“We were lucky to have this idea in the bank”: How Recovawear fast-tracked its clothing label for people with disabilities amid COVID-19

Recovawear

Recovawear rehabilitation clothing. Source: supplied

When COVID-19 hit and rehabilitation businesses and surgeries were halted, Recovawear founder Penny Weber reflected on her long-term plans for the business.

Proceeding with Recovawear, which focuses on adaptive, comfortable and stylish clothing for patients recovering from orthopaedic surgery, Weber also fast-tracked a new label — Wearable and Co — which will sell a trendy clothing range for individuals with disabilities.

With online operations remaining the same for both labels in the short term, Weber says Wearable and Co should be up and running in the next couple of months.

”When COVID-19 came, and Recovawear things were put on hold, we had to ask financial questions and think deeply about the future of the business,” Weber tells SmartCompany.

One thing customers have come back to me and said is … what about my friend who’s diabetic, or who doesn’t have dexterity in their fingers, or are going through cancer and are having issues with bodyweight and nerve endings.”

While the product line has always been in the mix, Weber says COVID-19 restrictions accelerated its development.

“It was a case of pushing these schedules further ahead, and we were lucky to have that [idea] in the bank. It’s all taken a period of four to five months.

”We have survived through the crisis, pivoted and added new product ranges.”

You don’t need to move the actual joint

Weber, who previously managed bands and entertainment businesses, broke her collarbone and shoulder blade in a car accident in 2009, and found she was limited to wearing a hospital gown, then a singlet for about three years as she recovered from her injuries. After doing market research she couldn’t find appropriate clothing that fitted her circumstances.

With experience in organising merchandise and working with textiles, she developed a prototype for herself and people who needed similar products.

After parking the idea for a number of years, she ran samples in 2014 and conducted clinical testing at the Cabrini Rehab Centre for four months in 2015, before officially launching Recovawear in 2018.

While there was other adaptive clothing in the marketplace, Weber says they were typically designed for elderly citizens.

“If you look at the statistics for people who are most likely to have rehab surgery for their shoulders and hips, they are typically in their 40s. And, if you look at the people most likely to have a car accident, they are 25-year-old males. For musculoskeletal injuries, they are generally younger than people in that elderly age bracket,” she says.

Featuring a team of eight, Recovawear’s clothing line — which includes t-shirts and polos, pants, headscarves, boxer shorts and massage rollers — provides easy access to the injured spot which helps to prevent re-injury and, for individuals recovering from shoulder reconstruction, the rotator cuff is immobile while dressing.

Weber says this is important, as the shoulder cuff should not be allowed to move for four weeks post surgery.

“My dad re-injured his shoulder [while] putting on a polo shirt,” she says.

”A big problem is getting your hands above your head but, with the Recovawear polos and t-shirts, you don’t need to move the actual joint.

“An advantage of Recovawear is that it can help people move through the hospital system faster. When people can independently look after and dress themselves, they are more likely to be released.”

She adds that the business — which was a 2019 finalist in the Victorian Premier’s design awards and part of the 2020 Melbourne Accelerator Program cohort — is in the final stages of NDIS approval, and is on the cusp of transitioning to business-to-business sales.

“At the moment, we are [selling] direct to customers and allied health professions … but we have received a couple of license deal opportunities recently,” she says.

“We are looking at selling some of our IP in terms of what the product does and how it moves. Those discussions are in the early stages.”

We didn’t want to be a part of the problem

Recovawear is designed in Australia and manufactured through an “ethical and sustainable factory” in Kampot, Cambodia.

Weber says the textiles industry has a particularly damaging environmental affect, and made it a priority to not be part of that problem.

“One of the big things we wanted to do … was create ethical solutions in that area, though given the current circumstances, it’s worth looking at diversifying our supply chain,” she says.

She adds that Recovawear has received some interest from users in Sweden and America, as well as a supplier in France.

“We have more testing coming through for Wearable and Co … and hope to get the Therapeutic Goods and Administration [approval] up and running,” she says. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to [enter] new markets in new countries.”

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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