Inspiring small businesses: Kintsugi Clothing, apparel for disabled women

In our ‘Inspiring small businesses’ series we share and celebrate great stories from fellow small business owners who took their idea to the next level and built their own business. Starting your own business is a huge step, no matter how small your business is, so by bringing you closer to the great minds behind these inspiring businesses, we hope that you will find motivation and survival tips for building yours.

In our next interview, we bring you the story behind Kintsugi Clothing, fashion brand for disabled women, shared by its founder Emma McClelland.

What is it that you do?

I run Kintsugi Clothing, an inclusive fashion brand I launched in February after a year or so of research and development. Kintsugi designs women’s clothing, using suggestions from across the disabled community to ensure that each garment is accessible and useful, as well as fashionable. We consider how outfits will work for wheelchair users – we use easy, less fiddly fastenings and add hidden pockets and pouches to accommodate medical devices. The challenge is to make sure each piece will work for anyone, disabled or not. This is why we take a ‘universal design’ approach, thinking about how we can make each product work for as many people as possible, regardless of age, size or disability. It’s a challenge, but it’s one I enjoy.

What’s the story behind your business?

I’ve always been interested in fashion, since my early career days as a lifestyle journalist. But it was in 2017 when I was working for a corporate law firm that I came across a TED Talk by Stephanie Thomas, a disability fashion stylist. From her, I learnt that there were more clothing ranges designed with dogs in mind than disabled people. Disabled people areconsumers, but many fashion brands don’t consider them when designing apparel. This may be symptomatic of the public perception of disability (a number of surveys suggest misconceptions still abound – this article, for example, reveals the worrying reason more disabled people aren’t featured in adverts). This is why I wanted to create an inclusive brand with clothing that can be worn by anyone, but that is designed with disabled people front and centre. It’s not about creating a separate offering solely for disabled individuals; it’s about creating something inclusive and accessible to all. 

I called my business Kintsugi because I loved the philosophy behind the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired with gold lacquer. Cracks aren’t covered up; they are highlighted, and the item becomes more valuable, not less. I like this because, as we go through life, we all pick up scars, whether physical or emotional, but there’s no need to hide them. They make us unique!

What inspired you to start your own business?

I’d been toying with the idea of setting up a business for a while. It was only when I saw Stephanie’s TED Talk that I really started thinking seriously about it. I have no dependants to support, I’m only 31, and I am lucky enough to have the emotional and financial support of my family. I saw a problem that needed a solution and I thought, rather than just tutting and shaking my head, I’d actually do something about it. 

What is the most difficult aspect of running your own business?

It’s an emotional roller coaster at times and it does take a psychological toll. I’ve had to learn to be resilient and to make sure that any self-talk is positive. When you hit bumps in the road, it’s so easy to start despairing and to let the self-doubt come creeping in. At the beginning, I’d have days where I’d just get into bed in the middle of the day and pull the duvet over my head because I felt so defeated. Luckily, my brother is a business consultant and he’s been a great person to turn to when all I can see are obstacles. He’s very pragmatic and a natural problem-solver. He’s also less prone to dramatics than me, so is a good grounding force. Your business is your baby, so your emotional reactions can cloud your perspective sometimes – this is why I’d advise any budding entrepreneur to make sure they have someone level-headed to turn to when things get tough.   

What is the best thing about running your own business?

As well as the freedom of managing my own time, the best thing is meeting and speaking to people who are enthusiastic about your idea. When people tell you that you’re doing a good job and they’ve benefited from your products in some way, there’s no better feeling.

To find out more about Kintsugi Clothing, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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