Clare Braddell talks to workingwise.co.uk about Cool Crutches & Walking Sticks, the company she set up with her daughter Amelia.
Clare Braddell and Amelia Peckham are the mother and daughter team behind Cool Crutches & Walking Sticks. Founded in 2006, the company aims to empower those who need support to walk through fun and stylish designs that aim to prevent the painful injuries and frustrating limitations that often come with regular walking supports. It was inspired by Amelia’s experiences of using crutches following a spinal cord injury at the age of 19. Workingwise.co.uk speaks to her mum Clare about how the company came about and what a family firm means in practice.
workingwise.co.uk: What inspired you to go from spotting a need and deciding to do something about it yourselves? Who came up with the idea first or was it always a joint thing?
Clare Braddell: Amelia broke her back in a quad bike accident and was in hospital for a long time. We were told that she would always need aid to walk. As time went on, it was clear that she would need crutches permanently. We were also very aware that this would hamper her lifestyle – finding travel/work etc difficult. I think we all needed to have something positive to focus on, rather than the obvious negatives. I set about looking for some nice, comfortable, fun crutches because Amelia was only 19 at the time. I couldn’t find anything so that was an obvious gap in the market.
workingwise.co.uk: What were the main initial challenges?
CB: The initial challenge was finding the right crutches. I went to medical exhibitions in Europe and the USA, but eventually found a pair in a beach restaurant in Portugal. We adapted them to make it more comfortable and also looked into ways of colouring them so they weren’t boring grey. That took ages!
workingwise.co.uk: How important was having something creative as a focus during what must have been a hugely difficult time for both of you and your family?
CB: It was very important to have something to focus on. It became a bit obsessive in that the family used to say, can we not talk the “C” word (crutches) at mealtimes?
workingwise.co.uk: What do you think you add from the perspective of a parent?
CB: I think I am less ambitious!! Really, the number one priority is your children and you will do anything to make things happen for them. I am also much calmer and put things in perspective. Amelia will most probably disagree!
workingwise.co.uk: Your background is in advertising and you now focus on production and design. How difficult has it been to make that switch?
CB: Not difficult at all. I think most businesses are very similar. We had to find the right product at the right price and then tell everyone about it…..that’s where the advertising background comes in. It helps massively that the product helps people who are having a tough time.
workingwise.co.uk: Have you given up your career in advertising? If so, do you miss it?
CB: I loved working in advertising and had a brilliant time, but actually don’t miss it.
workingwise.co.uk: How do you find working with your daughter? Do you try to keep work and your personal lives separate or is that not possible?
CB: Ah! This has been tricky at times, but I think we’ve found a balance now. I think working relationships are always sometimes difficult, but family overrides that.
workingwise.co.uk: What factors did you need to take into account in terms of the design of both the crutches and the sticks? How important do you think to have someone who uses the products and a family member who supports them leading the design?
CB: Design-wise, they need to be comfortable, not give blisters on your hands, and be silent. NHS crutches click so your privacy is compromised. That’s quite a big deal. I think it’s really important to have a family member who uses them permanently – my husband also walks with a stick. You can’t know really what it’s like otherwise.
workingwise.co.uk: How many people are in the team now? Do you export and if so, to where?
CB: There are quite a lot in the team now, mostly outsourced. From the warehouse where they are stored and sent, to the design team for personalised crutches and new designs as well as a lovely girl who looks after customer service. We absolutely do export, but to individuals, all over the world. A lot to the USA and Australia.
workingwise.co.uk: How was the business affected by Covid?
CB: Luckily, we were not not really affected by Covid because we are web-based.
workingwise.co.uk: The business has such a positive, cool outlook with the blogs also reflecting that attitude towards disability. Are you involved in any other campaigns in this regard?
CB: We have a partnership with Physionet, a charity that sends sticks no longer needed to places where they are, all over the world. We offer a discount to our customers on their next order if they send no longer required sticks.
workingwise.co.uk: How important to you is it to do something that has such a positive impact?
CB: Very very important. I think that is the very best thing about our business – that we are trying to help those having a tough time. We get amazing feedback, saying our products have helped not just physically, but mentally too.