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JimJams’ Deirdre Adams: ‘When this happened to us, we wanted to help to destigmatise suicide’

When Deirdre Adams decided to set up a business, she knew that she also wanted it to help people. Inspiration on all fronts hit when she had to go into hospital — a cloud that had a silver lining.

“I was going into hospital to get a hip replacement, and I couldn’t find nice pyjamas,” she says. “I wanted something a bit special and more of a treat but I felt there was a limited offering in luxury pyjamas on the market. I decided that would be my business, that I would create a brand that was very luxurious and beautiful quality, but also value for money.”

And so JimJams was born, an online business that sells pyjamas that are made in India through a social empowerment programme, which provides employment and training to vulnerable women.

“My dream for JimJams was that it would be an exploitation-free zone — not exploiting the planet and not exploiting workers anywhere along the chain. And I have achieved that,” says Deirdre.

“My two daughters and I went out to India in September of 2019. We travelled around and visited different programmes and saw what they were doing. And then we decided to work with two of them, but mainly one based out of Delhi called Projectthrive, which is run by a wonderful lady called Sonica Sarna.”

Deirdre Adams: "We’re all one big family, so that’s why I wanted the support of vulnerable women to be part of JimJams as well". Photograph: Patrick Browne
Deirdre Adams: “We’re all one big family, so that’s why I wanted the support of vulnerable women to be part of JimJams as well”. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Giving something back is a thread that runs through Deirdre’s life. After graduating from UCD with a degree in English in the early 80s, the Co Kilkenny native travelled the world teaching, eventually settling in London, where she volunteered for the relationship counselling service Relate and later retrained as a solicitor.

It was also in London that she met the love of her life, Mark Adams, a doctor from South Africa. They relocated to Ireland in 2002, moving to Waterford, where Deirdre got a job as a law lecturer in the South East Technological University. 

Mark worked as an anaesthetist and they raised their three children together. Deirdre continued to volunteer, working with Oasis House, a refuge in Waterford for women and children who are victims of domestic violence.

She taught women English and ran charity fundraising events, raising money to enable the establishment of the TLC programme, which helps traumatised children.

“It provides a service not just for children who are actually resident in Oasis House, but GPs can refer children who are not residents. It has been such a success that they have government funding for it now. I feel women in general can be more vulnerable to injustice and lack of opportunity. I’ve always felt that I’ve been very fortunate myself and I’ve always wanted to reach out to my sisters who are less fortunate. We’re all one big family, so that’s why I wanted the support of vulnerable women to be part of JimJams as well.”

 Deirdre Adams: "What blindsided me was that I thought before someone would become suicidal, there must be something awful that had happened them — some terrible thing that was making them feel so hopeless." Photograph: Patrick Browne
Deirdre Adams: “What blindsided me was that I thought before someone would become suicidal, there must be something awful that had happened them — some terrible thing that was making them feel so hopeless.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

‘IT SHOULD BE TALKED ABOUT’

It was a happy, busy and rewarding life until the family’s world came crashing down in July last year, when Mark took his own life. 

It is an unfathomable and profound loss but in the midst of her own grief, Deirdre wants to reach out and speak about it in an effort to help others.

“Sadly, it is quite common. I have heard of numerous people since Mark. What I do think is good is that a lot of work has been done to bring it out into the open. When this happened to us, we wanted to try and do our bit to make people aware, and to help to destigmatise suicide. We want to progress that journey even more, that it should be talked about,” she says.

Deirdre says that while awareness around mental health has fortunately increased in recent years, mental illness is something that can remain under the surface until it is too late.

“When someone is suffering with their mental health, I think it is like a black dye that seeps into their minds and colours everything and makes them see things through this prism of blackness — that is all they can see and that is how the world looks to them. It is all very real to them.

“You might look at their lives and think ‘how do they feel like that, look at the perfect life they have?’ But that is not how it works. Mark was suffering in this way but he hid it very well. 

“What blindsided me was that I thought before someone would become suicidal, there must be something awful that had happened them — some terrible thing that was making them feel so hopeless. 

“But that’s a healthy kind of mind looking at it and that is not how it works. It is just the saddest thing in the world.”

 Deirdre Adams: "I have awful sadness but I am kind of okay on my own. Not all the time though, I am very sociable and I adore people." Photograph: Patrick Browne
Deirdre Adams: “I have awful sadness but I am kind of okay on my own. Not all the time though, I am very sociable and I adore people.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

Deirdre says that keeping JimJams going has helped her cope with life day-to-day.

“I suppose initially when something like that happens, and you have a terrible loss, very suddenly, you cling on to things that are normal, even though nothing feels normal now. It forces you to keep going. The nature of the business helped as well because it is such a lovely business to be involved in and it also gave me hope for the future.” 

The happy memories of the couple’s courtship and marriage also help to sustain her.

“When I met Mark back in London in 1991, what drew me to him initially was that he was prepared to be open about his experience of life and how he felt about things. He had a really artistic side to him, which I loved. He was a wonderful pianist and at the same time he was a scientist. In fact, we started our courtship going to pottery classes. Mark was much better than me but we had great fun. Then we would go out for dinner afterwards and have deep and meaningful conversations. I was absolutely mad about him from the start and we got engaged after three months. We got married within the year. We had a very happy marriage for 30 years.”

In the midst of the family’s devastating loss, Deirdre finds immense pride and strength in seeing her and Mark’s three children making their own way in the world.

“My eldest daughter Síofra lives in New York, she works in environmental and social governance and she loves it there. My son Finn is just finishing college in Dublin and my youngest Maeve is in her second year in college there. They are all away and that is a whole new experience for me, living on my own for the first time. I actually don’t mind it. I have awful sadness but I am kind of okay on my own. Not all the time though, I am very sociable and I adore people.”

 Deirdre Adams: "We have so much to deal with in our everyday life, it is important that we are comfortable and we nurture our spirit to make us strong for dealing with life in general." Photograph: Patrick Browne
Deirdre Adams: “We have so much to deal with in our everyday life, it is important that we are comfortable and we nurture our spirit to make us strong for dealing with life in general.” Photograph: Patrick Browne

SOLACE BY THE SEA

Deirdre lives near the sea in Woodstown, Co Waterford, and goes swimming with a group of friends every morning in nearby Dunmore East. 

As well as providing solace, the sea has also inspired part of the JimJams collection. The Guillamene print, named after the famous swimming spot near Tramore, celebrates the power of the ocean. 

“Each of the prints has its own story and that is very important to me. The Guillamene print celebrates the magic of the sea, which is there for all of us to enjoy.” 

Deirdre says the quality of the JimJams product is hugely important to her and the feedback from customers so far bears witness to this.

“The principal thing that drives people is the product itself — are they nice, good quality and comfy? So that is really vital and we have definitely ticked that box. We get a lot of repeat business which is wonderful. I want my pyjamas to be a little oasis of comfort while you sleep or relax with a coffee or orange juice or whatever. We have so much to deal with in our everyday life, it is important that we are comfortable and we nurture our spirit to make us strong for dealing with life in general.”

Another popular item in the range of beautifully made cotton pyjamas is inspired by Deirdre’s love of hydrangeas, which have a fitting symbolic message.

“I adore hydrangeas. One of the things I love about them is they stay in bloom all summer and then they dry out beautifully and they keep going. I feel the message that hydrangeas send to us is never give up, keep going.”


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