Paul Brown, the founder of Bibetta and Care Designs, talks about how his business transformed from making bibs, primarily for babies, to creating clothing protectors for disabled children and adults.
Read on to find out how Paul’s passion for surfing inspired the fabric of his products, and see the range of Care Designs clothing protectors now.
Please tell Disability Horizons readers a bit about yourself and your background.
I am the founder and Design Director of Bibetta and Care Designs. I have a degree in Industrial Design and I run my design consultancy company, Innovation and Design, designing products such as medical and laboratory equipment.
I am also the Design Director of a start-up company called NeedleDock, which develops innovative new sharps bins to help healthcare staff safely dispose of hypodermic needles.
In my spare time, I love to go with my family on long outdoor walks, bird watching, visiting National Trust and RHS gardens, going to the beach and surfing in summer.
Can you tell us about your business, Bibetta, and why you started it?
The idea for Bibetta (the name means a ‘bib’ that is ‘better’) came when our daughter was a baby and she needed a bib for weaning. We bought every different type of bib going but were surprised to discover that most were of poor quality.
The bibs were often too hard and uncomfortable, felt clammy, didn’t stay flat, got dirty quickly and fell apart after just a few months! We were really dissatisfied with the quality and longevity of the bibs on the market.
So, being a fussy designer, I set out to find a nicer solution for our daughter – she deserved better, we thought!
After investigating lots of different fabrics, but not finding any decent solution, I was inspired by my years of surfing as a teenager and wondered whether my old wetsuit, made of neoprene, would do the job.
I cut a bib shape out of an old wetsuit, added a pocket and the Bibetta UltraBib™ was born!
Neoprene is made of waterproof sponge rubber, which is soft, stretchy and flexible, but not stiff, so it holds its shape without being rigid like hard plastic. It is coated with stretch fabric on the outside, which gives it an even softer feel and is also slightly absorbent – perfect for catching little spills.
We tested the neoprene bib prototypes for a full year in a local nursery and it worked so well. The Ultrabib™, as we later named it, literally ticked every single box we were looking for.
By simply using a material normally used for water-sports, we had created the perfect, all-in-one bib for babies! We quickly patented the idea and started the company, Bibetta Limited, in 2004.
Initially, we made the UltraBib™ in four plain colours, but since then we have grown the range to include an UltraBib™ with sleeves, neoprene baby changing mats and neoprene lunch bags.
Every product is now available in a huge variety of lovely colours with fun animals and nature-inspired character prints, such as owls, foxes, dinosaurs and unicorns.
These are mostly designed in-house by me and my wife and business partner, Fiona, who later joined the company to bring her skills as a systems analyst and logistics and financial services management.
Recently, based on customer requests, we created an exclusive new material called ‘Wipeezee®’, designed for quick and easy cleaning. It has a very smooth, wipe-clean, plastic front laminated to a soft-feel, breathable and stretchy fabric back.
The largest size also fits over the baby high-chair table for 100% protection and recently has been quoted by some customers as a “game-changing bib”, which is great feedback!
We are pleased to say that our products have won a number of highly-prized awards in the baby industry and we continue to design new products for this market.
What prompted you to redesign the bibs to create a range for disabled adults and children called Care Designs?
We were exhibiting at a baby products consumer show and a customer asked if we could make a larger sized bib for her seven-year-old disabled daughter. She was finding it difficult to get a bib in a child-friendly design with a crumb catcher pocket.
Following her request, we analysed the adult bib market and, again, we were quite shocked at how poor the products looked and felt. Tartan prints were everywhere and they looked undignified.
In addition, there weren’t many products available designed specifically for older children and teenagers. So we set out to make a better range of junior and adult clothing protectors.
We soon created a range made of neoprene, which was styled to look more like tabards, including a flip-out pocket to catch dropped food. This tabard styling was to help the garment look like a normal piece of clothing so the wearer didn’t feel as though they were standing out.
After being on the market for a while, we noticed that care homes were buying them but wanted to wash them at 60°C, so we decided to develop new, exclusive material for professional use called PRO80™.
It is waterproof, like neoprene, but thinner, lighter, more absorbent, more durable and, importantly for the care sector, can withstand the high wash temperatures required to wash clothes for maximum hygiene (up to 80°C).
Our new material achieves this whilst also offering a long product life, which equates to great value for our customers and much better for the environment compared to disposable, plastic dining bibs and plastic aprons.
With our expertise growing in technical fabrics, we expanded our Care Designs range even more to include a large, adult-sized changing mat. It is made of soft, padded neoprene and a large, 100% waterproof shoulder bag that can be hung on the back of a wheelchair as a handy wet and dry bag.
What is the Care Designs ethos and how do the bibs help disabled people?
Our main ethos is to design for dignity. The more a clothing protector can be disguised as a normal piece of clothing the better.
The more we looked into this the more opportunities we could see to offer customers more dignified and stylish solutions to keep clean and dry, either during mealtimes or throughout the day.
Another part of our ethos is to make products that continue to look good wash after wash. This not only helps with making the items look clean and smart for the next use, but it means that they last a long time and therefore are good for the environment.
We are not a single-use product company and encourage people to always buy reusable products if possible to look after our resources and the planet.
What reactions have you had from people who have bought your products?
We are delighted to have received lots of positive feedback on these products, especially our Pashmina scarf-style clothes protectors (seen in the image below). People tell us how it has given them, or the person they care for, confidence to eat in public as the scarf is discreet and dignified and does not draw attention to them.
“I bought a clothes protector for my mum and she loves it. She knows it is necessary but, like many, feels embarrassed about needing such a thing. This doesn’t look like the clothes protector it is designed to be but does give good protection so she feels more comfortable wearing it.”
“A really good quality apron. I bought it for my 30-year-old profoundly intellectually disabled daughter and it is good. Normally she removes any apron before finishing eating so this must be extra comfortable as well as doing its job from my perspective.”
“Stylish and cute. Better than wearing the traditional bibs. My mother loves hers. Easy to clean and dries fast.”
What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown had on you and your business?
The pandemic has affected those living and working in care homes badly and so their focus on managing the Covid-19 situation and urgently buying PPE equipment naturally affected sales of non-essential items, such as clothing protectors.
However, the lockdowns have forced most people to shop online and search out alternative brands and products, so this has shown an increase in our online sales. We have a large office at home and so we have been able to continue working through each lockdown relatively normally.
What 5 tips would you give other entrepreneurs wanting to create a disability-related product?
- Research first – is there a similar idea or an alternative already on the market?
- Think about testing as early as possible, including testing by the designer, target customers and independent product testing.
- Start estimating costs and calculating your manufacturing and retail pricing model early in the process.
- Look for government funding or crowdfunding to help support your product.
- Is there something unique about your product where you can apply for intellectual property protection?
Why did you decide to partner with Disability Horizons and sell through our shop?
We have known Duncan Edwards from Trabasack, the Disability Horizons Shop manager, for many years and when he approached us about working with Disability Horizons, we thought it was a great idea.
We are excited to have our products with Disabled Horizons and think it does a fantastic job of supporting and helping all those with disabilities in an informative, practical, accessible and fun way.
What are your plans for the future or the business, and do you have any new products lined up/in the pipeline?
We are always thinking of new ideas and are looking to slowly and steadily grow the clothing protector and bag ranges. We are currently working on expanding our collection of colours and patterns, especially for the junior range.
Perhaps, soon, we will also be able to make an adult sleeved bib as requested by disability activist Simon Stevens!
By Paul Brown
Take a look at all the products by Care Designs, now available on the Disability Horizons Shop.
More on Disability Horizons…