Bridget Scanlan is one of the lovely innovators in Wellington - and she’s caught the eye of the wider fashion community with her KYT bags, specialised for those with Diabetes…
I met Bridget when I was helping out with Project Fashion Wellington in 2017, and her innovative style and beautiful handbags immediately caught my attention. After PFW ended, Bridget asked to catch up for coffee, and a friendship bloomed. KYT – short for Keeping You Together – unites fashion with function. At first glance, what appears to be a contemporary leather bag reveals an interior purpose-built to fit the unique needs of diabetes – making life, and daily care, easier. These bags are a cute and attractive addition to any wardrobe, whether you have diabetes or not!
Bridget is the kind of warm and smiley person who makes you feel like a sunshine bubble has popped all over you *excuse the graphic visuals*. She’s funny, an amazing listener and genuinely wants to make the world a better place.
Her work with KYT caught the eye of the media and the public in this years ‘GOOD' Magazine where she won the award for the Flick Electric Good People’s Choice. Bridget has fans all over the world, and across the country, who love that she’s created a product which helps people live their lives stylishly and safely. Bridget and I caught up at Egmont Street Eatery in Wellington so I could ask her all the pointed questions about how she found out she had Type 1 Diabetes, why she created her company and how has developed in 2018.
Q - Lucy: The first question I tend to ask everybody is; where were you born?
A - Bridget: I was born in Lower Hutt, it’s actually where I grew up. So, Hutt Hospital and then I lived kind of around the Hutt, but mostly just in central Hut Valley. The same road that Queensgate shopping malls on, so that was always a useful walk when I was a teenager.
Lucy: What did your parents do?
Bridget: My Mum is a primary school teacher and she worked at the school down the road. My Dad has worked in the public sector, kind of just management type jobs.
Lucy: What was it like growing up in the 90’s in the Hutt?
B: I actually remember when DEKA closed down in the Hutt, because it was a pretty big deal; DEKA was a very cool spot. I remember having flared powder blue corduroy pants which I wore with platforms, so very spice girlish. I don’t know what spice girl you were, but I was baby spice.
B: I think because I was blonde.
L: Yeah, you’re not so blonde though these days.
B: No, but I was blonde back then. Obviously living where we did, we kind of all hung out around Queensgate area quite a lot. I also lived in the Woburn suburbs so there was a lot of parks and a lot of schools, so we just biked a lot, played a lot of sports at Hutt Intermediate School, things like that.
L: So very suburban and nice?
B: Very suburban and nice, yeah.
L: Where did you go to school?
B: I went to St Peter and Paul Primary school and Sacred Heart College.
L: When did you find out you had diabetes?
B: I was 20. Typically, being diagnosed at 20 is considered quite late, although now in reaching out to the community I’ve actually met quite a few people who were kind of the same age as me. I was at Massey University at the time; I was doing a business degree, actually majoring in entrepreneurship and I woke up one Monday morning, couldn’t see much further than your face, and I was like, ‘oh this is weird; maybe I’m just tired.’ I used to work at night time and I had to drive to work, so for a couple of days I asked my parents to drive me to work, and they’ll like, “Hey, so why are we driving you?” I was like, “Oh, I can’t see.” Obviously, I went to the doctor, found out that I had diabetes; been taking insulin every since.
L: Why couldn’t you see?
B: When you get diagnosed with diabetes you typically get symptoms that arise from having really high levels of sugar in your blood, so you get high levels of sugar in your blood because your pancreas stops producing insulin or dramatically reduces the amount that it makes. Insulin is the hormone that allows your body to absorb glucose, so any glucose present in food, so that’s not just lollies; anything with carbohydrates. Fruits another example, or even protein, sometimes for people will spike their blood sugar. Anyway, my insulin had obviously stopped producing and so the levels in my blood sugar rose, and what that can do is damage nerves in your body.
One of the most sensitive nerves in your body is the ocular nerve, and so mine was compromised from having high blood sugar and that’s why I couldn’t see.
B: Yeah, but thankfully because I was diagnosed quite quickly, in a matter of a week; my sight came back after two months or so.
L: Yeah. What changed in your life? What was your life like previous to your diagnoses? What did you kind of feel like when you found out that was your diagnoses? Did you change your life afterwards; did you actively try to not change your life afterwards?
