Starting a Small Fashion Business as a Disabled Woman
How to overcome barriers if you're living with a sickness or disability
Starting a business is certainly not easy for anyone. It takes a lot of money, hours of research on potential customers, sample after sample, marketing, finance and social media skills… I could go on. The list is endless, and the barriers are already there before you factor in living with a sickness or disability. I had the idea for my store Shop Naughtee following a pretty nasty battle with a brain tumour. I live with a condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (May is NF Awareness Month). NF2 causes tumours to grow on the nerves, in particular they grow in the brain and spine. In 2018 I had a brain tumour removed in a nine hour surgery which left me bed bound for many weeks. Looking to fill my time and keep me occupied, I decided to learn to draw on my iPad.
In order to benefit my recovery, I massively changed my diet and became interested in a sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, the dramatic deterioration of my health has meant that a sustainable life has been difficult to maintain, but I decided the next piece of clothing I bought would be planet friendly. I thought, “What would I wear?” and Shop Naughtee was born. Shop Naughtee is a range of graphic t-shirts and sweaters for modern, sassy and ‘fuck this’ kind of women.
Along with the setbacks the world has suffered the past two years, my health has certainly thrown me some curveballs too. After being forced to shut because of lockdowns the day after I launched, I started again with my store the following year. I started feeling a bit shit health-wise, but powered through, so when I started getting attention and sales, I was delighted. I got to ride that wave for about a month, before a second brain tumour was discovered. I’m 9 months into recovering, and back to working on Shop Naughtee again.
I can very clearly see what holds me back and it’s my energy and physical capabilities. It is important that I take advantage of the better days, but these have been few and far between recently, so I have recognised I really need to batch prepare content, in particular Instagram reels. My primary social account is Instagram and I absolutely get the best traffic when I create a reel. It takes a little extra brain and body power even on good days to make them, so I tend to stick to shorter videos where I am sitting. Exploring hashtags used by other disabled creators can be a great way to discover fresh ideas for ways to get creative with poor mobility. I have used still images in a reel which perform okay, and I’ve also seen people animating still content to post as a reel, simply because reels are popular right now. You can animate still images by using the free app, Canva. There is a paid version, but the free one is fantastic without the need to upgrade.
Probably the biggest struggle I have is a constant mental battle of ‘I should/could try harder to do XYZ.’ I compare myself to so many successful businesses or creatives that I see posting the cutest videos or sharing their success stories. My solution? Don’t look. Try to use social media only when you need to post or respond to comments and notifications. By turning off all notifications apart from messages and comments, I am much less likely to doom scroll through everyone else’s wins that make me so frustrated about what I lack or am incapable of doing. Treat your business like any other. You may be surprised to find that our able bodied peers face many of the same boundaries we do. People only show the parts of their lives that make them look good!
Here are a few little tips I’ve found that can really help me when energy is low, which is most days.
Don’t be afraid to reuse old content. Social media moves so quickly that many people won’t recall seeing it the first time. You can edit images in many ways using filters, quotes, animations or collage apps.
Have a hashtag list saved in your notes, and you can copy and paste them quickly for the post you’re working on. Be sure to use Pinterest to find hashtags relevant to your niche!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help - shout outs can do amazing things for any account. Just be sure to make a genuine relationship with the person you’re asking for help first!
Hit Google to find free stock image websites that you can use to work with your brand, then you can mix it up with filters and details that make it work for you.
Be kind to yourself. We have not been dealt the same cards as many able bodied people. Not all able bodied people can be successful small business owners either, but as disabled people we are faced with more barriers, struggles and adversity that means it's bound to take a bit longer to get anywhere.
Celebrate your success
Remember where and why you started. Get the fire and excitement back in your belly by celebrating your wins whether they’re old or new, big or small. The one I consistently go back to is that one of the first designs I sold was to a customer in New York - this makes me so happy!
Look at yourself being a badass! All these odds are stacked against you, yet you’re still up and about giving a shit about your life and your passion - not everyone is brave enough to try and make their ideas into reality, but you do!