Designer and diabetic Bridget Scanlan makes bags that unite fashion with function. She talks to Francesca Emms about KYT.
When Bridget Scanlan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a 20-year-old she left the hospital with a huge blue nylon carry case. ‘As a new diabetic I was pretty cautious and always carried everything I might possibly need with me,’ she says. This bag went with her everywhere, including 21st birthday parties and clubbing. ‘At clubs we’d put my massive bag in the middle of floor and dance around it.’ Bridget was always on the lookout for a bag for her diabetes kit − something functional but also stylish − but could never find one. Eventually she thought, ‘I wonder if I could do this myself?’
The short answer is yes. Following her training at New Zealand Fashion Tech, Bridget was accepted into Project Fashion Wellington, a programme that mentors fashion designers as they produce a capsule collection. To explore what a bag for diabetics could look like, Bridget designed and made six bags ‘and six garments so my models didn’t walk down the runway naked,’ she laughs. These prototypes included a cross-body handbag, an evening bag, a laptop bag and a men’s compendium.
Bridget’s next step was to canvass the diabetes community. She knew intimately the hassle of having to carry around a load of medical equipment but wanted to check that she was making something that people would in fact carry. The compendium was a no-go, while the cross-body bag was a clear favourite. ‘I spoke with a woman in her 80s who’d been diagnosed at 51,’ says Bridget, ‘She said she’d been looking for a bag like this for 30 years.’ She tells of meeting other young women and bonding over their clubbing experiences, including one who loved dancing but was ‘sick of hitting people in the face with my bloody diabetes bag.’
The KYT Crossbody bag is the first such dedicated bag to be launched. Bridget explains the name: ‘Lots of diabetics talk about carrying their “kit”, and KYT stands for Keeping You Together.’ The bag has two compartments, ‘so you can organise life essentials and medical equipment separately. Combine them together to take it all, or pull them apart to just take what you need.’ The bag is made of leather, with a suede-like blood-resistant lining that can be wiped down ‘after those inevitable blood stains.’ Key features include a pocket for sharps and empties, a medical ID slot, and dedicated space for all the usual diabetes equipment.
Presales for the KYT Crossbody bag opened in May online and early interest has been much wider than Bridget expected; a greater age range, and about a 50/50 split between locals and internationals.
Bridget says, ‘Diabetes isn’t a simple case of test, jab, repeat. It’s a turbulent, complicated experience that has many emotional layers.’ She hopes that with her bag, designed exactly for this experience, she can help make life with diabetes look and feel a bit better.
First published Capital #52