Fiona Jarvis is on a crusade to redefine disability with style. Being a finalist of Design Council Spark in 2017 has helped her on this journey, providing the perfect opportunity to develop her idea of a glass holder for the less-abled into a commercially viable product. Here, Fiona chats about her Spark experience, socialising in a wheelchair and how she hopes to conquer Bond Street.
“The simple ideas are often the best ones. They don’t need to be overly-complicated or overly-developed,” says Fiona Jarvis, when asked what advice she’d offer someone thinking of applying to Spark, Design Council’s product innovation support programme and fund.
Fiona should know. The CEO and founder of Blue Badge Style – a company devoted to redefining disability with style – was a finalist in 2017, earning herself a place on the intensive 16-week programme (plus £15,000 funding) with her product DRINK, a glass holder designed to allow less able people to enjoy a drink hassle-free.
This year, Spark has launched a Home Innovation Challenge looking for applicants who have a bright idea for independent living. It’s an area that Fiona, who has MS and uses a wheelchair, is passionate about. Indeed, it was what inspired the idea for DRINK in the first place.
The spark of an idea
“I was at an event and talking about how wheelchair users often find it difficult carrying things around,” she says. “I explained that while I like a glass of wine, I’ve often nowhere to put it. I either end up leaving glasses all over the place or, if I hold onto my drink, I go around in circles.”
While there were glass holders on the market, Fiona found them to be flimsy and none could hold stemmed glasses – only sports bottles or cans. “There’s a real lack of elegant disability equipment around,” she sighs.
Unbeknown to Fiona, a designer at the event had been listening intently and went away to develop a holder that could be attached, via a simple fixing, to a wheelchair; it could accommodate any size of glass and – importantly – it looked stylish. He sent Fiona the prototype, “and I thought, ‘this is quite nice.’”
Sensing she was onto something, when a friend suggested the Spark programme run by Design Council, Fiona thought why not. “I entered and got selected, which was amazing really.”
Thinking outside the box
While Fiona had a prototype she was happy with, the Spark programme offered extensive design expertise through mentoring and workshops and she realised there was room for refinement. She learnt, for example, that she should make the holder out of ABS plastic as it’s strong and durable. “I had no inkling about the manufacturing process and I now do,” she says. “It was a real eye-opener.”
But what Fiona really benefited from was learning how to shape her business opportunities. “The fact we could expand DRINK came out of the Spark programme,” continues Fiona. “It gave us ideas on how to broaden the market and make it more profitable.”
As the 16 weeks progressed, Fiona set about developing two angles – the first, that the product could be attached to other things, such as a buggy or a deckchair in the garden. Secondly, that she could develop the design to hold other products, a phone holder or a tray for example.
DRINK came to market in summer 2018 as the debut product of the Blue Badge Style ADDITI+ON range, a collection of accessories “for people who have their hands full”.
“It’s been successful; people are enjoying it,” says Fiona. “I met a woman the other day with really bad arthritis and she said, ‘Oh that’s such a good idea, as I am always holding my drink between my legs when I use a wheelchair’.”
Though she’s quick to add: “I’ve also had able-bodied people come up to me and say ‘Where did you get that? I need one of those’.”
The future is bright
As befits Fiona’s stylish sensibilities, her dream is for DRINK to be sold in the Conran Shop and other high-end design shops. “People who are disabled are fed up with having to go shopping in industrial parks. I used to go to Bond Street, I don’t want to shop in an industrial park.”
And plans are afoot to expand ADDITI+ON, starting with the phone holder. “When we did our research, 90 percent of people said that’s what they wanted.”
There’s no doubt that Fiona will make it a success. “I’ve learnt such a lot,” she says, smiling. “If you’ve got a product idea, you should definitely apply for a place on Spark.”
“If it wasn’t for the programme, this glass holder would still be on the shelf gathering dust,” she concludes. “We’ve seen our dreams turn to reality. The whole team said they couldn’t believe we’d done this and we are still saying it.”
DRINK (£29.99) is available to buy at www.bluebadgestyle.com.
Got a bright idea for helping people at home? Apply now.
Find out more and apply to Design Council Spark: The Home Innovation Challenge.Apply