Meet And Able Founders from York who Design Stylish Clothes for Those Undergoing Medical Treatment
And Able is a stylish clothing brand designed for those undergoing medical treatment. Co-founders Joanne Nicholson and Claire Myles Wharton from York share their journey so far
Tell us about Emily.
Joanne: This business came about after I lost my daughter Emily to a brain tumour. I was suffering quite badly with my nerves and mental health and I realised I needed to do something to help others. I knew Emily struggled getting clothes to fit her and she didn’t want to take her clothes off every time she went for an appointment. It was like a lightbulb moment – to make some easily accessible clothing and the person I really needed to help me do this was Claire! I didn’t know at this point that she had a fashion diploma; I just knew she was the right person. I wanted to design clothing for people having treatment (any kind of treatment, not just cancer treatment).
Claire: I said ‘oh let me check my diary… That’ll be a yes!’
Tell us about And Able.
Joanne: It’s a bit of a whirlwind really. We’ve only been running since April last year, and have rebranded under the direction of Deborah Meaden. Just doing that has made us realise that there’s a massive scope out there for what is needed. It’s not just accessible hoodies; we’ve also got trousers with zips on, scarves and leggings – just to make people feel comfortable, stylish and in control. They’re like a comfort blanket really.
Claire: I have treatment every three weeks but I also have to have my bloods and blood pressure taken, so I wear one of our zipped-arm hoodies and that enables me to have those taken without having to take anything off. Also, the leggings and the trousers with the zips in the hips mean I don’t have to take my trousers off to have the injection into my thigh. The nurses love it because they don’t have to worry about moving the curtain round and you’re also not having to sit with your trousers round your knees which seems like a little thing to those not having treatment – but it’s actually a big deal.
What makes your brand different to any other?
Joanne: We’re not just a one-off garment; we’ve got a collection (there’re a lot of companies who do have one-offs but a lot of it is sportswear). Our pieces mean you can wear them in hospital and you don’t feel like you’re in your pyjamas.
Claire: We always say that if you’re going camping you’ll go to Go Outdoors. If you’re undergoing treatment, you’ll go to And Able.
Joanne: That’s what we’re trying to achieve – that everyone can access this clothing. A lot of parents do come to us with children, so we make bespoke pieces too.
Claire: Our unique selling point is that you can go onto our website and whatever treatment you’re having, you’ll find a garment to fit your needs.
Joanne: If you don’t find it on the website, we want you to come to us and ask. We will endeavour to do as much as we can to get that product out there. A lot of our wearers give us advice, and we want that interaction with our customers. We’re not just a clothing brand, we’re a community of people that are going through different experiences and want to help others too.
How do you source the materials and how important is sustainability to you?
Joanne: It’s extremely important. At the beginning, we wanted a fabric made out of seaweed but that’s still being developed. It’s about getting the right balance between where we can source the materials and the price point.
Claire: As Deborah Meaden advised us, we’ll take it step by step and look to the future to always improve on sustainability. We’ll look and research, and it’s a never-ending process. We are being sustainable at the moment by preventing throwaway plastic and we’re also saving NHS time. We’re sticking to natural and breathable fabrics at the moment where we can.
Joanne: It’s only when you’re in this situation that you really start to consider where your zips and accessories come from. When you’re going into an X-ray or MRI machine, you can’t have metal and because this is not fast fashion, do we go with a plastic zip – but these ideas are ever-evolving.
What’s it like running a business in Yorkshire?
Joanne: It’s amazing! We have so many people offering advice and you feel quite humbled.
Claire: We’ve had advice from Alice Ingram at Adventure. She actually put us in touch with The One Show. Dawn Wood who runs Fabrication Crafts gave us a real stepping stone. We’re part of Phase One at the university and they’re huge on innovation so they put us in touch with The Eagle Lab.
Joanne: We have so many companies wanting to distribute our products. It’s been amazing. We couldn’t have been here without the community. I wouldn’t want to live and work anywhere else.
Advice you’d give others setting up a business?
Joanne: Just go for it! Don’t be scared. No matter how crazy your idea might seem to you, speak to someone, find help – there’s always someone there willing to give you a leg up.
Claire: Remember one thing; it’s not going to be easy. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. But you do reap the benefits. For every hard bit of work you put in, for someone to say what you’re doing is great makes it all worth it. Always plan ahead. If you make a mistake once, you’re not going to make that same mistake again.
Your favourite podcast?
Claire: I want to make one! I like Joe Rogan but I also listen to a lot of TED Talks. Also, Feel Better, Live More with Dr Rangan Chatterjee.
Your favourite place to walk in Yorkshire.
Joanne: York! Just around the city centre. I love it. I love the architecture. When we lived in Australia, there was no architecture. You don’t realise how beautiful a place is until you’ve lived somewhere else. The Museum Gardens are just beautiful too.
Claire: I’d say Filey. I like to have the wind and the sea air. I love it when it’s raining.
An item you couldn’t live without.
Joanne: My V pillow.
Claire: My phone.
What’s next for And Able?
Joanne: The world is our oyster. We’d like to get ourselves in local supermarkets or local shops like Browns.
Claire: We have had orders from the US already, but I think we’ll focus on Yorkshire first.