Even If you’ve already graduated the Spark team are still there to advise and support you. Ashleigh Rodda approached Spark earlier this year when she needed advice on growing her fledgling business, Bariatric Training Suits Ltd.
After completing her Fashion degree in 2011, Ashleigh worked as a hosiery designer before coming up with a business idea to produce a bariatric training suit: a realistic, weighted suit that mimics the shape, proportions, movement and weight distribution of a bariatric, or overweight, person. The suits are used as a training aid for medical staff when learning how to treat bariatric patients, giving users first-hand experience of the mobility issues faced by an overweight person.
Ashleigh first had the idea for the training aid when watching TV: “I had worked on a freelance basis for a bariatric products company, so I knew that a market existed,” she says. “There were also several TV programmes dealing with extreme weight issues and the problems faced by bariatric patients, so I envisaged a product that would be ideal in a healthcare or education setting, providing a realistic representation of the bariatric patient.”
Using her design and tailoring skills, Ashleigh set about making prototype suits and as successful in gaining the worldwide design rights. She started selling suits via her own website and found there is a widespread market for her product. “I’ve even had enquiries from the US as there’s no equivalent on the market.”
When she needed advice on business growth issues, Ashleigh thought of Spark. “It was so helpful to have Spark there for me, even after I’d graduated,” she says. “Their support is invaluable and it’s clear that they believe in me.” On Spark’s advice Ashleigh entered - and won - the Trading category of the 2013 Spark Business Plan Competition. “I’m using the £2,000 prize money to help with the marketing and promotion of my business to help spread the word.”
Ashleigh’s currently producing the suits by herself, but she aims to be in the position to employ someone else to help her. “The suits are quite time-consuming to make, so I’d like to free up my time and add new product lines to my range and ultimately improve the understanding of bariatric needs and care.”