Thursday, 30 June 2016

2inspire Inspirational Woman: Claire Robinson, Co-Founder INGA Wellbeing

Claire Robinson co-founder of INGA Wellbeing started the business because she wanted to reduce the stigma and stress of ill health. Herself and her partners believe in the importance of empowering patients and making medical treatment less intimidating and believe our clothing solutions help with this. Read her inspirational interview below.

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
I’ve started a business along with two other 40-something women creating truly attractive, comfortable day- and nightwear for patients to help them keep their dignity, independence and confidence. Inspired by our own experiences of ill health and working closely with medical staff and patients, we have created stylish men’s and women’s designs that look entirely ‘normal’ and yet have discreet openings for IV lines, monitors and drains, enable patients to dress themselves even when hooked up to medical equipment and ensures they can stay covered for routine examinations. Our company is called INGA Wellbeing and I am so proud of it.  
Since the three founders are all women with young children to raise, a typical days is…well.. typically quite frantic. After getting the children ready and off to school, we head to our computers back at home or head to meetings.  We all work from home and do most things by email and text, but  we meet twice a week as a team to be sure we’re keeping on track.  Many days also involve visiting hospitals, patient groups, laundries or our manufacturers to progress our project.
At the end of the day we collect the children from school, prepare the family meal, get the children to bed and inevitably get back to a little work.  It is frantic, but our business is a real passion of ours, so we aren’t complaining.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?
The idea was inspired by my business partner, Nikla’s mother Inga and my mother Di’s  experiences during their battles with ovarian and breast cancer respectively. Having to wear the hospital gown or ill-fitting and awkward home clothes, they struggled to find clothes that enabled them to keep their dignity, independence and sense of self. Nikla and I committed ourselves to ensuring that patients had clothing that they want to wear, that they feel good wearing and that is fit-for-purpose in a medical setting. 
Our determination to find a solution was made possible by the skills of talented fashion designer and co-founder, Fiona.  Having had her own experience of ill-health in the form of chronic depression, and the wisdom and understanding that came with that experience, Fiona wanted to use her talents to help people feel better about themselves. She knew that feeling good on the outside can help you feel stronger on the inside, and so help you face life challenges with greater courage.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
Just last week we were really proud to discover that INGA Wellbeing was this year's winner of the international PRoF University of Ghent Chair Award, a €10,000 prize  awarded to an early-stage project/innovation in healthcare. 
Dressed in prototype back-opening (night) dresses and a cowl-neck top, we received the large cheque and golden gnome (!) after having presented our patient clothing designs to the jury. The award, which is given for the project that most embodies the values of comfort, privacy, respect and flexibility, has given us a welcome boost ahead of the our first test sale this month!  It’s an important moment as we have our first stock --  the women's back-opening nightdress and men's pyjamas and long-sleeved top – and are going to test demand, price and our selling method.  Patients or their loved ones can buy the garments on our e-shop www.ingawellbeing.com or via several partner specialist retailers in Belgium. As I move back home to the UK in July we will also be selling via  UK specialist retailers.  

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Having a great idea is all very well and good, but making it happen is a huge challenge. Each design was challenging as we tried to balance functionality with beauty. But maybe our greatest challenge is changing the way patients and the medical world think about patient clothing – getting them to see that something other than the status quo is possible!

This is a real communications challenge! Once people see the clothes and try them on, they become real advocates, but right now, people don’t really know that anything else is possible other than the hospital gown or a great deal of nakedness and awkward clothing struggles! We need to get the word out to patients via their various support groups that they not only deserve to be able to dress ‘well’, but can now actually do so.  Having brought our concept to the brink of going to market we now have a big communications challenge ahead of us! But, I think that once we get going and a few people are wearing our clothes on the wards or as out-patients, then our biggest ally will be word of mouth/personal recommendation!


What are your future plans for the business?
To de-stigmatise ill-health and patients.  To turn the notion of ‘patient clothing’ from that of the unisex, shapeless, institutional hospital gown into a realisation that patients can look ‘normal’ albeit wearing clothing discreetly adapted to their needs!

In addition, working with European consortium SmartPro, we hope to create patient clothing with integrated sensors to measure the body’s parameters, as well as a localiser to help care for dementia patients given to wandering. We believe that by integrating such technology we can further de-stigmatise ill-health.

We also intend to create clothes for children, infants and teenagers to ensure that they too can dress ‘normally’, and feel confident and comfortable whilst undergoing medical treatment.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Iterate, iterate, iterate. Don't expect to be perfect. Start. And then learn from mistakes and triumphs and get better next time. Perfectionism puts the break on entrepreneurship!  If I had to start all over again, I would learn that lesson sooner.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
I once saw a TED talk that highlighted how women are brought up to be cautious, careful, and boys are raised to take risks.  I think that certainly is the case but hopefully less so, with time.   It is so important that women have the courage to take the leap of faith and start the business they feel passionate about.  There have been many times we have felt like it might be a step too far to continue, but luckily we have been able to encourage each other forward, and the rewards for reaching our dream, fulfilling our passion – it is beyond words.   

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry?
Ask for help! Surround yourself with a network of well-informed, enthusiastic and energetic experts.  Whilst we are the founders of the business, we are where we are today thanks to the advice and support of a great number of people that have helped us.  That, and figure out how to clone yourself!!  Especially if you also have children, as we all do, and you must somehow simultaneously be an accountant, lawyer, designer, copy writer, marketer, web designer & analyst, and a Mum! Starting up on your own is a complex, hectic but incredibly rewarding challenge: Good Luck!!

What or who inspires you in business and why?
That’s easy – those people that inspired us to start in the first place.  Friends, mothers, daughters that struggled to see themselves or be seen as more than a patient; a person.  Our business is driven by a very personal passion to change the status quo and improve things for current and future patients.

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Our business was inspired by the worst of times, but has resulted in something beautiful. 

Contact details:
Website – www.ingawellbeing.com
Twitter - @ingawellbeing

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