B: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s kind of sounds like a dramatic diagnosis and I think for people who are really really sick; so, most people are often hospitalised when they find out and they’re very ill. But, because I was diagnosed quite quickly it was kind of like life continue as normal. I was going to the hospital a lot for education appointments and having nurses come to my house, but I don’t remember feeling much at the time. I think I was just quite shocked and bewildered, and also you don’t realise how sick you are until you get better. So, I couldn’t see, but I also couldn’t really think.
I think the biggest change for me at the beginning, was obviously starting to take insulin every day, so I take two different types and I take it 5-6-7 times a day; sometimes it will be 15 depends on what my blood sugar does.
L: That’s a lot. I thought it was like ‘beep’ in the morning and like ‘bup’ in the afternoon.
B: Yeah, no, so one’s morning and night, and the other I take any time I eat, or anytime I want to bring my blood sugar down. Like, at the moment I have a cold which always pushes blood sugars up, so every time I test my blood I’m like, uuhh, alright another jab. Obviously, that’s a big change, and the other thing is testing blood sugar throughout the day, and the reason that I do that is I try to keep in within a healthy range for as much of the day as possible.
So, yeah, I guess there’s that logistical aspect, but I think the other thing that changed for me was you lose quite a lot of spontaneity once you’re trying to fit all of this in your life, and things that you don’t really think about have impact on blood sugar that… you know it takes a while for me to factor it into my day. Exercise is really hard to work back in or obviously anything food related. Even things on, like days when I’m nervous or stressed; there’ll be a heck of a lot of more undulating blood sugars happening that I guess has more of a bearing on my day than just the stress itself would. So, I think that’s the biggest change.
L: How was your emotional and mental health when you found out you had been diagnosed?
B: Like I said initially; there was quite a few months of shock. You’re paired with a nurse who helps you through for most of it; kind of teaches you what to do. I remember them saying, “So, this is a grieving process; it will work like other grieving process, give yourself time.” At the time I’m like, “I’m good.” I thought I was way sicker; my Doctor had told me I had fried my brain from water addiction, because that’s what I was told when I went to the Doctor, not that I had diabetes.
By comparison I thought that it wasn’t a big deal, and it was going to be fine. I think probably after that first year, and a couple of years afterwards, maybe once the novelty’s worn of and some kind of tricky things start to happen; it’s more that constantly maintaining wears you down a little bit, so there were definitely a couple of years that I was short or just a bit grumpy, and at times really said. Like, ‘why has this happened; I’ve been such a healthy person my whole life, I look after myself. I still can’t get it right’, especially when things are going up and down.
The best remedy for that was (1) to just keep going because I don’t have a choice, and (2) also to just reach out.
L: Did you feel a bit like; you knew you shouldn’t blame yourself because it wasn’t your fault, but equally there was like an aspect of, ‘What could I have done differently to not be in this situation?’ Not like deep analysis, but like kind of a more quiet yearning that you had somehow… I don’t know; I can’t explain what it is.
B: Yeah, I know what you mean. I think it’s a natural kind of curiosity that it makes us go, ‘Why did this happen or what could I have done?’ I had friends send me things on Facebook; ‘Excessive use of nail polish shown to cause diabetes’ and all these things. If that’s the reason that I have this, then this the most ridiculous… you know. It possibly me searching for what caused diabetes necessarily, because I was told at the time, “We don’t know why it happens; there’s no cure, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.” So, that was fairly concrete, and I also had known that I had lived a really healthy balanced lifestyle. There were times that I thought, ‘that year that I did that,’ but those kinds of thoughts subsided.
But what I found was, and possibly what people don’t talk about so much; is that when you’re on the back foot with something like diabetes, and your body’s really vulnerable, and your taking a while to get back to it; a lot of other things come in. I had a couple of other, not as chronic conditions; come forward that I was diagnosed with that I had to treat at the same time. With those conditions I was like, ‘why is this happening; there has to be a cure. I’m looking after my diabetes; I’m doing everything right.’ So, I think I got a little bit psycho about trying to work out why those things were happening. The reason was that I was run down, and my body was in a state that it just wasn’t used to being in and all these things just take time to get better.
L: What led to you making these bags, which you called KYT?
