I set up Hip-Pose Ltd after my daughter was born with DDH (Hip Dysplasia) and I couldn't find any clothes to fit over the treatment aid. For six weeks (and while the size of a small doll!) she had to wear a restrictive harness and then sadly at one-year-old she needed surgery on her hip and had to wear a full body cast for three months. I designed clothes that would fit and hide the treatment.
The harness babies wear for treatment is a series of straps and webbing that keeps the legs in a ‘frog like’ position. It is worn 24 hours a day, must not get wet (so no baths!) and is worn for several weeks. Previously, the only options parents had when their baby went into harness was to cut up baby clothes to make room for the bent legs.
It was either that or buy two sizes bigger and cut away the excess fabric. Neither of which looked tidy or ‘normal’ and it was upsetting to ruin perfectly good clothes. The clothing options for children in cast at that time were non-existent.
I started off making waterproof trousers as keeping the cast dry is essential, then using the same sewing pattern I had designed, I made trousers in all sorts of fabrics in pretty colours and patterns. I devised a unique opening method to get the trousers on and off a rigid cast which made the frequent nappy changes required (remember no wet cast allowed!) much simpler.
Apart from wanting to dress my little girl in pretty things (what Mum doesn't?!) it was the 'looks' we got when out and about which shocked me the most. Never underestimate the rudeness of strangers faced with the unknown. Literally sick of facing this while also looking after my baby in cast, which is not easy, I decided that the clothes I made her would be useful for others in the same situation.
Fortunately I come from a long line of sewers in my family. My Mum was a professional dressmaker, making clothes for the rich and famous - Barbara Castle MP being one. I grew up surrounded by fabric and learnt to sew from a young age. When everyone else was making pot holders in sewing class at school, I made a turtle neck dress!
What I didn’t know however was how to design sewing patterns – and more difficultly, scale them up to different sizes. Pattern cutting as it’s called, is a skill in its own right and takes years to learn. Designing my daughter’s clothes was easier than I thought it would be. I knew what was needed and being able to measure her, was able to create clothes that worked. Creating the range to fit other people’s children however took much more trial and error until I mastered the styles and sizes that fit all children undergoing treatment.
I was encouraged by the NHS staff treating my daughter and they helped me as I developed samples to try on other kids and was able to get parent feedback. I got a business mentor, set up as a limited company, got a £2k grant from Unlimited, found a UK manufacturer and created my own website all within eight months and was selling online almost a year to the day that my daughter was in cast. To date I’ve helped hundreds of families around the globe and I’m also supplying my local hospital and one in America with sleep suits to give to families at diagnosis.
Last year I won a kickstart business prize with some growth accelerator coaching and this spurred me on to get into social media and increase marketing. Part of the prize was a day’s social media training by Katie King at Zoodikers in Tunbridge Wells, Kent (http://www.zoodikers.com/). It opened my eyes to the speed of virtual networking and its value in terms of time and money saved.
Within 10 minutes of setting up a Twitter account, I discovered that one of my former customers in Australia had copied my designs and set up her own rival company! I dealt with it via an Intellectual Property Lawyer, but it taught me just how powerful social media is and also in an odd way how good my designs are. It also made me wise up to how ruthless business can be and made me more determined to make mine a success.
I now have a couple of suppliers and am looking for more to help get my products sold globally. I'm passionate about helping other parents facing this treatment with their kids, which affects 3% of all newborns. What keeps me going are their wonderful comments and knowing my clothes make an actual difference. It may be something as small as dressing a baby but helping to 'normalise' the situation is really important to me. I say this as my daughter sadly was also born with profound special needs and physical disability. My business has become another member of the family and kept my grey cells buzzing when I had to give up my career to care for my daughter.
I work with STEPS the British charity supporting families dealing with lower limb conditions. I was also delighted to be contacted by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute earlier this year, who asked me to become one of their Parent Advocates
These two charities are the experts in Hip Dysplasia and advise families around the world, educating them about the condition and offering support and advice. I’m immensely proud to say that I am the only clothing range they promote, which after three years of trading is an achievement worth the effort I put in.
I used to believe “self praise is no praise at all” these days I think if you can’t pat yourself on the back now and again then you’re not reaching far enough!