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My lightbulb moment: Silk entrepreneur Sonal Keay reveals the inspiration behind her business

Sonal Keay, 40, founded This Is Silk in 2017. She lives in the Cotswolds, is married to a software developer and has two daughters, aged six and three.

I have a very rare skin condition — chronic actinic dermatitis. This means I am allergic to daylight (which is unusual because I am of Indian origin).

I was born with appalling eczema and spent a lot of time in hospital. Then, after a holiday to France when I was 15, my skin started burning. It wasn’t like normal sunburn, but a severe allergic reaction.

Aged 17, I had tests at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and was eventually diagnosed with this rare sun allergy.

When I had flare-ups, the only thing which soothed my skin was silk — I would lie on it for relief.

Later, I found out that silk is highly regarded for its natural affinity with our skin, thanks to its anti-ageing and skin-healing properties. The proteins in silk help speed up cellular regeneration.

When I was pregnant with my second child, Clara, my hair started falling out and I had post-partum hot flushes. I read that silk protects new hair growth. So I began sleeping on silk pillowcases again.

I was a barrister for 15 years, but I was getting burned out defending serious criminals. Then my beloved dog died, and it threw me into a deep depression.

I decided life was short and that I wanted to do something I loved, so I began studying the science of silk. I took out a 0 per cent interest credit card, and with that launched This Is Silk.

I wanted to recreate the old-fashioned, lustrous silk I remembered from my childhood, not the thin, flimsy fabric we see on the High Street. Our pillowcases are a 22 momme weight (the unit used to measure the quality of silk). The superior grade means they are durable and machine-washable.

I design pieces, then a pattern-cutter makes up the samples. We turned over £100,000 in the first 12 months.

Given our hair is made out of the same substance as our skin (keratin), it makes sense that silk has benefits for hair, too. Our hair wraps are designed to help blowdries last longer and calm frizz.

Customers say our silk eye masks are the most comfortable and breathable ones they’ve worn.

I still have to wear sun cream every day and all the windows at home have a film on to block the rays. I can only feel fresh air on my skin at night. So for me, silk is still my wonder material. 

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