. “Most brands either have shirts that are stylish and well-fitting, or they have ones that provide effective sun protection. Typically, those things do not go hand in hand, so I’m marrying those two things together by creating fashionable, comfortable styles using this amazing chemical-free sun fabric.”
Lynch-Sherard intends to make the sun shirts available at an accessible price point, and also to offer a trainer discount for professionals who spend all day in the sun. “I talk to a lot of the younger girls in the industry, and I don’t want them to just have one shirt. I want them to have four, so they can wear them every day for protection.”
In addition to helping those who work in the sport, ShadyLady is helping sponsored riders extend their reach to nonprofits they love. ShadyLady Gives Back was created at the height of the pandemic, stemming from Lynch-Sherard’s desire to do even more to contribute at a time that was so hard for so many people. Every month a sponsored rider gets to choose his or her favorite nonprofit, and ShadyLady gives $1 for every product sold to that organization.
Past recipients have included Shelter to Soldier, a group that trains shelter dogs to provide support to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other psychological injuries. Grand Prix rider Mandy Porter chose this organization and personally matched ShadyLady’s donation. Other groups that have benefitted from this program include the Kevin Babington Foundation and the Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center.
If you purchase any ShadyLady products during the month of September, you’ll be helping Metavivor, which raises funds for research for Metastatic Breast Cancer. This organization was chosen by professional rider Katie Taylor who was diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 30 but is now cancer-free.
While many new entrepreneurs—especially those who never intended to start a business in the first place—would have been overwhelmed by the rollercoaster of demand that ShadyLady experienced, Lynch-Sherard has been able to adapt, thrive, and stay true to her core values.
“I’ve put so much work and time into ShadyLady and what people gave me back was just so amazing. The customer service aspect was naturally very important to me and people have really responded to that,” she says.
“I’ve put so much work and time into ShadyLady and what people gave me back was just so amazing,” she says. “The customer service aspect was very important to me and people have really responded to that. I would receive messages daily with people telling us how happy they are with the product and speedy customer service provided by us. It gave me so much confidence in myself and it’s really shown me that I can do anything. I was extremely happy with my life before ShadyLady, but now can’t imagine a life without it, and I’m so excited to see where it ends up going.”
Lynch-Sherard is looking forward to ShadyLady’s future and is thrilled about its new additions to the ShadyLady Sun Protection line. “I’m creating products that I would want for myself, and if they speak to other people’s needs then great, and if not, that’s okay too. We’ve gotten such a positive response from the horse community. I have really enjoyed helping to educate my friends and peers in the equestrian world about sun protection, and filling a need is what being an entrepreneur is all about!”
Sun Protection 101: Did you Know?
- Experts recommend that your skin be protected by SPF or UPF 30 at all times
- A plain cotton t-shirt has an average UPF value of only 5
- Skin cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30, and the second leading cause in women 30-35
- Young women have higher rates of skin cancer than young men
- Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with 9,500 people being diagnosed every day
What Makes Shadylady Fabric Special
The secret to the long-lasting protection of ShadyLady products is in its unique fabric.
Many fabrics that claim to provide ultraviolet protection are simply sprayed with chemicals which do provide some sun defense, but the coating breaks down with every wash cycle, and can disappear completely after as few as five washes.
This fabric uses a patented technique in which the threads are soaked in oil before the fabric is weaved. Unlike spray-on coatings, the oil becomes part of the fabric and does not wash out. The ability to wash clothing frequently without degrading is vital to equestrians.
The fabric is also naturally anti-microbial, chemical free, quick drying, and wrinkle resistant.
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*This story was originally published in the September 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!