More About: Snuggleblanks and Blanken Care
Inspiration from desperation
When Vicky Blanken first began sewing together various materials, she was only desperately trying to find a continence solution that could meet the needs of her daughter. Never would she have imagined it would lead to her flying around the world to source materials, negotiating distribution with dealers and changing people’s lives. The unexpected entrepreneur shared her trade hopes and dreams for her custom-sized, reusable incontinence brands with THIIS.
What led to you deciding to launch the Snuggleblanks and Blanken Care brand of incontinence products?
It all started back in 2011. I have three children aged eight, seven and two. My oldest daughter is on the autism spectrum and quite a big girl, so she quickly outgrew every nappy going that I could get hold of, including disposables. I contacted one of the companies we used at the time and asked them if they could make a bigger nappy but most companies just said the demand was not there so I thought I would make one myself.
At first, I started off with tearing, cutting and sewing various old cot sheets, jeans and t-shirts, experimenting with various materials until I came up with something that worked. That was the first Snuggleblank.
Simply all I did after that was post it on Facebook. There are communities online of mums with similar needs and immediately people commented, saying that it was great and more importantly, if I could make one for their children. That is when the idea came that this could be a business and it really has just grown very organically from there.
I did try to get back into what you would call a ‘proper job’, using my qualifications in German and Russian to take on a German-speaking sales role. What I found, however, was that there would be requests from people regarding my continence invention waiting for me we I got home. Eventually, I had to ask myself; ‘what am I doing?’
The customers and the need were there, so I decided to make a go out of it. Simultaneously, however, my third child came along so it put the brakes on it.
Now that he has turned two and is a bit more independent, I am able to devote more time and energy into the business and really push it forward.
How has the company developed over the years?
Since we started back in 2011, there have been so many people who have come to me with a number of different needs. This has helped us to refine the product.
Also, seeing the changing needs of my own children has given me a lot of fresh ideas – my little one will happily drink about two litres of milk a night so finding something absorbent became essential!
What are the main advantages of your incontinence wear over other brands?
I think there are quite a few advantages to our range over our competitors. Probably the main benefit is the fact there aren’t many other reusable brands out there and the ones that tend to focus a lot on synthetic fabric.
In our range, we use natural, restructured fibres. Our product uses cloth, which people immediately associate with the big, old-fashioned Terry’s Square, but it is nothing like that. We’ve used bamboo, which is naturally anti-bacterial and renewable, as well cotton which is just so absorbent.
When you combine them all together, it makes for a really effective product; my most popular nappies are capable of holding up to two to three litres at a time.
It’s not just the effectiveness of the products that I think really sets us apart however, it’s the fact that they are soft, comfortable and save user’s money… what’s not to like.
Importantly, there are significant environmental benefits for using our products as well. I did some calculations the other week, based on the idea that an average adult with continence issues was prescribed five pads a day. At those numbers, a year’s worth of waste stacked up would be as high as Nelson’s Column!
The standard life of one of our reusable nappies is two to two and half years. So, the fact that ours use sustainable materials that are environmentally friendly is a big thing for us.
Where do the products stand with respect to the clinical aspects?
I’ve discussed it with various people who work in this area and they have said to wash the items up to 70 degrees, which our products can easily withstand. Modern washing machines have really helped because the products can be washed and dried in no time at all.
Can you tell us more about how your continence products are manufactured and distributed currently?
Our products are produced by me at the moment, however, I am currently in the process of sourcing manufacturers so we can ensure we can meet the demand of customers and distributors.
We would love to produce the entire range in the UK but we also need to ensure that we can keep costs competitive and as a new company, finance is tight. Our aim is to ensure that at least some aspects of manufacturing always takes place in the UK though, in particular, adjustments will be made here.
The reason I started the company is that not everyone is the same size, so we are happy to offer an adjustment service for our products; something no one else currently does.
In terms of how we sell, this is mainly online, with Facebook being key for us. It has been great for raising awareness and it seems I am always getting tagged with messages saying ‘go and see Vicky at Snuggleblanks or Blanken Care.’
What we really want is to work with and through more distributors and retailers who have the reach to get the products to the people who need them.
If you are looking to work with retailers, why do you think they should they sell your products?
From the online communities that we have built and interact with, I know distributors and retailers will certainly have customers who will really benefit from our products. I’ve been busy operating from my conservatory in deepest, darkest Lancashire and now we are ready to expand.
We are open to all comers, both domestically and internationally. I get a lot of requests and queries from Austria and Germany, as well as the US and South Africa so we know the market is out there.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since being in business?
Juggling the family life with the commitments of the business is something I am getting used to, especially as the first year my child was born, he had breathing issues and was in hospital a lot. Fortunately, that has all settled down now so I have the time and energy to really push this forward.
Mainly though, it is finance. It comes in and goes straight back out again so I’ve decided to look at getting an investor or a partner onboard, as I think the additional support may be what the company needs to really reach its potential. We are getting to the point where we need to be able to produce in bulk and that requires a certain amount of investment.
What has been one of your proudest moments whilst operating the businesses?
When the first adult reviews started coming in, that is when I really started to realise the difference the products were having on the lives of people. When someone sends an email stating that they been struggling for 12 years and that thanks to my product, their life has been changed, it gives me the best feeling in the world.
It really reminds me why doing this is worth all the stress.
Continence is often seen as a hushed topic; do you find it is something people struggle to talk about it and do you think this will change in the future?
Certainly, it is a topic people are embarrassed to talk about but also, I would say that there seems to be progressively less of a stigma around the subject today.
Undoubtedly more needs to be done to get rid of the idea of it being a hushed topic at all but the fact that people feel freer to have a conversation about it is positive.
I think more needs to be done to educate that it is a medical issue and it is not uncommon. Unfortunately, I often get people who will contact us and tell me that it took them a while to pluck up the courage to call in to discuss their continence issues and after they have taken that step, they feel so much more reassured.
So even though opinions are changing, there is still a way to go and helping that cause is very important to us.
What does the future hold for the Blanken Care and Snuggleblanks?
Someone once jokingly told me that in five year’s time, I could be owning Tena. I say, why not? I want to be competing with the big boys, expanding globally and changing lives across the world.
I’ve stuck with this because I’m passionate about the products and the subject and aiming to take this as big as possible, so why can’t we compete with the likes of Tena. If anyone is interested in the product or partnership, please get in touch.
To get in touch with Vicky, contact 07976260508 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Snuggleblanks visit the website HERE
To find out more about Blanken Care visit the website HERE
What is Snuggleblanks?
Started in 2011, Snuggleblanks is range of reusable nappies, pull-ups and swim nappies suitable for toddlers and older children
What is Blanken Care?
Founded in 2015 to properly distinguish between the adult and child markets, Blanken Care is the bigger adult equivalent range of nappies, pull-ups and swim nappies.