“It’s about real change. People not being able to get dressed for a job interview means they can’t get a job, so it’s just another barrier,” says Unhidden opens in new window founder Victoria Jenkins.
After becoming disabled in her 20s, Victoria struggled to find clothes to suit her own new needs, but it was a chance encounter with a cancer survivor while in hospital that proved the lightbulb moment for her start-up.
A garment technologist with 14 years’ experience in the fashion industry, Victoria set out to help solve the issue of a lack of adaptive fashion by founding Unhidden in 2016.
Her clothing line now features a range of simple, stylish pieces that are suitable for men and women with disabilities or medical conditions.
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Socially responsible fashion
Conscious of the negative environmental impact of fast fashion, Unhidden makes sustainability a priority and aims to be “radically transparent opens in new window” about its supply chain and costs.
The price tag for sustainable fashion can appear to be greater than its quickly-manufactured counterparts for several reasons – smaller production runs, paying fairer wages to garment makers, and more extensive and complex manufacturing processes.
“Our clothes are made to order from sustainable fabric,” explains Victoria. “Paying £70 for a pair of trousers, I don’t consider that to be expensive. However, members of the disabled community are 50% more likely to be in poverty.”
“The Purple Pound opens in new window spending power is £249bn a year in the UK. It’s a big market, and brands just aren’t targeting it. The adaptive fashion market is predicted to be worth $353bn by next year, which is much bigger than ethical, sustainable, and second-hand fashion industries combined.”
“That’s why I’m getting investors so that I can book small production runs, which will help to reduce costs and drop the price right down.”
Finding funding was a key challenge for Victoria when starting her business. Initially she fitted in working on Unhidden around her existing fashion jobs but when the pandemic hit, she lost this income.
“Because I haven’t had an income, I wasn’t able to get a bank loan, and as Unhidden only started trading in November 2020, we weren’t eligible for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme opens in new window. So accessing funds has been quite a big problem.”
Victoria says that other disabled entrepreneurs may struggle more with financing their start-ups.
“It doesn’t impact me because I’m not on any benefits, but I know disabled entrepreneurs trying to get funding can impact their benefits and vice versa,” she says.
While shopping around for financing options, Victoria realised how little there was in the way of support or information for disabled entrepreneurs, from how they can access loans and grants to applying for them.
“There has to be an acknowledgement that the process will be a bit different,” she says. “Getting credit is incredibly difficult if you’ve not worked, or if you’re like me, you’ve not been able to work for a period of time.”
For Victoria, her struggle with financing defined a large part of her early start-up journey.
“I would have immediately gone for funding because I think doing it through friends and family can be very tricky,” she says.
“Looking back, however, I think Unhidden could only have happened the way it did. I wasn’t super confident at that time. I felt like my idea was important, but the way the fashion industry reacts to accessible fashion made me think it wasn’t. I didn’t have the faith to go and get that big loan that would have covered getting stock made. Instead, I had to sort the money I already had and try and be smart with it,” she says.
What’s next for Unhidden?
“I’m currently talking with a major British high street brand, which is very exciting,” says Victoria. “And there are a few awards on the horizon. I also have a TED Talk that I did about adaptive fashion and ableism and we’ve a charity collaboration coming up where we’ll be doing fundraising t-shirts during June Fashion Week.”
The first adaptive fashion brand to join the British Fashion Council opens in new window, Unhidden is heading stateside this year to help spread the word about inclusive fashion and will take part in Alicia Searcy’s ‘ Fashion is for Everybody opens in new window show.
Tips for budding entrepreneurs
For other entrepreneurs looking to start up their own business, disabled or not, Victoria has two key pieces of advice: know your numbers, and invest in learning.
“You’ve got to be able to demonstrate why the problem you’re trying to solve with your business is a problem in the first place,” she says. Do your market research, network with those already in the industry and your target customer base and learn from them, and people will start to get behind you.”
“There’s also so much you can learn for free, but I think you’ve also got to have a boundary around what you need to learn. I did spend money and time on the things that I didn’t know that I felt were important. For example, I did a course in PR to do it myself, and it was worth every penny. But don’t spend money or time learning things you don’t need to know.”
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