B: I was 20, like I said, when I was diagnosed, and you can I’m sure remember being 20; all the town evenings, the 21st’s, the social events, and I was quite conscious of this new kit that I was given, and trying to make it look as normal as possible so that if I was out and about, I didn’t get questions about what I was doing, and what I was carrying, because I was a little bit shy about diabetes for quite a few years. Then also I just love handbags and wanted a better way to carry it than my nylon cube that I got from the hospital that just wasn’t very pretty. I looked at the time that I was diagnosed for some sort of bag or just any kind of fashionable diabetes products, and they didn’t exist.
I remember thinking, ‘Oh, it would be really cool if there was someone like me, and they made something like this for people like me, and I could carry it around and no one would be any of the wiser.’ That stayed in the back of my head for quite a few years, but then what got this going was; my decision to go to New Zealand Fashion Tech a couple of years after I graduated to learn how to sew garments, and learn about the manufacturing industry. Then once I was equipped with those skills, I kind of started plodding away with this as a hobby in the background. Then when I heard about project fashion, I thought maybe it’s time to articulate this idea and see if I can turn it in something. That’s how I got going.
L: Fab. What was the process like of doing Project Fashion Wellington?
B: I heard about project fashion on a Thursday afternoon and the applications were due that Sunday night. I had never written anything about KYT before; I don’t think it even had that name back then, so I wrote this huge proposal and then I quickly sewed a prototype bag to try and demonstrate what I was doing, which I took some pictures of and then applied. It was a terrible bag and didn’t work at all, but it looked good enough in pictures I think to communicate what I was trying to say. Your familiar with the process, but we had the application interviews and I took that prototype in and also my current kit, and ugly it was, and how I was carrying it.
I had some sketches and said I want to turn this into this, and I know it’s not clothing, but if you can support me I’d really like help finding mentors who can help me do this. Because working with leather is quite different to working with clothing; there’s different machinery, different processes, different pattern making. What what was really good about getting accepted into Project Fashion Wellington was; I could then go and say, “Hi, I’m part of this project that’s supporting Wellington designers; I really need help with this collection,” and most people said, “Yes,” which was great.
I think the biggest factor in me getting these up and running, was I able to find a leather mentor, and he’s an ex-Weta leather worker, and so I’d go and visit him a couple of times a week with different stages of the bag, and we’d hone them and refine them, and that’s how it happened.
L: Now how has the bag evolved since you left Project Fashion Wellington over a year ago?
B: Yeah, so I made four different styles for that runway show, and then after the runway show I reached out to the diabetes community and took all the various styles as well as some new ideas that I had, and just put them on the table and asked, “Hey, do you like it; does it do what you need to do?” And, they all kind of ranked them, and it soon became clear that some of the bags just no one liked which was really good information to know. Then with the bags that people did like it was; we then started to talk about what was missing or what was it currently doing that it didn’t need to do and what did it need to do. That’s how I narrowed in on this style, and also on especially the design of the back bags. So, people had said, “Hey, it needs to open flat completely, and I want a double zip,” which is what it has, or, “I need space for this as well as this.” That’s how we’ve ended up with this bag.
L: What are you most proud of from your work to date on KYT?
B: Oh, that’s a good one. I’m obviously proud of the bag itself, and also the really nice feedback that it’s got. I think what I’m most proud of; especially thinking back to the 20-year-old that I’m sort of semi-designing for in the back of my head; is a person who is quite shocked by diagnosis, but also didn’t really want to share their diabetes experience with anyone. Now I’ve talked to hundreds of different people all over the world, not only shared my experience but learnt about theirs, and connected with them over something that could be shit for both of us, but isn’t; we’ve decided to embrace and live beyond. I think that community that I’m now a part of and just the place that I’m in personally with diabetes, I’m most proud of.
L: That’s so cool. What are you working on at the moment for the future?
B: The biggest requests at the moment is in men’s bags, so I’m wanting to put together a little design panel of guys to do that. Then the other thing that we’re looking at is kind of whether we can do some other colour ways soon, and also other materials that cater to slightly different price points, so still lots of development in the works.
L: Amazing. Why has Wellington been so special in terms of like the process of you creating the bag?
B: I think Wellington is full of very genuine, helpful people, and I really don’t think that if I tried to get this off the ground anywhere else that I would have got as much help or support that I’ve got here. So, not just project fashion, not just leather mentors, not just creative HQ but people on the street who I talk to or at events who all offer support in some way; I think that’s really unique to living here.
L: Personally, why do you love living in Wellington?
B: Coffee! The art scene, and the fashion scene. I like how small and user-friendly Wellington is, and again the people; I just think we’re a laid back, genuine group of people.