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Spark 2018 awardee Elba is making a daily difference for women with dexterity problems

Spark 2018 awardee Elba is making a daily difference for women with dexterity problems

11 December 2018 Written by By Laura Woodroffe

Elba London’s stylish front fastening bras combine function and design to make all women’s lives that little bit easier. They are particularly beneficial for women with any dexterity or mobility challenges. The Design Council Spark investment panel and partners Versus Arthritis recognised the potential. Elba London’s founder, Judith Cook, was one of four finalists awarded from the design-led accelerator’s investment fund.

With a background in PR and communications, Judith had been researching inclusive design for some time. When a friend asked her to help find an easy-fastening bra for her mother, who had arthritis, she was not surprised to find that nothing on the market solved the problem. “I already knew that there was a disconnect in the market around disability and style,” she says, “and in this case, I found few practical solutions and no stylish ones.”

Lingerie has the power to make women feel beautiful and confident yet many women struggle with the daily activity of putting on and fastening a bra

Judith Cook, Founder, Elba London

Judith saw the potential of a product that was easy to put on, but also looked good  “So many women, able and disabled, struggle to put on a bra,” she says. “The market was paying lip-service to the issue. When you consider the spending power of our ageing population where a product like this could make a big difference, this is a huge gap.”

Judith set about filling that gap, founding the brand Elba London. Her ambition; to create a range of premium lingerie that is easy to put on, comfortable and beautiful. Her first product is a front fastening bra that uses an innovative fastener. It earned her a place on the Design Council Spark programme.

Spark guides participants to apply design thinking to all aspects of a product’s journey to the market. From the user research to the branding, to the design of the product itself, all these are subject to the same level of user-centric design scrutiny. The programme’s partnership with Versus Arthritis added another dimension to Judith’s re-evaluation of her user.

“We often see arthritis as a condition tied to ageing,” says Judith. “But what surprised me was to learn just how many young people suffer from it. It shifted my thinking away from just the older demographic and into other younger segments as well.”

Working with Versus Arthritis on the Spark programme transformed my understanding of my customers

Judith Cook, Founder, Elba London

For Judith, this design-led reassessment of the product combined with in-depth business modelling was a crucial part of the programme.

Unlike other accelerators, which are really just about preparing your pitch, the Spark programme requires you to write a detailed business plan with some serious numbers in it,” she says. “For me, this attention to finance was a real plus. We had to produce realistic estimates for our components, manufacturing and sales. It’s all well and good having a product, but if you don’t know how much it is going to cost you to produce and sell, what your route to market it, or what your margins might be, you will quickly come unstuck.

Interaction with the other finalists contributed to the adjustment in her thinking about the market and her potential users. “I have a background in market research,” she says, “but it is a very different experience when you are working on your product. You need to be able to step away.” The sounding board provided by her fellow participants and the mentors on the programme both challenged and reinforced her ideas. “There’s such a variety of points of view represented on the programme - you get to see your product from a completely different angle,” she says.

Judith is now at the stage of fitting and grading, and finalising her manufacturer selection.  She aims to launch Elba London in Spring 2019 both online and in selected lingerie boutiques. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the interest and feedback. It may seem like a small thing, but all women still want to look and feel good in what they wear whatever challenges they face getting dressed. Our vision is to become the go-to lingerie brand for easy fastening bras. We’ll continue to talk to women, and play an active role in bringing function and style to them whatever their age or ability ”.

Design Council Spark is an innovation support and funding programme designed to help you turn your bright idea into a commercially successful product.

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