In 2011 I was contemplating an uncertain future. I had been made redundant for a seemingly glamourous job in the music industry and was unsure of my next move. To stay busy, I helped my disabled friend individually stitch a series of stylish display wallets designed for the disabled parking permit. At the same time I fell in love with an Akita puppy, who I decided to keep as I worked from home. I named him Bodhi.
Before Blue Badge Co the only other blue badge wallets on the market looked like many other disability products – clinical, dull and surprisingly difficult to use. We recognised a gap in the market for practical and appealing solutions for simple day-to-day problems, with bright, modern packaging, that said more about style than disability.
Armed with e-commerce and online marketing skills, I executed the launch of the products. By developing the sales channels, I began selling my handmade products online and although they were moderately successful it wasn’t until 2013 when our big break came.
A healthcare buyer for Boots spotted our products at a trade exhibition and placed an order for 10,000 wallets – dwarfing the 8,000 the we had made in its previous two years. I remember thinking, 'Yes! I have done it. But oh, I have to actually make it now,’ So it was 10 seconds of elation, and then the realisation that now the really hard work starts. This meant I had to get everyone I knew, including my mum, to help sew, iron, pick, pack and deliver this massive order. The first products arrived on Boots shelves in late 2013 and have been really successful.
In August 2015 I appeared on BBC Two’s Dragon’s Den where my ten-minute appearance triggered two months’ worth of orders in 24 hours. Unwilling to give up our UK manufacturing, I caused a stir when I walked away from three offers of investment. Refusing to take Touker Suleyman’s offer, or his advice to take the manufacturing overseas to cut costs, I upheld my belief in high quality UK made products.
It proved a wise decision! Staff numbers have rocketed, our workspace grown, and our products are now stocked by major retailers including Argos, Boots, WH Smiths, Superdrug, Lloyds Pharmacy and The Post Office. Blue Badge Co has now become a fast growing, dynamic young company with a string of awards to its name
Since I started the company more than 150,000 of the wallets have been sold across the UK and we have expanded the range to include mobility, homewares and dressing aids with collaborations and designs by William Morris, Roald Dahl, Emma Bridgewater and Orla Kiely.
We were among the first businesses to have identified the growing demand for stylish, design-led independent living products and travel aids. Disabled consumers now making up a fifth of the UK population – nearly 12 million people who, along with their households, have a spending power of more than £200bn. People always tell me I work in a niche market, one giant niche if you ask me!
We are a vertically integrated, independent company and our workforce now has nearly 20 permanent staff, with a handful of regular freelancers. We handcraft Blue Badge Co products on site and do all our own fulfilment, product development and marketing from our Bristol based studio, where Bodhi has become our team mascot!
One thing that has always driven me is the idea that business has a responsibility to be good for society and I really believe that a company is only as strong as the team behind it. Dedicated to employing disabled people and those with limited work options, around 40% of the Blue Badge Co workforce are disabled or primary care givers. Therefore, the team has a first-hand appreciation of disabilities from mental health issues to physical impairments
A rewarding, sustainable job can change someone’s life. Creating new jobs for those that find it most difficult to access employment is my greatest achievement and it’s the part of my company that I am proudest of. And to further emphasis this, in 2019 I launched a company share scheme, with 10% of the company share available for the team.
Setting up and running a business is really difficult, and no-one should be under the illusion that it isn't. However it has also brought me a huge amount of pride and joy. Whenever I feel low or have doubts, all I have to do is read some of our customer feedback. It assures me that we are contributing to brightening up people's lives and helping improve wellbeing and accessibility, pioneering choice and control.
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I hope you enjoy browsing and using our products as much we love making them!