At the forefront of adaptive fashion
Providing simple, yet fashionable adaptive clothing options for women limited in movement and mobility, Jessie’s Christina Stephens label is booming after filling a significant gap in the market.
Sparked from an idea to search for clothing options following a fall her mother had, Jessie has overcome trial and error in an unstable market due to the 2020 climate to be at the forefront of adaptive clothing on the national landscape.
Pouring countless hours into research and refining her ideas, Jessie’s evolution into entrepreneurial endeavours wasn’t always planned, but helping women with disability to live bold and better lives through making her vision a reality has been a move universally embraced.
“My mum had a fall about five years ago, that really, I guess, started the concept, because she’s a very trendy lady, and a very health conscious lady,” said Jesse, who this month discussed the business at length on Feros Care’s Growing Bold and Entrepreneurship Podcast.
“She damaged her elbows, and the options (for clothing) she had out in the market were very limited, and that was really annoying for her.
“I started looking around at what was available in post-surgical clothing, and it was all fiddly stuff with zips and buttons, so I started doing a few designs for her. Then through speaking to more women, they said how much they avoided trends with fiddly stuff, so I changed the functionality through designs without any difficulties and landed on this collection.”
RESEARCH AND MARKET KNOWLEDGE PROVES A KEY FACTOR IN CHRISTINA STEPHENS’ SUCCESS
While Jessie has a Bachelor of Business, a Master of Business Administration and a Master’s degree in International Trade Law, her leap into the world of fashion is a relative contrast to her previous life in the energy, renewable energies, and commercial spaces.
Although she was raised in a business-orientated family, Christina Stephens (a combination of her mother and father’s first names) poses as Jessie’s first foray into business ownership.
Like any strong and sustainable entrepreneurial endeavour, Jessie made sure she had a full understanding of what she wanted to achieve while on maternity leave, sharpening her focus and vision, while completing fashion courses and engaging focus groups.
“We’ve been operating since the end of March, and from concept to launch, it took a lot of research, design work, and making sure that you’re working with the market you’re going to sell to,” Jessie said.
“I was very fortunate to work with design focus groups, so, it was an interactive process in getting feedback and input on the designs. But once you get your concepts cemented in your own mind, you need to make sure there is a market and there’s not a lot of competition for what you’re looking at doing, and I can’t reinforce enough how important it is to get that real life feedback through talking to as many people as you can.”
Christina Stephens’ range is manufactured in Australia using environmentally friendly materials such as OEKO-Tex certified bamboo and merino wool and organic cotton to help limit harm to the planet. It’s through that “core” principal and an engagement with the label’s target market that helped Christina Stephens’ collection evolve.
“We don’t design specifically for disability, we cater for people who have had a stroke, or a car crash for example, and the current collection is designed for upper-body movement and dexterity conditions,” Jessie said.
“Our pants are wide legged for catheters, casts and braces, or even post knee surgeries… so the options are a mix for mobility and dexterity challenges.
“Women with disabilities are like women without disabilities. They just want to look good and feel confident and value their clothing. There’s been a much faster growing movement in the adaptive clothing industry in the USA and Europe, but I think (Australia) is 10 years behind them but starting to take shape pretty quickly.”
HOW ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND THE NDIS IS HELPING TO CHANGE LIVES
Assisting Christina Stephens to positively impact the lives of people with disability is the opportunity for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants to access clothing through their funding.
“When we launched, we took (the clothing) to a local area network meeting and found out that people on a core supports budget and who have a specific allocation, can use their funding to purchase our clothing,” she said.
“We’ve put a mechanism for that on our website to streamline that process for shoppers, and people can either request a pre-purchase invoice and get approval from their plan manager, or just make a purchase and get reimbursed.”
Navigating the unlucky timing of launching on the eve of lockdowns in the current climate, the company is thriving after coming out the other side.
Set to feature at Brisbane Fashion Month in October in a showing which will include a panel of high-level industry speakers, the brand will precede that with a video screening for inclusive fashion at London Fashion Week next month.
“We can collaborate and learn about what others are doing in other markets,” Jessie said. “It’s very exciting as we look to go live in the USA and United Kingdom, as well as through one or two retailers in Australia.
“We’ve got a second collection coming out at the end of the year which will be for women in wheelchairs (seated fashion), and in two to three years, we hope to be available in mainstream fashion stores.”
Capturing a niche market proved an important part of Jessie’s ability to make Christina Stephens a reality, but research and gaining a full understanding of requirements which really made it take off.
Offering advice to anyone looking to undertake an entrepreneurial endeavour or launch a business, Jessie said it was all about trial and error, and really knowing your product, market and vision.
“Do some research to put the budget together for what you think you’ll need, then go out and get hard figures and double it,” she said.
“You are going to make mistakes starting a new business, but you want to keep moving and making decisions rather than over analysing every single move.
“Just get started, and if you spend too much time on the academic side of starting a business rather than just getting your hands dirty and talking to people, time is wasted and you could miss an opportunity.
“It’s about in-depth competitor analysis, researching the on and offshore market and talking to as many people as you can. You don’t always have to talk to the right people, but networking is a big thing in making contacts to find suppliers, partners and people with experience.
“Keep testing your idea, then come back, refine it, and get it out there and test it again.”