Dressing for Success
Funmi Lawal tells us how a stroke following childbirth turned her life upside down, and how she’s using her experience to give back.
How do you identify as disabled, and what does it mean to you?
In 2002, I travelled to the UK from my home in Dubai in order to give birth. I took my son out of school and brought him with me. However, a week after having my baby, I had a stroke due to pre-eclampsia, which left the righthand side of my body completely immobile. If that wasn’t enough, the high blood pressure which caused my stroke also stopped my kidneys from working, so I had to go on dialysis.
It took a year of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and prayers to overcome the effects of the stroke, and I finally received a kidney transplant in April 2011.
Together, these events turned my life and career upside down. I was only 35 when I had the stroke and had my whole life ahead of me. I had to resign from my comfortable job, withdraw my son from school permanently, and prepare to stay in the UK. I went from earning to relying on benefits. As well as losing my health and my job, I was also stripped of my privacy and my dignity, and had to learn to write again, as I am right-handed. I was devastated, and could only see unable rather than able.
I had to learn to appreciate life again. After the stroke, I retrained in project management. To start with, I had a letter from my GP stating that I needed 30 minutes longer than everyone else, but eventually I no longer needed it and passed every stage at my first attempt. I learned to write, walk and speak again, although I may lack confidence sometimes.
It was a trying period of my life, but there were more challenges in store for me: I couldn’t get an appointment despite my retraining and I was a single parent. However, the worst was yet to come when this year, my son – the little boy I withdrew from school when I returned to the UK all those years ago – died suddenly and unexpectedly at aged 22.
Tell us a little about your business. Why did you start it? Share your story so far.
Clip-knix designs and sells patented front-fastening underwear for women that removes the need to bend or stretch and can be worn sitting, standing or lying down.
In 2002, when I was suddenly and unexpectedly faced with a future that required me to manage my own limited mobility, the difficulties that I encountered when getting dressed started me thinking about possible solutions to make living more simple, and this was one of the solutions I came up with. The intended purpose was to help people with limited mobility, but the underwear has also been used for a range of activities, including camping, hiking, and bedroom antics!
It’s not just a business for me: it also reflects my passion for helping others and my aim to see as many people as possible live independent, positive lives.
The company was founded in 2018, but didn’t start trading until March 2020. In the first year of trading, we received the long-awaited patent, won Speciality Clothing of the Year 2020/2021, featured on Founder@ and in a podcast episode of The Spill, were included as a resource at cancercareparcel.com, and were listed on Fashion Rider. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet some wonderful people in the world of adaptive fashion, such as Judith Cook and Victoria Jenkins.
What do you see as the main challenges facing your business and its continued operation or growth?
Funding is a huge problem. As this is a new product and a new brand, sales are slow. Currently, the banks have given me until the end of January to find an investor or VC to put money in the business. I either need sales to improve drastically or to find someone to invest in the company, or I hate to think what will happen next.
What can we do to encourage more disabled entrepreneurs to start businesses – what is holding them back and what can we all do to help change that?
If you have a dream, follow your dream and bring it to life. I had a dream that I could make life easier for disabled people getting dressed, and I kept the dream alive even though I didn’t have any money. When PPI money came my way, I went for it.
There is nothing that an able person can do that someone with a disability can’t do with a little tweaking here and there.
There have been strides in people’s perception of disability, education, employment and transportation. There is still a lot to do in terms of inclusion and ableism, but we are getting there.
I know finance is a big problem, but many charities support disability funding and crowdfunding: they say where there is a will there is a way. The passion must be there‚ and that is what is going to get you through the days when everything is not going your way.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the proudest moment in your life so far?
Regaining my independence and the ability to give back by helping people like me get their dignity and privacy back.
If there was one thing you could change about peoples’ perception of disability what would it be and why?
Education, education, education, as Blair would say! People cannot see things from the point of view of disabled people. They don’t realise what it means to be disabled.
Who or what inspires you?
The Pope is truthful and strong-willed. I am a Muslim, but he inspires me with his tolerance and lack of bias. He would accommodate anyone, ignoring their religion, disability or sexuality. He is truly inspirational.
Do you have a recommendation for a book or a podcast which has helped you along your journey?
I just follow my gut instinct. I once read a book that said there is nothing like a perfect product so I compromised, not wanting to make a fuss, and that cost me a lot of money. So I stopped following book advice and go with my instinct!